In London and many other cities, the cityscape is dominated by high walls, fences, gates, and locked doors. Signs saying ‘No entry’,’Tresspassers will be Prosecuted’ and ‘Private Property’ abound.
Not in Stockholm. One of things that strikes a tourist or a foreigner when they come to Stockholm is the openness and accessibility of the city. In Stockholm, you are mostly free to amble down canal paths and along the lakesides. No private owner has claimed it as their own. At bus stops, buses sink to street level to allow disabled people access to public transport. The city’s parks are not fenced in, or shut after 11pm, but spill out onto the streets that surround them.
But the thing that reflects Stockholm’s accessibility the most is the way the city presents its public buildings. The Royal Palace in the centre of the city is not fenced off like London’s Buckingham Palace to keep the hoards at bay. If you want, you can walk right up to the palace and touch it. The Houses of Parliament have a pedestrianised walkway running right through the middle of them connecting Stockholm’s Old Town to the commercial centre. Not a policeman in sight.
Stockholm’s politicians and royals are often seen on the streets or at public events mixing with the hoi pal loi. Granted, they have body guards, but they are very discreet.
Unfortunately, this accessibility has resulted in murder. Prime Minister Olof Palme and the Foreign Minister Anna Lindh were both struck down, one on the street, the other in a department store. These tragedies however have not removed the Swedish need for accessibility and openness.
Accessibility is one way in which the Swedes display their fierce belief in democracy.
And if you take that away, what then is left of a progressive modern society?