Swedish municipalities have a long-standing vision of urban development as more than the sum of its parts. This holistic way of working has resulted in Swedish cities ranking among the most sustainable in the world, with targets and strategies that encourage a green transformation. SymbioCity methods are based on these experiences, as applied and continuously refined in transition and developing countries.
SymbioCity is run from our Secretariat at the head office of SKL International and SALAR in Stockholm. As part of Swedish international development cooperation, SymbioCity serves as a framework to help cities all over the world to plan and realise sustainable urban futures.
Since 2010, SymbioCity has supported local, regional and national authorities in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Our overall goal is to improve living conditions for citizens, with particular emphasis on gender equality and the urban poor.
How do young girls feel in public spaces? Umeå municipality put this question to girls from a local school. The results from the dialogue gave rise to a gender-sensitive public space, centred on a safe meeting place free from expectations, fears and insecurities. The project was named “Free Zone” and resulted in a carousel-like seating area where participants can socialise in round baskets under a colourful ceiling with speakers where they can stream their own music. The area is well-lit and accessible to ensure a safe and welcoming public space, open for all.
Each year Sweden produces 1.3 billion tonnes of organic waste. This corresponds to approximately 129 kg per person. Instead of seeing this as a burden, most municipalities realise its potential in the most circular way of all – through the production of biogas. The locally produced biogas is often used to run public buses in cities such as Stockholm, Malmö and Uppsala. Compared to diesel or petrol, biogas emits fewer particles and environmentally harmful gases, not to mention unpleasant smells. Not only do we avoid the use of fossil fuels, we are also creating a cleaner urban environment and making more out of less.
After years of environmental challenges in the Augustenborg neighbourhood in Malmö, a comprehensive refurbishment in the 1990s established green and blue structures throughout the area. This put a stop to the recurrent flooding, as well as contributing to a more visually appealing urban space with richer biodiversity. Measures included adding 6 km of storm water channels, 11 ponds, 0.2 ha of green roofs and Sweden’s first and only botanical roof garden. The floods have since ceased and other benefits have emerged, including cleaner storm water run-offs and cooling effects in the summers.
Cities should be for all people. If we want to create sustainable and inclusive cities, different voices must be heard and included in the planning and development process. We listen to local stakeholders and adapt to their context, needs and interests to develop tailor-made local capacities, institutions and processes. This enables local ownership with long-lasting results.
We strive to turn challenges into opportunities by looking at urban development as a whole before considering specific interventions. Rejecting the silo mentality, we bring sectors and disciplines together in search of synergies and integrated solutions that make better use of local resources and assets. Our aspiration is to generate results that encompass all dimensions of urban sustainability: economic, environmental, sociocultural and spatial.
Different groups experience the city in different ways and may have their own knowledge, needs and dreams. Urban planning and development needs to address this. We do so through participatory processes which encourage citizens, businesses and civil society to share their insights, experiences and perspectives. Through special emphasis on gender equality and the urban poor, SymbioCity contributes to poverty reduction and improved living conditions for all.
With local challenges and conditions in mind, we strive for economic, environmental, sociocultural and spatial sustainability as well as resilience to future climate realities.
SymbioCity provides both a theoretical approach and a practical methodology to address the urban challenges stated in the New Urban Agenda and the Global Development Goals.
By focusing on the opportunities that urbanisation offers, SymbioCity contributes above all to achieving Goal 11 – Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient & sustainable. But the complexity of our cities means that Goal 11 cannot be viewed in isolation. A prerequisite of any urban planning process is strong local institutions that enable accountable, responsive and inclusive decision making, with participation of stakeholders and partnerships between public, private and academic sectors. Goals 16 – Peace, justice and strong institutions – and 17 – Partnerships for the goals – are therefore essential institutional components in all SymbioCity projects.
Through various working methods, SymbioCity enables cities to make sustainability assessments of their urban environments and develop solutions that are tailored to local conditions. Other Goals to be taken into account therefore vary between activities and projects but may include goal 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 15.