Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Stockholm's Earliest Urban Plan Revisited

Before I move forward in time, I’d like to take a quick step back and add a little more depth to my post on Stockholm’s Earliest Urban Plan.  When I wrote about Örnehufvud’s urban plan for Stockholm in the 1630’s, I had an appreciation for how revolutionary the plan was in that it created a coherent, monumental city and in that it has been strictly followed through Stockholm’s development for 350 years.  However, after reading Thomas Hall’s Stockholm: The Making of a Metropolis, I have a new-found appreciation for just how revolutionary the plan was at both a local and on a continental scale.

At a local level, the new, regularized plan for Stockholm required an extremely involved central government to finance and enforce the plan.  Why was the king so focused on creating a modern city?  There seem to be two main reasons: first, Sweden was rapidly becoming a powerful empire and Stockholm needed “a more worthy physical form, architectural apparel in keeping with the new pretensions” (Hall).  In fact, when King Gustav II Adolf died in 1632, there were serious hesitations about inviting leading European sovereigns and dignitaries to the funeral due to embarrassment over the shabbiness of the capital.  After the fire of 1625, Stora Nygatan in Gamla Stan was re-built to a regularized, grandiose plan to accommodate stately royal processions.  Skeppsbron was also rebuilt in the 1630’s to present an imposing first impression to those sailing into Stockholm.  While Stora Nygatan and Skeppsbron were localized projects, Örnehufvud’s regularized urban plan was an overarching scheme that would transform the entire city and all of its suburbs into an impressive and orderly first-rate European capital. 

Secondly, Stockholm was regularized so that the crown could exert as much control over trade and industry as possible.  A more regular town with an understandable, easily-navigable street grid made regulation and taxation of business much easier.  At the same time that the regent (Kristina was too young to ascend the throne after Gustav II’s death) ordered the regularization of the physical city (according to Gustav II’s wishes), he reorganized city administration (also according to the previous king’s wishes).  Previously, administration was inefficient and cumbersome because being an aldermen or a councilor was a leisure activity that was always subordinate to one’s commercial enterprises.  To counter this, the regent took control out of amateurs’ hands and in 1634 established four city administration entities staffed by trained, salaried officials.  The earliest four departments oversaw trade, justice, officials, and building.  These were the ingredients needed to create an orderly city where trade could prosper and flourish in an orderly, governed, and easily-taxable manner.

In addition to the amount of power and oversight that was required to accomplish Örnehufvud’s urban plan, I also have a new-found appreciation for just how much work the regularization was to accomplish.  Although the development outside of Gamla Stan was generally quite rural and substandard in nature, there was an extensive network of established roads as well as a substantial population living in the suburbs.  Each and every road would have to be re-dug and replaced; each and every house and barn and shed and workshop would have to be dismantled, moved, and rebuilt; and each and every farm field would have to be relocated and replanted.  Örnehufvud’s plan was not drawn upon a blank slate of virgin land; instead, it was a massive project on the scale of 1950’s urban renewal that displaced thousands of people and caused massive demolition and rebuilding.  

These maps from 1636 and 1641 respectively of Norrmalm and Södermalm show the new, regular street grid superimposed on the  existing, irregular street network.  Because the 380 year-old pencil drawings are hard to see, I have shaded in the existing streets in grey and the new streets in red.  Seeing these maps drove home for me just how massive this urban regularization project really was.

Landowners were given new, rectangular plots along straight city streets to replace their original, irregular lots along country lanes.  If the original and new land values were not deemed equal, landowners were given cash money to make up the difference.  Some were given money in compensation for the expense of moving their houses, but those receiving house-moving compensation seem to have been in the minority.  While the city paid for street-building, land owners were responsible for all development inside their property boundaries.  If their new land was rocky or not uniform, the landowners could incur very high earth-moving expenses for which they received no compensation.  

On a continental scale, many cities considered overarching renewal, but Stockholm was the only city in Europe to undertake such an extensive overhaul in the 17th century.  Rome was perhaps the closest in achieving such large-scale projects, but Rome’s projects were more focused on clearing out a central focal point within a neighborhood and creating open, monumental squares.  These new open spaces were comparatively small interventions into the dense fabric of medieval Rome.  Paris also cleared out islands of order among the medieval chaos, but the city as a whole was considered beyond hope and King Louis XIV moved his court out of the city and to Versailles.  After London’s Great Fire of 1666, there were plans to rebuild in an orderly, regularized manner, but these plans were never enforced and the city was redeveloped with nearly the exact same meandering layout as before.  There was a 17th century plan to redevelop Copenhagen into a grid pattern with radial streets, but this plan was never enforced.  Only in Stockholm was there a strong-enough central government with enough willpower and far-sightedness to achieve an overarching rebuilding of the city along a predetermined, regularized plan.

After completing 17th century Europe’s largest urban construction project, Stockholm was undoubtedly the trimmest and most orderly capital on the continent, and to a large extent remains so to this day.  In an incredibly long-sighted move, the king and regent chose to focus not on creating a few architecturally monumental buildings or squares; instead, they chose to transform the entire city into a deliberate masterpiece that was envisioned to be the center of a great Nordic-Baltic empire.

A little side note: while Örnehufvud was in charge of the new city plan, Torstensson was responsible for the day-to-day management of the project for over two decades.  According to Hall, Torstensson made considerable improvements to Örnehufvud’s plan including creating a hierarchy of streets with wider main streets and narrower side streets.  Whoever came up with which ideas, the resulting city is wonderful, and the result was positively received by the crown who gave Torstensson a prominent plot of land just across the bridge from the castle as well as money to build a house.  The result is #5 in my post Palaces from TheTime of Great Power in the 1600's.