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Planning the future of one of Europe’s fastest growing cities

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Planning the future of one of Europe’s fastest growing cities

2019, April 08th


With its population doubling in the last 50 years, Umea is one of Northern Sweden’s most vibrant cities with an average age of 38 years old. The city is characterised by its proximity to nature including forests, the sea and rivers. While the dynamic growth of the city is exciting, growing consideration has been brought to planning a sustainable future. The City Council has therefore set itself long-term objectives along with development strategies in order to reach them.
Notable objectives, as concern Active Cities, include becoming Sweden’s best public health by 2020 and planning the growth through social, ecological and economic sustainability. The environment remains a top priority and like many other Swedish cities, Umea plans to be carbon-neutral by 2030. The municipality has therefore mainstreamed its environmental budget and objectives into several other policy areas to ensure they will be reached.


In 2012 Umea started a cross-sector collaboration seeking to improve air quality and reduce congestion was established between the municipality and property owners and developers. ‘Green parking payoff’ allows the latter to build less parking spaces with their housing properties if they are close to public transport connections and offer tenants public transport incentives- such as discounted transport tickets, car-sharing schemes, or bike garages.

Umea regularly assesses the evolution of its mobility trends. Every 8 years a travel survey is answered by 5% of the population, which then serves as the foundation on which public transport and active mobility plans and improvements are based.

Umea Region is a voluntary cooperation network between municipalities enabling the exchange of information, knowledge and good practices between municipalities on all topics. Public transport is considered an essential topic of collaboration across the region. By pooling together projects and resources, in 2012 a record number of users was registered and since, the group has been giving ever more attention to increasing soft mobility. Be Green Umea centralises all sustainable transport projects, thus compiling valuable information before thinking of new incentives. For example, BeGreenUmea is a freely accessible website containing a variety of tips and tricks for residents on how to lead a more sustainable life, with a large section dedicated to active mobility and car-sharing.


To date, the city counts 160km of exercise track and 262km of walking and cycling routes. Umea regularly controls the water quality of numerous bathing facilities whether they be natural or built. Umea has established itself a Green Vision, in which it outlays the necessity to preserve and develop green spaces across its municipality and to create new spaces of the likes so that all residents have close and easy access. In addition, Umea values the opinions of its population, as can be seen through its citizen dialogue tool that invites individuals to share their ideas, observations and complaints about the opportunities they face during their free time.

Late 2016, the municipality completed the ‘Frizon’ project, which redesigned a section of a central park following the desire and needs of young girls by including them in the process. The project accounted for the need to share public spaces in gender equal ways so that all residents feel welcome to use such spaces.


Change the Game was founded in 2014 following a project of the same name initiated by Balticgruppen Inc. (umbrella real estate group), with the clear mission to increase physical activity among children in the city. In order to create a physically literate community, Change the Game produced campaigns, various activities, trainings and conferences around the concept of Physical Literacy- the perspective and key concept to lead and develop activities and environments that increase competence, confidence, motivation and active participation. Change the Game host an annual event in September that attracts thousands of kids, parents, leaders and professionals from Umea, Sweden and external countries too.

There exists a strong cross-sector interest and collaboration on the topic in Umea, as can be seen through the ‘Physical Literacy Council’, which consists of representatives from the municipality (departments of leisure, education and city planning), regional sport federations and health department, Umea’s University and Balticgruppen Inc. Together the Council aims to develop and synchronise activities, ideas and experiences of relevant actors to enable all children and young people to have the chance to be physically literate.

EMA project is a pilot project run over the 2018-19 academic year, that aims to teach children about the concept of physical literacy and the importance of daily physical activity. Parents, teachers and leaders are to be trained in order to provide the right conditions for children to be more active, illustrating the project’s cross-sectorial collaboration between Umea municipality, Change the Game and academics from Manitoba University of Canada.


Umea University has over 4 000 employees, who are entitled to a number of benefits, including fitness reimbursement. The initiative started in 2007 with a discounted fitness card that reached its peak in benefiters in 2014 with 1 950 cards. Yet the number of discounted fitness cards decreased rapidly by over 50%. In an attempt to continue providing their employees with a good work-life balance, the University adapted its policy by catering for a variety of sport and physical activity tastes. In this way, the University now offers a fixed fitness reimbursement to all employees, regardless of their location, for a very broad range of activities so long as they are purchased for a term, a period of 5 months or for more than 5 times.

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