Illustrated image showcasing various environmental solutions.

Unique Co-Creation for Life in the Future Umeå

Learning, sustainability, and collaboration are the three guiding principles for the planning of Tomtebo strand – the new city district by Nydalasjön Lake. Old planning models have been set aside, leading to a city planning project in Umeå that could impact the city's development. Here, a district is being created where people can be inspired and attracted by the opportunities to develop a sustainable living environment.

–How the municipality, municipal companies, and construction actors have previously planned residential areas has been turned upside down. We want to achieve an extraordinary district, and therefore we must dare to try something new,” says Johan Sjöström, project manager, Umeå Municipality.

Once Upon a Time…
Tomtebo Strand is a story that is different in many ways. Five housing companies started talking to each other about the opportunity to create a housing project in Umeå with a sustainability profile unlike anything seen before. There was municipally owned land between the university and Nydalasjön, designated for housing and business premises in the master plan, but where detailed planning had not yet started. It was a perfect fit. The housing companies contacted the municipality to discuss their ideas for the area. The municipality thought the builders' initiative was ambitious and in line with how they wanted Umeå to grow sustainably. Two additional rental property actors and three municipal companies were also included in the collaboration.

Sustainability Program is the Cornerstone
–We began our collaboration process in 2016 by developing a sustainability program for Tomtebo Strand based on the UN's 17 global goals for sustainable development. We have included several sustainability aspects, not just ecological but also social and economic,” says Johan Sjöström.
The sustainability program is divided into four areas. The partners develop strategies together and work out solutions in focus groups. Broadly, the four areas involve how everyone can live at Tomtebo Strand and feel participation, responsibility, and community, how the natural environment becomes the starting point for planning, and how we can create a resource-efficient, sharing, and climate-neutral district with modern technology and new building techniques. The area about daily travel and solving mobility issues is very important and affects not just Tomtebo Strand.

Collaboration, Learning, and Sustainability
The builders have signed a cooperation agreement with each other that highlights loyalty, honesty, and transparency.

–We don’t need to arm-wrestle. We agree to develop this together, create joint solutions, and take our experiences into the future,” says Magnus Stenvall, representing Umeå Energy in the steering group for the collaboration between the companies.

–We don’t have all the technical solutions yet to realize our goals. District heating is a system solution that has long helped reduce the burden on our environment. Solar cells are good, and we need to find solutions for storing energy. But, we also need to develop cutting-edge solutions without making it too expensive for people to live here,” says Magnus Stenvall.

Johan Sjöström emphasizes that Tomtebo Strand is not an isolated island, but must be integrated with the rest of Umeå. Services and public places should be accessible to the surrounding districts and the rest of Umeå. It is not yet clear what Tomtebo Strand will become or look like. But there is a common vision and strong objectives; for example, preserving Kolbäcken, green corridors through the area, bike and car pools, smart waste management, energy-efficient solutions, gardens, everyday services, different and perhaps new forms of tenure, and more.

Many people are involved in the Tomtebo Strand project in various ways. The picture shows parts of the process management at the dialogue site. From the left: Johan Sjöström, project manager for Land and Development, Umeå Municipality; Magnus Stenwall, business developer at Umeå Energy; Magdalena Blomquist, urban planner Umeå Municipality; Daniel Ödling, business manager at NCC Building. Seated: Maria Wetterlöv, communicator Umeå Municipality; Anna Flatholm, project manager for Streets and Parks, Umeå Municipality.

Change is an Opportunity
Maria Wetterlöv, communicator, is keen to anchor the vision of a sustainable district where residents have a conscious lifestyle.

–We listen to understand what might be feasible in the area, not just in the physical environment, but in terms of sustainable daily life. What are people willing to do for or with their neighbor? Can we share items and services? We also want to have conversations about how changing lifestyle or housing doesn’t necessarily have to mean sacrifices but instead opportunities.

–Co-creation between the municipality, construction actors, and municipal companies occurs at an extremely early stage in this project. Therefore, conversations with residents have also started unusually early, long before there is a proposal for the detailed plan.

–We will be building Tomtebo Strand for probably fifteen, twenty years. It feels honorable to be part of a work that contributes to the future development of society,” says Magnus Stenvall.

The article was published in Umeå Grows, September 2021