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A Small Town in Sweden Is Being Packed Up and Moved Two Miles Away

Just above the arctic circle, the most northern city in Sweden is steadily preparing for a big change. Not in its laws. Not in its economy. Not in its Nordic population.

Kiruna is getting ready to change its location.

Yes, you read that right. The entire city of Kiruna, Sweden, is set to relocate two miles from its current position after years of iron mining underneath the municipality has rendered the earth geologically unable to support the weight of human activity.

Read More: These Often Forgotten Islands of Australia Are Washing Away Due to Climate Change

While Kiruna is one of the first towns to ever be physically relocated due to human activity changing the natural environment — Kivalina, Alaska, is another — it likely won’t be the last. According to the Guardian, tens of millions of people could be forced from their homes in the next decade because of manmade climate change — an unprecedented human migration.

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals For Sustainable Development. In the face of growing climate change that threatens coastal cities around the world, innovative solutions that prevent displacement must be encouraged. You can take action on this issue here.

The town of Kiruna presents a case study of the challenges that could emerge for communities around the world.

In a promotional video about the project created by the Swedish government, the narrator opens by asking the same thing you might be thinking:

“We came here to find out why you’d want to move a city. And how... it’s done.”

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For the last hundred years or so, the story of Kiruna has been tied to the operation of state-owned mining company LKAB. The company actually founded the town in 1900, and continues to be the primary employer in Kiruna by a longshot. Without the town, there could be no mine. But without the mine, there would be no Kiruna.

This paradox came to the forefront when in 2004, geologists at LKAB discovered that mining operations near the western border of the town would put Kiruna under risk of collapse. Shutting down the mine would mean laying off a massive number of Kiruna’s 18,000 residents. But leaving the city meant there would be no one to work in the mine.

An innovative solution was needed. In typical Swedish fashion, architects were called upon to propose ideas. That’s where the Swedish firm White came in.

Their plan, which won out among 57 other ideas proposed by competing firms, was to literally move the entire city out of harm’s way:

“Unprecedented in its ambition the project raises the question: Is it possible to move a city to a new location and build anew whilst preserving the unique identity of the city and its residents?” White’s website asks.

Read More: Climate Change Refugees

The 20-year development project, called “Kiruna 4-ever,” aims to slowly push the city center east, by demolishing and rebuilding many structures, and transporting several important buildings whole on the back of massive trucks.

One of these buildings is the historic Kiruna church, which was voted Sweden’s most beautiful building in 2001.  

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Kiruna’s government worked out that the cost of redeveloping the entire city would be about $1 billion. This includes the cost of purchasing residents’ homes at 25% above market price in order to allow them to transition smoothly to new homes.

Read More: Why Cities May Be the Key to Stopping Climate Change

Shop owner Johanna Lindgren Ringholt told reporters in a promotional video that she is a fourth generation merchant in Kiruna, and she doesn't plan to end that when everything moves.

“We have resided here since 1933,” she said, pointing to the iconic neon sign hanging above her shop. “They may not know who we are, but they know what the Centrum House is! It’s crucial to bring the sign along with us.”