Author Lola Akinmade Illustration Graham Roumieu
The 24,000 residents of Kiruna—the northernmost city in Sweden and home to both a booming iron ore industry and the annually rebuilt Ice Hotel— are a pretty laid back sort.
In fact, they’ve always called themselves the “No-Problem People,” which may seem a little ironic, because they actually have a pretty darn big problem: The earth beneath the village is crisscrossed by mineshafts that have recently become unstable. The townspeople are still calmly going about their business, though—much of which now involves picking up and moving the town three miles.
Scientists from the national mining company, Luossavaara-Kirunavaara AB (LKAB), first discovered there was a problem in 2004, when they informed Vice Mayor Hans Swedell that cracks were forming in a mineshaft some 2,000 feet beneath the town. “They said that the ground could collapse very soon,” Swedell says. For local officials, it wasn’t much of a decision: They had to move Kiruna.
This is no minor undertaking: Railroads, streets, water, sewage, electricity, power, telecommunications, schools and hospitals are being relaid and rebuilt, while most of the homes, including classic Falu red cottages, will be uprooted whole and trucked to new locations. Larger buildings, such as the iconic Neo-Gothic wooden church, Kiruna Kyrka, and the city hall, will have to be transported in pieces.
“There are only a few of the larger buildings that actually will be moved,” says Anders Enquist, a technical director with WSP Construction Design, which has been contracted to assist. Others will simply be rebuilt from scratch. LKAB is picking up the tab, which is said to be more than $1 billion. (The Ice Hotel will likely move as well.)
The residents are taking it in stride. Most are miners, and they have reaped the economic benefits of the iron ore for generations. “This is no problem,” says Swedell. “We’re the No-Problem People, haven’t you heard?”