James and Errin continue their European tour, in the most populous and economically powerful of the Nordic cities, and one which is also apparently not exempt from participating in the global discussion on housing and public space.

While not as alarming as Oslo’s exhibit on the housing crisis, Stockholm is running a similar gallery. Focused on improving the urban character of their city and found at ArkDes, the exhibit is titled Public Luxury.

A quote from the exhibit reads:

“The title Public Luxury sounds like a contradiction, but recognizes that everything in the public realm exists for more than merely functional reasons. Every kerbstone, bench, bollard, station sign, public toilet and street is part of the character and identity of a place.

All the works in Public Luxury, many of which were made for the exhibition, share the ambition to tell a story about public life today. Architects and designers may not be able to change society, but nothing reveals how society is changing as clearly as architecture and design.”

I start with selections from the exhibit.

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Stockholm: "Sweden saw an outbreak of memes-as-urban-criticism in the wake of Umeå being named Europe's Capital of Culture in 2014. While the posts were anonymous, the exhibit suggests they may have been created by the disenfranchised city planners of Umeå and propagated/popularized by social media. Memes like this can reach a wide audience and have a strong message, but their simplicity can muddle the nuances of complex urban issues. Is there a place for meme as urban discourse in Vancouver? The memes attached to the gallery read (roughly translated with help from Google) as follows: 1. "oh rats too bad that people did not want to move into my rental units. Now I "must" sell these as condominiums too" 2. "You should not believe that summer is coming just because one of the city's centres in Stockholm is pushing out a damn sun lounger in the worst concrete desert of the city." 3. "The university and the students are the foundation of Umeå's growth. Student Housing? Why should we stand for that? Sell the shit!""

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Stockholm: "A map of what public spaces are owned by private versus public institutions in Stockholm. From the exhibit itself: "Most people recognize the map of the Stockholm metro system and what it shows. But the information on this version is new and also surprising to many. In an ongoing project, architect and global artist MDGH has researched ownership of various town-centre facilities along each metro line. The project is called Mapping the Unjust City. It shows tangled ownership structures, but also aims to find out if selling off public space has an impact on the ability to exercise civil rights – such as the right to demonstrate." It would be a curious exercise to repeat in Vancouver – would there be any correlations between who owns the public spaces of Vancouver and how they are allowed to be used?"

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  1. ‘Stockholm City’ for the new underground station was a very poor decision, but the circled ‘J’ stands for ‘järnväg’, i.e. railway, and is at least as clear as any such symbol if you know the language.

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