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Urban transformation

On surface, the Norrlandic calm prevails. But do not be fooled. More than a thousand metres underground, the mines continue to grow along the rich ore-veins that stretch underneath Kiruna and Malmberget. In order for us to be able to continue mining iron ore, up until 2035, everything on top of the mines must be moved to safety. Everything.

The urban transformation is the several years long, complex move of two modern communities. It concerns all of us who live here and leaves no one unaffected.

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Millions of tons of ore. Each year.

It starts with the iron

Deep down in the mountain underneath Kiruna and Malmberget is the world's largest underground iron ore mine. This is where Sweden’s most important export company LKAB, conducts its operations.

It gives us a social development out of the ordinary. Never before has two such modern communities been moved because a mining industry needs the land.

The ore creates welfare for all of us

At night the mountain rumbles but it is difficult for the naked eye to see the connection between the work that never stops below ground and the visible calm above ground. The changes may seem slow but if you take a step back the movement will seem dramatic. The ore is transported from the mine day after day and as the stones are moved the ground sinks. Each day, trains roll out with tons of iron ore to the ports in Narvik and Luleå in order to be shipped out into the world. This brings work opportunities in several levels, income for the state and steel that creates welfare all over the world.

The uninterrupted change is a vital necessity

It is said that the mines and its communities are living together is symbiosis. For us, this is extremely clear. As the mine expands, area by area above ground is being cleared and is turned into parks, at the same time as new residential areas grow. People pack and unpack. The constant movement and the knowledge or the mutual dependence is in the air. For us who live here, this is nothing new, change is a part of our living conditions. We know that the move is necessary and that we contribute to something bigger.

We have made up our minds

The mines with its rich ores is the lifeblood of Malmfälten. We have lived and worked here together since the late 19th century and we shall continue to live and develop here. There is no natural law that decides whether there shall be mines here or not. It is decided by those who live here and we have made up our minds. We move. We have always moved.

Welcome to share our history.

Side by side

Above us a sky that offers glistening northern lights alternating with glowing midnight sun. Around us miles and miles of uninhabited wilderness with high mountaintops and windswept expanses. It is breathtakingly beautiful but also an environment that requires those living there to adapt. It applies not least to flora and fauna but us humans are also strongly affected by the conditions we live under in the iron ore domain.

Life take new turns

To the delight of some and the horror of others, visitors sometimes ask us whether we will fall into the ground. The answer is no. When the ground falls the people will long since have found new homes. All the buildings that were previously there will have been demolished or moved and rebuilt in a new location. Shops will have a new address, the children will take another route to school and the cross-country ski tracks will have been relayed.

The mine gives and the mine takes

Almost 10,000 people, approximately a quarter of the population of Malmfälten, will move. Many have already done so.

Above the polar circle

LKAB's mines lies at the most northerly point in Sweden, with a yearly average temperature of -2 degrees. Here, north of the polar circle, there are 27 days of polar night when the sun is only barely visible on the horizon. On the other hand, the midnight sun shines on us 24 hours a day for about 47 days in a row starting in May. These extreme differences between seasons is as much a challenge as a fascination.

Society and infrastructure

There are about 40,000 inhabitants here. Almost everyone has some kind of connection to LKAB. We create job opportunities for 17,000 people in Malmfälten. The figure is significantly higher if we are talking about the Cap of the North, where the mines employ a total of around 54,000 people.

The railway that ties the communities together is called Malmbanan, or Ofotbanen on the Norwegian side. Each day, several millions of tons of iron ore are transported to the ports in order to eventually benefit the whole world.

The beginning of everything

It started with a squirrel hunt outside the village Masugnsbyn, near Junosuando in Torne Valley. At least if legend is to be believed. The farmer Lasun Lassi (Lars Larsson) found a peculiar black piece of stone there. The year was 1642. He brought the stone, that turned out to be iron ore, to the merchants in Torneå. The discovery was reported down south, to the Lord High Chancellor of Sweden, Axel Oxenstierna. This became the beginning of the mining and industrial history in Malmfälten and eventually the mining company LKAB.

