To feed China’s growing appetite for raw materials, this venerable mining town 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle is poised to become a cutting-edge Tomorrowland as it prepares to move buildings, residents and even a century-old wooden church to a new location a few miles away.
“These will be the first to go,” said Kjell Torma, editor of KirunaTidningen, the local newspaper, pointing to a row of red brick apartment blocks surrounded by construction fences. “If you want a cheap kitchen fan or some radiators, get in there.”
Over the next 10 years, Kiruna officials plan to demolish the apartments and most other buildings in this town of 18,000 residents and then rebuild them as far as three miles away — all part of an ambitious $375 million project to make way for the expansion of a giant iron mine as demand from China has suddenly made extraction here worth the investment.
But officials aren’t constructing an exact duplicate of Kiruna, founded in 1900 as the most northerly town in Sweden. With funding from Sweden’s state-owned mining company — Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB, or LKAB — officials in Kiruna aim to create one of the most environmentally friendly cities in Europe.
Designed by Stockholm’s White Architects, the new Kiruna will feature a seven-mile-long cable car route to help pedestrians avoid deep snow, special illumination to compensate for the months of nighttime during Sweden’s dark winters and energy-efficient heating systems to combat temperatures that can plunge to below -22 degrees Fahrenheit.
The project has been in the works for years. But last month, around a year after local leaders finally sealed a deal with LKAB, bulldozers started work in Kiruna for the first time.
“There’s been a lot of preparation and then infrastructure work such as the new railway and power system,” said Mr. Torma. “A lot of people said nothing was happening. Now, though, you’ll begin to see it properly as they tear the old town down and they start building. The following summer is when it really kicks off. That’s when they will build the entire new center.”
Driving the project has been China’s hunger for steel.
LKAB’s mile-deep mine produces ore from one of the biggest iron seams in the world. With an annual profit of $700 million last year, its revenues help fund Sweden’s free health care, education and other generous social welfare benefits.
Twenty-four hours a day, powerful electric rail locomotives pull containers of iron ore from Kiruna and across the border to Norway and on to the Atlantic Ocean for export to fast-growing Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. The mine now needs to expand to access more ore at ever-deeper levels.
“The economic future of the city depends on us mining deeper,” said Kiruna Councilwoman Marianne Nordmark.
But mining destabilizes the ground, making it unsafe for surface dwellings. Cracks are already visible throughout Kiruna’s streets. Between the dangers already posed by the mine and LKAB’s need for expansion, officials opted to pull up stakes and relocate the town en masse to a nearby wooded area.
In the process, officials are hoping to create a model city that is cleaner, greener and more livable.
At the center of Kiruna will be a circular, glass city hall that’s been dubbed The Crystal. No building will be more than three blocks from The Crystal or the Arctic woodland surrounding the new town. A new main street will feature the same shops as the old one — from an independent bookstore to big Swedish brands like H&M. There will also be space for traditional indigenous outfitters and the city’s favorite local cafes and coffeehouses.