Founded in 1900 by the state-owned mining company LKAB, Kiruna was built around Europe’s largest underground iron-ore mine, and is home to 18,000 residents. More than 100 years of digging deep into the earth under the city to get to that iron-ore has increased the risk of the entire place slipping into a sinkhole. LKAB is the largest employer in town, and it’s an interesting situation: without Kiruna and its residents there would be no mining, but without the mine, there would be no Kiruna, as there would be little work.
So what’s an Arctic Circle city to do when it’s in danger of falling in on itself? Move.
Some people have already moved, with the first of the town’s historic buildings already transported to the new location, and the plan is to pack up the whole thing and shift it over the course of the next two decades – quite a bit faster than the original estimate of 100 years. The 20-year project, called Kiruna 4-Ever, will slowly push the city centre east, demolishing and rebuilding many buildings.
In order to make the move possible, properties are either being bought by the Swedish government at 125% of their market price, or people are being offered a similar home in the new town. While not all buildings will be moved, Kiruna has a number of historical and iconic buildings, such as the clock tower and the church (named Sweden’s most beautiful building in 2001), which the public voted to have moved and which will be loaded on to the back of massive trucks and shifted. The cost? An eye-watering $1 billion.
Kiruna isn’t the first city to have been moved wholesale, and it most likely won’t be the last: experts predict that tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes over the next years due to problems created by humans. Kiruna’s move is being closely watched by municipalities and governments around the world, and its innovative solution is seen as a model of how to make a seismic shift without destroying a community or its people.