Why The Swedish Arctic Town Of Kiruna Is Having To Move

Pamela William
Discover the fascinating story of Kiruna, a Swedish Arctic town relocating due to expanding mining operations. Learn about the challenges faced by residents, the modern and sustainable design of the new city center, and the balance between economic development, environmental concerns, and preserving cultural history.
Kiruna, Sweden. Photo: rundgren | Wikimedia Commons

Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden, is on the move. The town is being relocated approximately two miles to the east due to the risk posed by expanding mining operations. Kiruna is built on top of the world’s largest underground iron ore mine and has been settled since the 1800s.

The bill for the move, estimated to be around three billion euros ($3.2 billion), is partially funded by the state-owned mining company, LKAB.

In 2018, LKAB paid 22.3 billion Swedish krona (about $2 billion) to move the entire town. LKAB is responsible for producing 80% of the European Union’s supply of iron ore and decided to relocate the town instead of shuttering the mine.

Relocating Kiruna: A Monumental Task

Kiruna Church Photo: Marcus Gunnarsson/unsplash
Kiruna Church. Photo: Marcus Gunnarsson | Unsplash

The relocation process is building by building, and the new town is being constructed to the east of the current site. The move is expected to take several decades, and some buildings will be dismantled and rebuilt in their new location.

The relocation has been a significant undertaking for the town’s residents, who are facing disruption and changes to their daily lives. However, many residents support the move as it secures the town’s future and ensures continued mining operations in the area.

Kiruna’s new town center has been officially inaugurated, marking a significant milestone in the town’s transformation. The relocation process began 15 years ago and is expected to continue for another 20 to 30 years, with a possible extension if the mine expands even deeper in the future.

 Kiruna’s New City Center: Modern And Sustainable

The Famous Ice Hotel In Kiruna, Sweden Photo: Secret Travel Guide/unsplash
The Famous Ice Hotel In near Kiruna, Sweden. Photo: Secret Travel Guide | Unsplash

The new city center, located a few kilometers east of the old one, is a massive construction site with new buildings that boast a modern and stylish design, bearing the mark of LKAB’s influence.

The town square is dominated by a fascinating new Scandic hotel and a sleek new city hall called “Kristallen,” with the relocated clock tower from the old center. The new and expansive shopping district, currently housing three different galleries, is designed by Wester+Elsner architects, who drew inspiration from Kiruna’s DNA of nature, mountains, and stone. The design features generous entryways for both light and darkness through lanterns.

Kiruna’s new city center highlights the importance of balancing economic development with environmental and social concerns. The town’s cultural history has been incorporated into the design, creating a vibrant and modern city center that represents the town’s future.

Embracing Change And Coping With Loss

Despite the progress in Kiruna’s relocation project, some residents are struggling to accept the new town. The mayor acknowledges that while some are excited about the transformation, others feel caught between two towns or miss the old town’s restaurants.

“Sometimes people are inclined to think, ‘It’s fantastic! It’s such a huge project’. The operator, LKAB, always promotes the image that it’s something good, that everyone is happy. But not everyone is,” said Mayor Selberg during an interview with France24.

In the old town center, entire buildings have been emptied and are now barricaded behind high blue fences, awaiting demolition.

In an interview with The Guardian, Nina Eliasson, the head of planning at Kiruna municipality, has said that while “not so many people are negative” about the town’s relocation, many residents have felt sadness as their homes were demolished. Then you feel that this is for real. And, of course, it is about your memories, the place that you grew up in.”.

She also added that the town had not received any security that future mining may not lead to further changes. “We didn’t get any guarantees at all,” she said. “We had to accept it.”

The move of Kiruna’s iconic large red wooden church, which is considered one of Sweden’s most beautiful buildings, is anticipated to take place in 2026 as part of the town’s relocation project.

The relocation project aims to secure Kiruna’s future while accommodating LKAB’s expanding mining operations.


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