Umeå (Sweden)

Located just south of the Arctic Circle, the city of Umeå is often described with references to its abundance of natural beauty, with its vast forests and the nearby Gulf of Bothnia providing a beautiful backdrop to the seasonal Northern Lights.

Umeå today is so much more than its beautiful landscapes. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe with a young, progressive and environmentally-friendly population. In addition, the city is a frontrunner of smart city solutions; is dedicated to growing in a sustainable manner; a pioneer in integrating gender equality in urban planning; and is committed to circular economy and development.

By 2050, the city expects to reach a population of 200,000 inhabitants (compared to 130,000 in 2020). This growth demands the successful integration of environmental, social and economic planning to maintain its high quality of life, natural beauty, and thriving economy.

Sustainability focus: integrate, integrate, integrate!

Umeå is thinking holistically, prioritising integration in all its forms. The city is integrating sustainability into processes, integrating otherwise disconnected measures so that they complement each other, and integrating topics like gender and social equity into its approach to sustainability.

Umeå has a strong tradition of sustainable urban development ranging from its district heating system – first deployed in the 1960s, which today heats up to 80 percent of households – to its mobility  network, which includes the world’s fastest electric bus charger (installed by the city in 2017).

Today, Umeå is working to consolidate and improve its impressive sustainability measures. This includes procuring more e-buses, sourcing more renewable energy, and producing less waste, as well as connecting otherwise disconnected systems to make sure they complement each other and maximise progress toward environment goals. In short, Umeå is working to integrate sustainability across all local processes.

One example of this integration is in the city's work with ICLEI Europe in the context of the RUGGEDISED Smart City project – one of several European projects in which Umeå is taking a leading role. Through the project, the city is transforming its University District and 'smartifying' its district heating system. Some of its RUGGEDISED measures include sophisticated demand-side district heating control systems, intelligent building controls, gamification for increased awareness among residents, electric mobility charging stations, new Urban Data Platforms, and changes to how city parking works. These measures are proving successful: European Smart City benchmarking conducted by Vienna University of Technology ranked Umeå as having Europe's most environmentally aware citizens.

Another example of Umeå’s integrated and holistic approach to sustainability is its commitment to circular development, as illustrated through its endorsement of the European Circular Cities Declaration. As a signatory, the municipality is committed to accelerating the transition from a linear to a circular economy, and to acting as an ambassador of circular economy – i.e. an economy in which resource consumption is decoupled from economic growth. Umeå has benefited from adding a social dimension to its circular efforts, perhaps best exemplified through its inclusion of a gender perspective.

Gender equity and social sustainability are included throughout Umeå’s sustainability work. The city has an incredible 30 years of experience working towards gender equity, and has been named a European Best Practice for Gender Equality in Urban Development – Gendered Landscape. Furthermore, Umeå belongs to the EU region with the highest Social Progress Index ranking.

Social and gender equity does not stand alone, but rather is meaningfully integrated alongside the city's sustainability work. For example, the city based a recent mobility campaign on data showing that men in the city were 15-20 percent less likely to utilise public transportation than women, and that changing the mobility patterns of men would have a greater overall positive environmental impact than further greening its public transportation system.

 

The need to knows

  • Target: climate-neutral city by 2030
  • 50 percent of all trips in Umeå make use of sustainable modes (30 percent by bike)
  • Umeå’s public transport bus fleet is fully electric, and uses 100 percent renewable electricity
  • 17 percent of the inner city, and 24 percent of the city overall, is public green space
  • 98 percent of residents live within 300 m of urban green areas
  • 2,300 birch trees along the inner city streets
  • 253 km of walking and biking paths
  • Over 160 km of 'exercise' trails
  • 300 km of electrically lit skiing and jogging tracks
  • All preschools and schools in Umeå are certified by the Swedish National Agency for Education’s 'School for sustainable development' distinction

Achievements

  • Signatory to the Circular Cities Declaration 2020
  • Initiator and signatory of the Social Progress Cities Declaration 2019
  • Transformative Action Award 2019, Special Mention
  • European Green Capital runner-up 2018
  • Member of the European Green Capital Network
  • European Capital of Innovation finalist 2018
  • Signatory to the Basque Declaration
  • Signatory to the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life
  • Signatory to the Covenant of Mayors
  • Signatory to the Aalborg Commitments

 

 

What the city has to say

“In Umeå, we believe in integrating many different perspectives as we plan for the future for our city. Citizen participation has been key in several of our city planners projects. Umeå is also a good example of how openness, trust and accessibility are driving forces for innovation and growth. The fact that Northern Sweden is increasingly gaining a reputation for its high quality of life, as evidenced by our top scores on the European Social Progress Index, makes other cities turn their gaze to us as they plan the next steps in their development. We are, in turn, looking nationally and internationally for good examples to learn from as we plan for our own future.”

Janet Ågren (S), Deputy Chair, Municipal Council, Umeå Municipality


ICLEI and Umeå

Umeå became an ICLEI Member in February 2015, and is a signatory to a number of ICLEI-led campaigns, such as the European Circular Cities Declaration, the Basque Declaration, and the Aalborg Commitments.

 

Other relevant links:

 

All images courtesy of the City of Umeå; in order from the top of the page © Väven, © Mattias Pettersson, © Peter Steggo, ©Samuel Pettersson