Houses made of pork boxes

In the beginning, only very modest amounts of iron ore were mined. When the railway Malmbanan was built and completed in March 1888 in Malmberget and October 1899 in Kiruna, the ore mining could take off for real. The mines needed labour and the population grew in the mining communities. The miners needed somewhere to live and built their huts and cottages out of what was available. It was common to build using timber from the wooden boxes that contained high-energy pork from America. The houses were soon called “pork boxes”.

Important to be close to home in winter

At this time there was no public transport and it was necessary to build housing near the mines. When the miners’ clothes became wet from the water in the mines, it was important to be close to home in the winter cold.

A city plan far ahead of its time

At the end of the 19th century city plans were developed for Malmberget and Kiruna and real houses were built. The city plan for Kiruna, from the year 1900, was the first in the Nordic countries to be established based on continental ideas. Instead of a traditional grid pattern plan, the town was designed organically based on the terrain. At the same time, it is Sweden's first climate adapted city plan. One example is the curved streets that protects the buildings from the northerly wind.

With the best possible sunny location

Malmberget is also planned and built in order to make life as comfortable as possible for its inhabitants. All buildings are therefore turned towards the sun and the view over Dundret, at the same time as it seeks protection from wind and cold by its location on the southern slope of the mountain. As the ground often is steep, roads and plots of land are placed on terracing. The street network is defined by straight streets that sometimes curve softly in order to follow the lines of the mountain.

However forward-thinking they were, no one could guess that the mining would continue on to this day. That is why the communities were more or less built on top of the ore.

Sweden's black gold

Communities in transformation

For more than a century, LKAB has mined iron ore in Kiruna and Malmberget. Generations of miners have dedicated their lives to the mining industry which has made it possible for the entire world to build the societies of tomorrow. The iron ore is turned into the strong steel that you will find everywhere, in buildings, cars, washing machines and bikes, even in the champagne cork cover.

The impact of the ground deformation

Everything is on the line now. Everything. For every bucket of iron ore taken out of the mine, the ground gives way from underneath and sinks. It is called ground deformation and it affects us in a very concrete way. LKAB cannot continue extracting ore unless the ground above first has been emptied of streets, buildings and people. This is why we are prepared to put in billions in order to save the communities, the job opportunities and Sweden's black gold.

You may ask yourself if this will succeed, and how it is going to be done. As you understand, this is a very complex task. Luckily there is a plan and many want to join in.

The transformation has begun

The moving process is in full swing in Kiruna

On a cold winter's day in 2004, Kiruna Municipality sent a press release that made a whole world gasp. The heading was “We are moving a town”. Ten years later the winds of change blow fiercer than ever. It is happening now. But what exactly is happening?

Roads and rail roads have already been rerouted. Buildings have been demolished and other have been built. The starting point for a new city centre was autumn 2014. It will be located three kilometres east of the current city centre. The new city hall is the first building that is estimated to be completed and which the new city will be built around. There is great excitement and many questions.

Malmberget has moved in the last 50 years

Society has changed here in the last 50 years. In the 1970s, large parts of Malmberget’s city centre disappeared. The church, schools, cinemas, the community centre, shops and residences have already been demolished and moved in different stages. The train used to run between the residential buildings in central Malmberget. The community is now being completely emptied and those who live in Malmberget till eventually move to Gällivare, 50 kilometres to the south.

Great efforts in a short amount of time

Urban transformation is nothing new but the scope of the current one makes it unique. Time is also of the essence, which makes it one of Sweden’s biggest social challenges, or as we like to view it, an opportunity.

We preserve important memories

Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården is Kiruna's second oldest building and was originally referred to as the B2. It was built in four stages during the years 1895-1909 and was the Kiruna residence of Hjalmar Lundbohm, the founder of LKAB, until he left the city in 1920.

The house of big decisions in Kiruna

There is an air of times gone by in here and everything has been carefully preserved. Hjalmar’s notes and books are on his writing desk. The room is furnished with tables, armchairs and red mahogany chairs. The writing desk is positioned exactly by the window that faces the mine. This was the power centre of the mining company. You can only imagine all the meetings that have taken place in this building and in this room over previous decades. Now the building will be moved.

