“All Right Everybody, Move Out!”

Kiruna - Moving an Entire Town

Why One Swedish Town is Telling Everyone to Pack Up

When it comes to big moving jobs it looks like Sweden has just taken the cake. While other towns move libraries or schools, whole houses and even whole lighthouses, the mining town of Kiruna, round about a hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle, is simply moving itself.

There’s got to be a reason for a town to be located up where the sun doesn’t even rise for a month out of every year. In Kiruna’s case, the reason is iron.

The Swedish mining company Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) has been operating since the town of Kiruna was established in 1900. In the 1950s the company was taken over by the state government. In 2003 deformations in the ground proved what many were already dreading: the iron mine – reaching directly under the town center – was becoming the town’s own ironic downfall. It was quickly decided that the town had to be moved. In January of 2007 the people accepted a proposed new site for the town, northwest of the impending sinkhole, and the physical process of moving the town began late that year with the first celebrated order of business being the construction of a new sewage line. But in 2010 the municipal council decided that they didn’t like the look of the sewer and voted to move the town east instead.

The Logistics

While the residents of Kiruna will all be moving (HireAHelper does not have a listed mover in the area – yet) their homes will not be moving with them. Most buildings in town, actually, will be torn down and rebuilt on Kiruna’s new and much firmer ground. Also to be replaced are a section of the E10, the highway that makes Kiruna accessible to the rest of world, the railway, which is critical for the transport of the mined iron, and of course the railway station to accommodate all the tourists who flock to Kiruna every year.

A handful of structures will be moved in their present state, or close to it. The Kiruna Church, which resembles a ski lodge more than a house of worship, will apparently be transported as is. City Hall, which resembles a lowest-bid government project, was slated to be cut into four pieces and, after being moved along a road built specifically for the job, reassembled on the new site. However the folks of Kiruna, once all the snow was cleared, decided they didn’t want the old box-shaped city hall anymore and voted on the spot to replace it with a modern, doughnut-shaped building. In the spirit of maintaining tradition the cast iron bell tower from the old city hall will be saved and placed on top of, or possibly next to, the new one.

The Changes

Kiruna will not only be changing its geographical address. In the interests of creating a more livable and sustainable city, planners are looking to replace homes and yards with apartment blocks and common courtyards. The winding residential streets of old Kiruna will give way to a grid of avenues crossing at right angles – which may be easier for the moving trucks to navigate but will, as suggested in the article, turn these streets into skin-freezing wind tunnels.

The town will also become a smaller, denser version of its former self. This means shorter commutes, closer amenities and, during the long, dark winter, a slightly higher body heat factor. And lost in the move will be all the things the 20,000 people who live here grew up with. The landmarks. The personal favorite spots. And of course, that boxy City Hall.

The Constants

A few things are sure to continue on in Kiruna, at least until the iron runs out. The winters will continue to be dark and cold; despite all the global warming indicators the coldest temperature ever recorded was in relatively-recent 1999. Though balanced with the fact that the hottest temp in Kiruna ever was just two years ago in July 2014, it’s anyone’s guess which way the reindeer will eventually be running.

Meanwhile it will certainly remain cold enough in winter for the Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel to keep reappearing every year. First built in 1990, it is reconstructed every new winter as it has become a major tourist attraction for a town that has little else it can call unique.

And, for a while anyway, the people of Kiruna will have to live with the constant known as change. The relocation of the town, itself an evolving work in progress, is not expected to be complete until 2030 or so.

By that time who knows how big the sinkhole will be?


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