Fewer Malmö city-dwellers take a break on Stortorget

Stortorget, the main square in the centre of Malmö, has looked the same for the past 35 years or so but the way in which the city’s inhabitants use the space has changed. These changes provide a picture of the development of the city and community, from an industrial society to a society based on services and consumption.

Mattias Kärrholm, professor i arkitekturteori

Mattias Kärrholm. Photo: Kennet Ruona

Professor of architecture Mattias Kärrholm has studied the way in which the square is used today. He has been able to compare his material to a similar study from the late 70s, and he sees clear differences:

“People do not stay on the square for as long nowadays. Of those who pause there, only half as many take the time to sit on the benches, whereas twice as many remain standing. And when they pause on the square today, they are more often busy doing something: taking photographs, drinking coffee, eating a sandwich, speaking on the phone or sending text messages.

Another difference is that there are significantly more women and children on Stortorget today than there were in the 70s. A third difference is that, at that time, there were several groups moving around on the square. My guess is that they were industrial workers on their way to and from work”, says Mattias Kärrholm.

His comparison shows how there was more time for breaks in the industrial city of Malmö for those who were not at their workplace. In the new consumer society version of Malmö, the pace is faster and the breaks shorter. Eating and drinking outdoors is part of everyday life, just as constantly communicating via mobile phone. Smoking, in contrast, appears to have dropped: there were almost no smokers at all on the more recent series of images.

“I was actually surprised by how clear the differences were. It is fun to be able to reflect the changes in society using a tool as simple as photographs!” says Mattias Kärrholm.

The 70s study was conducted by a visiting researcher in Lund, sociologist Perla Korosec-Serfaty. She and her colleagues took photographs of Stortorget from various angles and at different times of day for a week. She was then able to describe how the square was used on the basis of the more than 500 photographs produced. Mattias Kärrholm has repeated her study, counting on the images the number of people present on the square, what they were doing and how long they stayed there.

The 1970s also differ from today with regard to major events on Stortorget. In the past, there were fewer such events, and those that did take place were usually political or official in nature. Now there are many more events, but they focus more on music, culture and entertainment, such as the Malmö festival and the Music Aid fundraising event.

Mattias Kärrholm has conducted a lot of research into shopping centres and other consumer environments. He has observed how urban planning has been influenced by the shopping centres that have arisen on the outskirts of the cities. In order to keep the centre of Malmö alive, the planning authorities have implemented countermeasures such as the pedestrian area between Stortorget and the Triangeln shopping centre in Malmö – but this has not led to the desired diversity in the city’s life.

“It is more as if the whole city centre has been converted into a single shopping centre. Even so, this has not helped in the long run: we can already see that commercial activity has been affected by the Emporia shopping centre in Hyllie, so that a number of shops have been forced to close. The question is now whether Malmö is to invest even more in consumer activity in the city centre or whether it should find a different way forward”, says Mattias Kärrholm.

Ingela Björck