People are standing outside the preschool, next to the forest.

Umeå leads in forward-thinking development

In Umeå, collaboration is key, often in new and sometimes unexpected constellations. As the city expands, the opportunity is taken to plan, along with many important actors, for a sustainably developed new area - Tomtebo Strand. Here, 3,000 homes will be built over the next 15-20 years.

Umeå Municipality has two important goals, both entailing challenges and hard work: to grow to 200,000 inhabitants by 2050 and to be climate-neutral by 2030. To achieve these goals, it's crucial that all key actors in urban development find long-term sustainable solutions. Tomtebo Strand, located between the University area and the popular recreational area by Lake Nydala, will be the arena where urban developers collectively demonstrate how this can be done. Their method, known as the Tomtebo Strand model, can be summarized as: "Co-creation and learning with vision, integrity, and long-term focus lead to sustainability.

The Tomtebo Strand project began in 2017 within the local Network for Sustainable Building and Management, comprising companies, organizations, and authorities involved in the construction chain. The idea was to create a sustainable district at the international forefront, and soon politicians decided: Tomtebo Strand should be developed in collaboration with construction companies, administrators, municipal companies, and based on the Sweden Green Building Council's Citylab methodology.

-The planning has now been ongoing for four years, and all actors have together created the vision and sustainability goals, and translated them into concrete strategies and actions for Tomtebo Strand. We learn a lot from the collaboration, from each other, and from our different conditions," says Janet Ågren, City Councilor in Umeå Municipality.

-The collaboration process is about openness, agreement, and transparency. When we started the work, there was no ready-made working model; we have jointly shaped it along the way, and regularly evaluated and adjusted it. It has been time-consuming, as it is in all development projects and learning processes," says Daniel Ödling, production manager at NCC Building.

The project piqued the interest of the Umeå University School of Business, which began follow-up research on Tomtebo Strand about collaborating to achieve common goals and competing to create profit. Together, these factors pose a significant challenge.

Illustration: White arikitekter

There are, of course, other challenges in the Tomtebo Strand project. For example, how do you make a detailed plan for 60 hectares for 3,000 homes with a 15-20 year development time sustainable?

 - We've worked with greater flexibility in land use and, for example, haven't locked building rights in the zoning plan but instead worked with placement regulations. Early-stage co-creation has been very useful, and we've been able to handle key issues in good time. We've also included other actors earlier than usual and conducted several early consultations with, among others, the County Administrative Board and the Swedish Transport Administration," says Magdalena Blomquist, urban planner at Umeå Municipality.

Sustainable modes of transport were an early planning condition. For the detailed plan, it meant establishing direct and functional routes for walking, cycling, and public transport early in the planning. The goal was to create good living environments without surface parking and without through traffic for cars, resulting in collective parking facilities on the outskirts of the district.
Tomtebo Strand aims to pave the way for a sustainable lifestyle through access to car-sharing, cargo bikes, delivery boxes, proximity to schools and recreation, sharing, reuse, and good conditions for cycling and public transport. The work to find mobility and service solutions is also conducted with great respect for business and organizational models.

-We talk, for example, about risk-taking, investments, and payment models. And where is the line between the public mission, builders' responsibility to offer parking according to the Planning and Building Act, and commercial actors' delivery of services?" says Anna Gemzell, development strategist at Umeå Municipality.

Keeping construction costs and rents down is a challenge for the entire industry. One of the partial solutions is to build about half rental and half condominiums at Tomtebo Strand and to create an open district for the people of Umeå.

-Working with physical planning for social sustainability is interesting. There needs to be room for everyone: both residents and visitors," says Anna Flatholm, project manager at Umeå Municipality.
It's a large and ambitious project taking shape in Umeå. Much remains to be done, but the actors are in agreement that this is a model that must be tested to address future challenges. Maria Wetterlöv, communicator at Umeå Municipality, summarizes:
-No single actor can do it alone, but when companies, the state, the municipality, and civil society work together, we gain access to all the tools needed to tackle environmental and social sustainability issues.

Text by Jessica Larsson Svanlund, freelance writer

Learn More:

A district certified according to Citylab lays the foundation for an equitable and safe environment accessible to all. It has minimal negative climate and environmental impact and can withstand climate changes. The district is flexible and can be adapted for changing needs in the future.

Vision: Tomtebo Strand aims to be a social, economic, and ecological exemplar where residents feel involved, proud, and wish to stay for life. The district is planned to emerge through unique co-creation, becoming an international model for sustainable urban development and conscious living.
Tomtebo Strand is planned in co-creation between Umeå Municipality, seven construction actors (HSB, NCC, Peab, Riksbyggen, Rikshem, Skanska, and Slättö), as well as the municipal companies Umeå Energi, Upab, and Vakin, with the participation of Umeå's residents.

It's the largest housing project in Umeå with up to 3,000 homes and 70,000 square meters (gross area) of business space. Approximately 7,000 people may come to live and work here.
Located about 4 kilometers from Umeå city center, next to one of Umeå's largest and most dynamic workplace areas, Universitetsstaden, and one of the most important recreational areas; Nydala.
One of Sweden's largest detailed plans, about 60 hectares - the area is comparable to Umeå's "central square."

Consultation on the detailed plan in summer 2020, review in summer 2022. Construction start of municipal infrastructure in 2023. The construction of phase 1 may begin in 2024 with possible occupancy from 2025-2029. It will take about 20 years before the entire district, in four phases, is fully developed.

The article is from issue 3 2022 of the magazine Urban Planning.