An area with distinct architecture

The company area in Malmberget is characteristic with its distinct architecture. The housing is situated along the southern slope of the mountain. The oldest buildings from 1888 were in part built with scrap railway sleepers in connection with the railway being completed. The buildings in the company area were erected from the end of the 19th century up until the middle of the 20th century. A signifier for the area is the generous space around the buildings with potato plantations and berry bushes. Around 30 of these buildings are now facing a gigantic move.

We bring history into the future

Faith in the future and new opportunities is characteristic for Kiruna and Gällivare but we are also careful to protect history and that which will eventually disappear. We make sure to safeguard memories and create memory spaces in different manners. It is a great transformation to move and not being able to visit the place where you grew up in the future quite naturally evokes strong emotions.

Rational arguments meet the voice of the heart - habits and traditions are posed against innovation and visions.

Karl-Johan ”Kallis” Mäki knows what that feels like.

Development before closure

A world class adventure

It is happening now. The building and demolition processes must not stop half-way, there must be more time to prepare new areas before the current ones must be emptied.

It is often difficult to give answers when all the conditions are not yet in place but that is also part of the journey. The new communities will emerge in a dialogue between everyone affected.

Our future is here

A grand joint plan

Planning, coordination and meetings interchange. Piles of Excel sheets, blueprints and presentations. This is what the day looks like for those who work with the urban transformation daily. Many people are concerned and LKAB could not possibly do everything themselves.

Focussing in the same direction

Municipalities, authorities and inhabitants are all participating from the planning to the implementation phase, in order to ensure that everything will be as good and fair as possible for everyone concerned. But in order to understand more about the background of the planning, we must go about about a kilometre underground.

Since LKAB was founded in 1890, more than one and a half billion tons of iron ore have been extracted from the mines of Malmfälten. Every day, all year round, we extract iron ore in the LKAB mines that is the equivalent of steel needed to build six Eiffel towers. It is a mind-boggling thought. Imagine the development opportunities we contribute with all around the world.

The ore extracted in the mines is of high quality and increases the further down into the orebody we reach.

We set of explosions at night

Down here we build tunnels straight through the orebody, “drifts”, that can be up to 130 metres long. There, we drill approximately 40-55 metre long holes in the rock directed upwards in a fan shape. When the drilling of the whole drift is completed, we spray explosives of a cream texture into the drill holes. After one o’clock every night we blast off the ore. It affects the ground surface and out research engineer can tell you more about this.

An international perspective

The urban transformation in Kiruna and Malmberget has garnered attention all over the world. Never before has such developed and modern communities been transformed in a similar way.

A lot will happen in an unusually short amount of time

But hang on, has it never been done before? Yes, it has. Similar projects have occurred, and occurs, in other part of the world but according to our international experts, the size and the time perspective of the urban transformations in Malmfälten makes it unique. According to Fredrik Lindblom, project manager at Replan in Canada, and one of our collaboration partners, one of the big challenges is to get everybody on the train. He points out the importance of transparent and clear communication. To listen carefully and show an ambition to find sustainable and attractive solutions are clear factors of success.

Urban transformation unique for the world

Life between the buildings

The local news establishments report on the mining, the discussions over dinner tables are about mining, children learn about mining in school and when the residents of Malmfälten travel they are associated with the mine.

Planning and planting for the next generation

An important part of the urban transformation is to continuously move forward. We must not sit down and just wait for something that will happen in several year’s time. Our communities shall be good living environments all the way, as far as is possible.

Pleasant living environment for everyone

We therefore continue to maintain buildings and areas, planting flowers, mowing lawns and creating positive meeting places. For example, in Malmberget we have built a winter playground and worked to keep the city centre clean and pleasant. Our Mine City Parks in Kiruna is another example of this approach. While waiting for the mine to take over the areas closest, we have established green border spaces between the mine and the built-up area. Here are walking paths, play parks and barbecue spots that everyone can use. We naturally always make sure that it is a safe place to be.