Swedish Language Blog

Umeå, biggest in the North Posted by on Jan 13, 2010 in Culture

Once past the first third of Sweden you have left all the bigger cities behind, with only Umeå remaining. Umeå is the city with most residents in the upper two thirds of Sweden. About 700 km north of the capital Stockholm, right along the coast, Umeå has close to 113 000 inhabitants in its municipality. Closer to 8 out of 9 million people live in the southern most third of Sweden, while the remaining 1 million people have their pick of the rest. Geographically Sweden is the third largest country in Europe, hard to believe but true…

Another name for Umeå is ‘The city of birches’ (Björkarnas Stad). It is referred to as that because of a terrible fire in 1888 when the whole city burned down. After the fire, birches were planted alongside as many avenues as possible in case of another fire. The birches were supposed to hold enough water that the fire wouldn’t spread, acting as a fire break.

Just this autumn Umeå was elected Capital of Culture for Europe (Kultur Huvudstad). Umeå was competing against another Swedish city in the south called Lund. Umeå winning came as a surprise to quite a few people. Being the Capital of Culture made Umeå’s politicians want to display the very best of Umeå’s already existing culture, at least for the first couple of weeks after Umeå had been declared winner. There has also been a lot of talk about all the things that are planned for Umeå, many are sceptical to what will actually happen… Though let’s not darken the spirit.

During the Autumn there were a few misguided attempts to improve the cultural appearance in the city centre, though the “misguided” part is only the opinion of some. The topic did spark a lot of discussion in Umeå’s local newspapers debating if the money should be spent on plastic roses that a lot of people felt looked like garbage. Eventually the heated discussions died down and are now forgotten along with the sculptures, which were removed for Winter. Work has almost been completed on a much more positive project, a skate-board park. This project was started after many years’ of requests from a lot of young people, and now it is finally finished. It will be usable in the spring when the meter of snow that have covered Umeå melts. More projects like this should be started in 2010 if things go as planned.

One reason Umeå so many people is because it has a university and a big hospital, these two are major employment sources. The other is the truck-cab manufacturing and assembling factory. When VOLVO lastvagnar had to start laying off people who had been working there, some for 20 years or more, because of the financial crisis it struck a lot of families’ economies hard, especially if both parents worked there. That left people unemployed, many without more than a senior high school education. Most of the factory workers started working straight out of school and have developed very good skills within one area making it hard to find a job within another profession.

Trollhättan could be considered Sweden’s industrial area, with almost all of its citizens working at the SAAB factory (fabrik). When SAAB went bankrupt very many people lost their jobs. Considering how many people are unemployed (arbetslösa), Trollhättan’s people are very positive, believing in a bright future in just a couple of years. Not just in Trollhättan and Umeå but in all of Sweden the number of people unemployed is at a record high level.

Is your city being affected in any way by the financial crisis? Please tell us about it, maybe through reading about how it is affecting others your situation won’t seem so bad. Or maybe this crisis will feel more real to those who aren’t affected at all. 

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