Federation for
Housing and

Placemaking in practice – the RiverCity Gothenburg example

This guest blog from Bo Aronsson, IFHP Council representative from Sweden, is about turning abandoned land into modern, attractive and vibrant inner city environment.

“Start Monday!” the experts said. The question they answered was how we should develop five square kilometer of abandon land and turn it into a modern, attractive and vibrant inner city environment. We did listen to the experts and opened Frihamnen to the citizens of Gothenburg from the very start of the regeneration process.


I am very proud of the fact that there is a place that carries my name, “Bosse’s Place”. So far not many people know of the place though. Actually it is quite a few. But I am convinced that the place will be one of the most attractive places in the future Gothenburg and that it will take a lot of work to get there. And by then the place for sure will carry another name.


Frihamnen (the freeport) is located right in the heart of Gothenburg just along the river Göta älv. Today it is a huge, abondoned area with a few old warehouses that gives some identity and historic references to the place. Frihamnen was a proud result of the celebration of the city’s 300 years anniversary back in 1921. The City Council by then wanted Gothenburg to be modern, and they believed and invested in the future. A freeport was a must for a progressive city by that time. Now the port activity by long has moved further to the west, to the mouth of the river Göta älv. In the summertime still some of the smaller cruising ships find their way to one of the basins in Frihamnen and give life to the area for a couple of hours.


Frihamnen is just one part of the huge urban development called RiverCity Gothenburg; five square kilometre of abandoned land, earlier industrial and logistic areas that now will be turned into a modern and liveable inner city environment. The RiverCity Vision, adopted by the City Council in October 2012, tells us what kind of city we should create – inclusive, green and dynamic. And it has a clear message; “Temporary activities will be used to inject vitality into the area, to create a vibrant area, to test new ideas and to demonstrate that change is happening.”


Today Bosse’s Place is the starting point for these activities. Tomorrow it will be the hub and the focus point in a new urban district with more than 15 000 inhabitants and 15 000 working places. The creating of the urban environment is based on an active openness. As the vision states; “We should all be able to follow what is happening in our city. We should be able to become involved in issues that affect everyone. RiverCity Gothenburg affects us all.” One way to do this is to invite the citizens to come here, to turn the area into something they long for or miss in their neighbourhoods.


First out in Frihamnen was the Roller Derby Community, mainly young women. A new outdoor arena has not only attracted the clubs with their bouts, but also the public that has the possibility to try the roller skates and the sport. Next in line was “the park” and “the beach”; small parts of the huge asphalt areas were taken away and replaced with a grass lawn and a sand dune. Sunny days and evenings these small areas, the first step in creating a Jubilee park, has become places to enjoy the summer and the company. Here ideas of the future park are created and discussed.


Then it was time for the younger generations to come for sailing classes, to “embrace the water” as the vision says. The basin is the perfect venue for the first moves in a sailboat. In 15-20 years one of these kids might be on board on the extreme sailing machines that race around the world in Volvo Ocean Race, the big sailing event with the end of the final stage in Gothenburg and Frihamnen both in 2015 and 2018.


At the moment the first small step in a bath culture project is taken; a sauna is under construction on one of the mooring posts in the basin. The work is done by volunteers under the appreciated leadership by Raumlabor Berlin. The next summer a temporary swimming pool will be in place - it still will take some years before the river can be recommended for a swim.


Other international artists that have worked with young volunteers is Haas & Hahn from Holland, well-known for their favela painting in Brazil. A mini tower of containers has been painted as a reminder of Gothenburg as a shipbuilding and port city.


Urban gardening has been going on since early this summer. The temporary gardening in Kvillebäcken, the development area nearby, was highly appreciated. Based on the experience made we now have taken the concept one step further in Frihamnen. September is harvest time and also the time to enjoy all the tastes from what has been cultured. The end of the growing season was recently celebrated with a “Schnippel disco” in order to also promote more sustainable life styles.


This very special place, which house a magic touch from a lot of water, a lot of sky and a late afternoon sun, has just started to become a place to go for an increasing number of citizens in Gothenburg. By 2021, when we celebrate the city’s 400 years anniversary, it will be an important and significant part of the Jubilee Park that is planned to attract all citizens of Gothenburg and visitors from all over the world. But why wait - welcome to visit my favourite place, the future heart of Gothenburg, already in the making process!