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Kiruna's Iron Mine at Night (James Losey)

How to Move a Town

Sweden’s northernmost town is moving towards the east to avoid falling into a mine

smithsonian.com

LKAB, Sweden's state-owned mining company, is Kiruna's largest employer. It's also slowly undercutting the town, which is starting to crack and sink towards the mine. And so Sweden’s northernmost town is moving two miles east, in order to avoid falling in.

LKAB  has already invested $612 million in moving the town center east. The idea is to rebuild the entire town, including sewage, electrical systems, apartment buildings and houses.

From Kiruna’s English-language website:

Deformations occur long before cracks appear. Just a few centimetres of subsidence can damage electricity lines and water pipes. Buildings are affected later. This was why the electricity supply system and the main sewage line in the affected area had to be relocated at an early stage.

In the coming 20-25 years, the mining will affect approximately 2 500 apartments as well as approximately 200 000 square meters of commercial, office, school and health care premises.

The entire project won’t be complete until around 2100, but, ideally, the town's people and businesses will start moving earlier than that. Homeowners will be paid more than market value for their land and sold a new home in the new city. But figuring out how to make sure everyone is happy is a challenge. Also a challenge: finding workers to build the city, and housing for the workers. 

From the BBC:

“Everyone that lives in Kiruna has known that the city will eventually be relocated - everyone can see the mines eating up the city," says Viktoria Walldin, one of the social anthropologists hired to work on the relocation. "The question has always been when."

Kiruna's inhabitants have been living in a "subliminal state" for almost 15 years, Walldin says, unable to make major life decisions such as buying a house, redecorating, having a child or opening a business.

A project is already underway to document the move in pictures

Model of Kiruna with red lines delineating areas of damage due to mining. Image Credit: Geson Rathnow
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