Cycling Across Scandinavia: Gothenburg to Boras, Sweden Doesn't Strip
"To see the Google Map version of this route, follow this link."
Guest poster Robert Ouellette has written for the National Post, Corporate Knights and his own Reading Toronto. He is cycling across Sweden and reports:
Sarah and I have spent the better part of an hour trying to find the major road leading out of Gothenburg towards our first stop, Boras, an industrial town built on the textile trade. Something is missing out here at the fringe of Sweden's second largest city. It makes navigating the twisting streets difficult. There are no signposts, or at least the signs of suburban civilization we are accustomed to. The retail strip doesn't exist here, and its absence is disorienting.
Last year we cycled from Toronto to the Thousand Islands and back. Probably twenty percent of the eight hundred kilometers pedaled went past any number of retail stores, gas stations, or fast food joints that now define the way out of town. When lost, we navigated using familiar signposts like the ubiquitous golden arches, or yet another Canadian Tire store.
But on the edge of Gothenburg there is only a rocky, green landscape that could be from Algonquin Park Ontario, but a Precambrian Ontario dotted with comfortable looking housing. There is no "strip.". No gas stations. No malls. No fast food--nothing that says this is the way out of town and maybe you should come in and buy a super-sized burger for the road because your increasingly car-dependent life really needs it.
We are lost at the edge of one of the most civilized communities anywhere because the Swedes figured out that the needs of cars are not the needs of a successful city. That approach is truly, viscerally foreign to us. For anyone who has tried to find a house in Carmel, California in the middle of the night, you know what we mean. Turns out Robert Venturi learned the wrong lessons from Las Vegas.
Embracing the Swedish vision for how to deal with the border between city and country, we abandon the North American, car-obsessed mindset, the route makes itself apparent and we are on our way again. The road we are travelling on is called Borasvagan (the road to Boras). It is much like any of the major roads that were used in Canada or the US to connect communities before the new era of high-speed, restricted highways. It meanders scenically in places. Sometimes it is busy. Other times it is so vacant that we wonder if we are lost again. But it gets us to our destination.
No surprises. The centre of Boras offers what we've come to expect in Scandinavian cities. There is a well-designed civic plaza adjoining a pedestrian street. It boasts all the major shopping brands anyone would want. Public transit makes it all happen. If this is an industrial town then Canadians have much to learn about how cities and industries can successfully coexist. Nice buildings. Good public art. It works without being dependent on cars.
Boras, Sweden Central Plaza
Which gives us the opportunity to ask, do fewer cars result in fewer police? It dawns on us that in the ten days of our Scandinavian LostGen2 adventure we have seen exactly four police cars and two uniformed police officers. That is after touring two major cities while cycling some four hundred or so kilometers. I can walk along Danforth Ave. in Toronto--which is a very safe neighbourhood--and see that many police in five minutes. What's up?
Probably a lot of police here are not uniformed. We guess. Still, coming from a society that looks for criminals and terrorists with guns on every corner, the apparent lack of the need for visible security is notable. No matter where we travelled in Copenhagen, Helsingborg, and Gothenburg we never felt unsafe (in spite of the fact that like the architecturally curious everywhere we explore places others with common sense avoid).
Swedish and Norwegian Flags at Half Mast
Which is one more reason why the tragic events in Norway are so disturbing to everyone here. That someone would dress as a police officer to lure victims compounds the outrage these murders fuel. Yet the reaction in Scandinavia says it all: They will fight this type of evil by being more democratic, not less so.
Norway's reaction is a case study in political leadership. There is no dogma, fear-mongering, or political "vectoring." Is this how a civilized, well-educated society responds to terror?
Tomorrow, Boras to Stockholm
Previously in this series:
Cycling Across Scandinavia: Making Design Choices For A Sustainable City
Cycling Across Scandinavia: The Road To Gothenburg
Cycling Across Scandinavia: Après Moi, Le Déluge
Cycling Across Scandinavia: You Don't Have To Be A Starchitect Ambulance Chaser To Be Impressed
A New "Lost Generation" Cycles Across Scandinavia To Understand North America