The courage to test

The populations’ strong willingness to change. Malmö, Sweden

SDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities

Malmö shows innovative work in improving the socio-economic situation based on the conviction that meeting places bring people of different socioeconomic background and ethnicity together. The Commission for Socially Sustainable Malmö concluded its work in 2013 by presenting a final report to the city executive board. It emphasised on knowledge alliances, democratic governance and social investment perspective. The work is evolving through actions for socially sustainable development. 


A vital part of Malmö’s mission was to  tackle the barriers that divide the town and that consequently results in inequality. Malmö’s strength is also its challenge: the city’s socio-economically vulnerable areas are situated in the city center, close to more resourceful areas. This creates a multicultural environment and a diversity in the city in several aspects. The city has to take active leadership role in managing the diversity. The city officials attitude towards it is to highlight the strengths and capitalise on the diversities. The Mayor of Malmö, Katrin Stjernfeldt- Jammeh’s vision for the city is “Growing and reorganising simultaneously.” Malmö is a young global city where 40% of the population are under 29 years of age, and 50% of all children speak a different language at home. The diversity and its international citizens are regarded as an asset, and the language skills are used in major international gatherings. 

Good practices & solutions

The Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö concluded its work in 2013 by presenting a final report to the city executive board. Its recommendations evolved around a social investment perspective, emphasising knowledge alliances as well as democratic governance. The continuing work is based on the commission’s recommendations with proposals for actions for socially sustainable development such as more equal access to health care in Malmö. To support implementation of the socially sustainable initiatives, a total of 30 new commissions have been launched by various administrations for further in-depth studies. 

According to politicians and civil servants, the strength of Malmö lies in the good interplay between the visions at the political level and the municipal administration. From this a brave testing, culture has been fostered leading to several pilot projects for public space in the search for a good social environment. What determines whether pilot projects of this kind lead to long-term results lies not only in evaluating and analysing the results but also the mistakes, and ultimately learning from these mistakes and implement the lessons on the next project. A culture of risk-taking and testing has evolved over several political terms of office, and in Malmö urban planning has become a tool in the wider perspective. 

The socio-economic work in Malmö is in this way closely and clearly linked to other political areas. Within the transport sector for instance, the city premiers bicycles and promotes this with reference to both its positive social and environmental influences on the urban environment. One vision for the transportation sector in Malmö is that all children should have the right to ride their bicycle to school. To be able to realise this vision, the city has to create the prerequisites to make it a simple and safe journey.

Outcome & opportunties 

It is important that the leadership is at the forefront when it comes to new ideas and investment possibilities. The project investments, in turn, has to bring forth multiple advantages, being beneficial from both a socio-economic and environmental perspective. This is particularly important when dealing with relatively small resources. One such strategic issue, as mentioned above, are the bicycles. It promotes development of the whole city of Malmö and is especially powerful since the city has a remarkably young population. Shifting focus from cars in the development of the transport sector promotes equality and democracy.

One cost-effective resource for Malmö, in the transition, is the populations’ strong willingness to change. “Anything but this”, has been a common argument.

Lessons learned & recommendations 

Inclusion and collaboration – social issues should be part of politics and permeate the entire organisation.

Related SDG targets

10 Reduce inequality within and among countries

11.2 By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.

11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.

Further reading…/Hallbar-Utveckling/Kommission-for-ett-socialt-hallbart-Malmo.html


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Project: Nordic Urban Ways