Friday, May 14, 2004

Community

Back in London after a few wonderful days with friends in Sweden - tack! - and I was a bit surprised to see just how similar it is to Canada. The countryside around Linköping (where I stayed) looks like the Ottawa Valley in some places, and in others it reminds me of where the Rockies meet the prairies near Calgary. I ate lots of venison, salmon and potatoes - as well as good cheese and dark bread - and felt very much at home. Stockholm is a gorgeous city, dispersed over little islands and an absolute pleasure to walk around. I could easily and happily live in any of the places we visited.

And I was most taken by the Colony Gardens - Koloniträdgårdar - these little parcels of urban land where apartment dwellers can garden. From what I understand - and please correct me if I'm wrong - in the 1920s the Swedish government realised that people would not want to live in city apartments and other social housing if it meant that they would have to give up the food and flower gardens to which they were accustomed. As well, they became popular (and necessary) as a way to feed city dwellers in times of poverty. So the government created these little lots that people can rent from the city; people then purchase small dwellings to put there that allow them to spend the night or weekend. The colony gardens look a bit like mobile home parks, but much more ordered. Like hundreds of meticulous little backyards. And because everyone is so close together, they also act as social binders or community spaces. Increasingly, immigrants are maintaining colony gardens which allows for increased integration with the existing Swedish population. Fascinating.

I've got a few research interviews to finish before heading home next week. But now, I'm off to browse the bookstores again.

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