Stockholm claims its entire metro network is an art exhibition

Art at Stadion station by Enno Hallek and Åke Pallarp (1973). Image: Rachel Holdsworth.

Pub quiz time: what’s the world’s longest art gallery? No need to Google the length of the Louvre: Stockholm claims its entire metro network is actually an art exhibition.

Sure, Moscow’s subway system is architecturally stunning, but it’s not really art. But the vast majority of the 100 stations on Stockholm’s metro system contain works by one or more artists. The first were installed in 1957, just seven years after the first ‘proper’ subway line opened between Slussen and Hökarängen.

Which is lovely, of course, but also… why?

Part of it is Scandinavian egalitarianism, and a longstanding debate over making art accessible to your average Swede. But there’s also a wayfinding element: of making each station distinct from each other. This is very handy if you’re distracted, lost track of where you are and need to leap out: much better than craning to spot a sign on the Northern line.

To put it another way, there’s no way you’re going to not realise you’re at Solna Centrum.

Art by Karl-Olav Björk, Anders Åberg, 1975.

As with many public art projects, not all of it has aged well. The wavy neon stripes at Hötorget look like the 1980s swallowed the Arena opening titles and vomited them back out onto the station ceiling – which makes the fact it was installed in 1998 all the more perplexing.

Anyone else got Another Green World by Brian Eno as an earworm? Art by Gun Gordillo, 1998.

Similarly, the wayfinding principle isn’t always successful. For instance, at Sockenplan the art is a small-ish sculpture in the middle of the platform. Good luck spotting it if you’re at either end of the train.

These are, however, mere niggles. The Stockholm Metro is a delight to explore. You can download a guide and poke about yourself, or if you’re there in summer go on one of the free English language Art Walks offered several times a week. (Swedish speakers can do this year round.)

A few of the joys on offer...

If I lived in Stockholm I’d do my damndest to live near Tensta station, and start my morning commute waiting for the train by these penguins. Because penguins.

Art by Helga Henschen, 1975.

And a close-up of the walrus, in case you missed it. Every day should involve this walrus.

Look at its little face. Art by Helga Henschen, 1975.

There are more penguins at Aspudden. More penguins in Metro systems, please.

By now you’ve probably noticed a certain rocky appearance to the underground stations. During the 1970s, Stockholm decided to spray concrete over the dug-out station box instead of plain old cladding them. Not only was it cheaper, it gives this cool, cavern-like effect. It’s been put to rather good use at Tekniska Högskolan.

Art by Lennart Mörk, 1973.

This would be a cheery sight at Högdalen on a miserable, grey, freezing Scandinavian morning.

Art by Birgitta Muhr, 2002.

And in case you were wondering if there’s any, you know, real art in this system, here’s Östermalmtorg.

Art by Siri Derkert, 1965.

Above ground, there’s some serious retro action going on at Thorildsplan.

Art by Lars Arrhenius, 2008.

All photos courtesy of the author.


The best way to make housing more affordable? Raise interest rates

Lol, no. Image: Getty.

Speaking to the Conservative Party conference in September 2017, the UK prime minister, Theresa May, gave a stark assessment of the UK housing market which made for depressing listening for many young people: “For many the chance of getting onto the housing ladder has become a distant dream”, she said.

Now a new report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) provides further, clear evidence of this. The study finds that home ownership among 25 to 34-year-olds has declined sharply over the past 20 years. Home ownership rates have declined from 43 per cent at age 27 for someone born in the late 1970s, to just 25 per cent for someone aged 27 who was born in the late 1980s.

The most significant decline has been for middle-income young people, whose rate of home ownership has fallen from 65 per cent in 1995-6 to 27 per cent now – most significantly hitting aspirant buyers in London and the South-East.

Causes and consequences

The IFS study lays the blame for all this on the growing gap between house prices and incomes. Adjusting for inflation, house prices have risen 150 per cent in the 20 years to 2015-16, while real incomes for 25 to 34-year-olds have grown by 22 per cent (and almost all of that growth happened before the 2008 crash).

A bleak picture. Image: Institute for Fiscal Studies.

But, as the report acknowledges, the problem goes much deeper than this. Home ownership rates differ by region. Although there has been a decline in home ownership rates for young people across all areas of Great Britain, the decline is less significant in the North East and Cumbria as well as in Scotland and the South West. The biggest decline in ownership has been in the South-East, the North-West (excluding Cumbria) and London.

So a person aged 25 to 34 is more than twice as likely to own their own home in Cumbria, as their counterpart in London. Worse, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to own their own homes – even after controlling for differences in education and earnings. Home ownership continues to reflect a deeper inequality of opportunity in our society.

More houses needed

Part of the problem is that both Labour and Conservative governments have seen housing as a single, stand-alone market and have focused their attention on what is happening to prices in London. But housing is a number of different markets, which have regional variations and different interactions between the owner-occupier, private rented and social rented sectors.

Regional variations in house prices for similar sized properties reflect the imbalances of the economy: it is heavily reliant on financial services, which are concentrated in London, while the public sector makes up a significant share of many local economies – particularly in the North. Migration from across the UK to overcrowded and expensive areas – such as London and the South-East – have put property prices in those areas even further out of reach for would-be buyers.

To make matters worse, both Labour and Conservative governments have routinely failed to build enough houses. While the current government’s aim to build 300,000 new properties a year by 2020 is welcome, it is simply not enough to meet the backlog in demand – let alone address the fundamental affordability problem.

Where homes are being built, they’re often the wrong types of homes, in the wrong places. Family homes are being built, despite there being some 4m under-occupied such properties across the country.

Not that long ago, government was reducing the housing stock in many parts of the North, through the disastrous Housing Market Renewal programme. Houses are currently being sold in smaller cities such as Liverpool and Stoke-on-Trent for just £1. And none of the government’s actions suggest that ministers understand these issues, or are prepared to address them.

House price inflation – and the awful affect it is having on home ownership rates for young people – is part of a wider problem of the global asset bubble. This bubble has seen huge increases in the price of assets – stocks, housing, bonds – in high income countries such as the UK. Successive governments have helped to fuel this through quantitative easing, ultra-cheap money and successive raids on pension funds.

The ConversationWhat’s needed to address this asset bubble is a substantive increase in interest rates. But while this may slow the growth in house prices, the sad truth is it will do nothing to make housing more affordable for most young people.

Chris O'Leary, Deputy Director, Policy Evaluation and Research Unit and Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.