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The Seasonal City – Creating Attractive Public Space, All Year Round.

The seasons in Sweden differ distinctly from each other, with textbook-like autumns, summers, winters, and springs. No wonder that the way people interact with their city’s space is subject to the time of year. How can we create a truly lively city that works throughout the year?

During the Swedish summer, the streets, squares, and parks are filled with people. Seemingly, out of nowhere, as if they migrated back north together with the birds, after a winter in some warmer southern place.

The seasons here differ distinctly from each other, with textbook-like autumns, summers, winters, and springs. No wonder that the way people interact with their city’s space is subject to the time of year. Although there are some examples of great, let’s say, seasonal urbanism, the question of how public space can stay attractive all year round seems underexposed. So, what would this seasonal urbanism look like? Here’s an excellent example from Sweden.

Last winter, I moved to Örebro. It’s a medium-sized city, about 200 kilometers west of Stockholm. By Swedish standards, it’s close to the capital. By Dutch standards, it would be off the map.

My apartment building is located at Järntorget, a central square which features a large circular fountain. The beauty of this fountain is that it is not only aesthetically pleasing but also a playground all year round. In the summertime it lets children run around and cool down in the hot summer’s sun. During the cold Swedish winters, the water in the fountain’s basin freezes, turning it into an ice-skating rink.

I love this kind of seasonal urbanism because it ensures that public space does not turn into dead space, but is instead alive all year round.

Järntorget, Örebro: Seasonal Urbanism at its best. Pictures by Susanne Flink.

The way the fountain is being used during the different seasons is heavily dependent on the people’s’ age. While during the wintertime parents are up on the ice, teaching their children how to skate, in the summer they sit along the side to watch their the little ones run around.

The mid-winter and summer are the highlights of this fountain. The spring and autumn, too cold to run around and get wet and too warm for ice-skating, are the apparent lows. Therefore it was nice to see that this spring the municipality found another way of using the fountain’s space, letting it become an exhibition site for the bi-annual Open Art Biennale that turns the streets of Örebro into a contemporary art museum. This year, the square’s fountain was host to Tadashi Kawamata’s art-installation, who built a large colosseum-like structure out of chairs donated by the city’s inhabitants (and the local Ikea. It is Sweden after all).

Do you know of other great examples of ‘seasonal urbanism’? Please let us know in the comment!

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