The Suitcase Lady


March 5, 2019, 9:31 pm

The entire city of Kiruna, the most northern berg in Sweden and 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is about to be moved en masse. The cause of this gargantuan move of 18,000  people is not global climate change but iron ore.

Situated on top of the world’s largest iron ore mine, Kiruna is sinking from seventy years of mining activities beneath the town. No other city of this size has ever been relocated, and surprising lessons are being learned.

According to the architectural team in charge of the project, “The challenge of moving the city is not only about moving an entire city, but about moving the minds of citizens and creating a new home and identity.”

The architects quickly discovered that moving buildings and creating new ones was much easier than understanding what makes history and identity, a sense of place.

Over twenty significant buildings are being moved from the old town to the new location two miles east. These structures will be dismantled and reconstructed. The rest of the town will be entirely new buildings with an elegantly designed city hall as a focal point.

Kiruna’s old church, which has been honored as one of Sweden’s most beautiful buildings, will be moved piece by piece. Here is what Göran Cars, an urban planner for Kiruna, learned from this challenge:

“We are moving the church. When I speak to people they say, ‘Yes, I know that, but what about a grave?  How about the birches?’ I didn’t understand that. They are small trees! But they are 100 years old- as old as the church. I get that question time and time again: ‘What about the birches?’ So now we are moving the birches.”

In spite of the fact that their town is being swallowed up so the mining beneath can continue, the people of Kiruna are lucky. Their government, which owns the mine, is footing the entire mind-boggling one billion dollar cost of the move. Under Swedish law what you mess up you have to fix up.  And equally important, the voices of the people are being heard.

As global warming inevitably will cause the oceans to rise and claim islands and coastal cities around the globe, other citizens around the planet will probably not be as fortunate as Kiruna’s residents.




2 Comments for this entry

  • Evie Robillard

    Now what was the name of the novel I read about six weeks ago? About a tiny village in Newfoundland that was being resettled? And one guy refused to go–there were only about 20 people. The decision had to be unanimous. They were offered $100,00 a family–or more–to comply. They guy was under quite a bit of pressure to accept the offer . . . and I believe these Swedish people are going to find this very, very difficult . . . you don’t just pick up & move like that without experiencing untold conflict . . .

  • Elizabeth Levins

    What an interesting story.