Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Jungle Island of Utö: Exploring the Archipelago

On our first day off, we decided to get out of the city and experience the more natural scenery.  We traveled with a group of 11 to Utö, a small island in the archipelago.  Although the trip there was hectic and complicated, it was very much worth it. We were all very impressed with the efficiency and connectivity of each form of transportation.  First we took the inner city subway to central station, where we boarded a commuter train to the outskirts of the city.  We then boarded a bus full of people bound for Utö, which took us directly to the ferry stop for the final leg. It was interesting that most of the other people on the bus and ferry to the island seemed as though they often relied on public transportation as their primary mode of travel, a system that doesn’t seem to exist in the United States. As compared to the US where everyone uses personal vehicles on a daily basis, this was definitely a reliable and sustainable observation.
            Once on the island, we observed even more sustainable practices.  There was minimal pavement almost anywhere on the island, and most of the roads were gravel or dirt.  Because of this, runoff is disposed more naturally and doesn’t contaminate, flood, or cause as many issues as it would if pavement were utilized.  The lack of an extensive road system allowed for sparse car usage, and most people travelled by foot or bike.  Upon arriving at the island, tourists flocked to bicycle rental shops to use them for the day.  We came upon the cheapest option for bike rentals, and from there decided to get lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Next we rode along the gravel path through the birch forest, noticing along the way how little land was built up and just how much the people there seemed to care about keeping nature the most important part of Utö.
            A few kilometers down the road, we found a secluded beach on the lake where we decided to stop and check out the scenery.  Those of us who wanted to swim in the frigid Baltic Sea chose to swim up to a seemingly isolated dock a few hundred feet away. Once we all hopped on, a woman and her daughter walked down to greet us. We were hesitant once we noticed the house in the background, and asked if they wanted us off of their property.  Much to our surprise they were very kind and hospitable and offered us towels, water, juice and cookies.  We declined their offer, but the generous family proceeded to bring us armfuls of towels and refreshments.  It was definitely a pleasant encounter, and we continued to talk with them about Utö, the city of Stockholm, our study abroad tips, and they even gave us a few tips on speaking Swedish.  After awhile they noticed we were freezing and offered to row us back to our little beach.  We were all surprised by their welcoming and giving dispositions, and frankly we could have stayed there all day.  We agree that it was definitely the most pleasant experience either of us have ever had with a stranger.

            After thinking about how open these people were to newcomers and taking so much interest in our trip and our lives back home, we began to realize that this was a characteristic common of many Stockholm citizens.  Assuming that this attitude is present through out Stockholm and most likely all of Sweden, we think this may be a contributing factor as to why Sweden is so much more advanced in sustainable development.  If the whole country is open to new ideas then change is bound to happen more quickly and efficiently.  In the US, however, we generally seem to be less inclined to accept changes and new ideas from different countries and people around the world. This might be a major reason why the sustainable cities in Sweden are far more innovative in their designs involving sustainability than American cities. Not only would it be wise to take home some of Sweden’s design and policy ideas, but it wouldn’t hurt to adopt some of their character traits as well.
Our group with the family that we met (Eleanore and her mother)

Cheers from Stockholm!
Sarah Skinker & Diana Grandi

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