This week, Walkable Princeton is running stories from our recent overseas vacation, focusing on how other towns have found solutions to favor walkability. Previous posts in this series are here, here and here. Our regular local content is back after Labor Day.
To say that Lund is “Sweden’s answer to Princeton” is maybe a bit of a stretch. The town has been there since AD 990, the height of the Viking age. Around the town, standing stones with carvings in the runic script are evidence of the history:
However, if you like small college towns with plenty of history and culture, this is the right place. Lund grew as a base for the expansion of Christianity throughout Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, and its beautiful cathedral was built from the 11th century onwards. (Princeton University maintains a very complete website showing artworks from Lund Cathedral at their ‘Index of Christian Art‘). Nowadays, the town is more famous for Lund University (founded in 1666), which, like Princeton University, is considered to be one of the most prestigious in the country.
Although Lund has a population of 81,000, compared to 28,000 people living in Princeton, it feels very much like a small, relaxed town. That’s not just my opinion…here’s what the New York Times wrote about it in 2011:
“The best way to explore Lund is on foot, since you can walk across town in about 15 minutes. And while you’ll see plenty of bikes — nearly half the 83,000 residents commute on one — don’t be surprised if you find yourself strolling down the middle of a cobblestone street wondering how many people even bother owning a car. (I counted fewer than a dozen cars being driven during a recent jaunt around town.)”
Lund is incredibly picturesque and easy to walk or bike around. Why do so many people in Lund walk or bike, instead of driving their car? It clearly has nothing to do with the weather- Lund is as far north as parts of Alaska, and winters are long, cold and dark. A key reason why people walk and cycle is clearly because they are able to live near where they work. Lund has a traditional, compact, walkable layout, with a population density of 8,330 people per square mile (source: Wikipedia). There are no skyscrapers in Lund, but historic buildings around the center of town range up to about 5 or 6 stories, providing room for stores, restaurants, offices and places for people to live:
Another advantage of compact housing is that it reduces development pressure on green spaces. Consider a satellite view of Lund: the town has an incredibly distinct boundary, and after that it’s just green fields.
Lund manages to protect green areas, offers outstanding public spaces, a tremendous small town character, and an environment that makes it easy for people to get around without cars. Lund’s compact development is totally historic. Princeton used to do compact walkable development too, and we stand to gain from adding more, to house some of the 24,000 people who drive into town every day, clogging our streets, and endangering school children. Lund shows that a population density five times greater than what we have in Princeton (1,600 people per square mile; source: Wikipedia) is compatible with beauty and historic character. In fact, Lund has grown by over 20,000 people since 1990, demonstrating that in a walkable town, there is nothing to fear from giving people homes.
Ever been to Lund? Do you think it’s possible that Princeton could make a switch to be a walkable town, instead of a place where 79% of people drive to work? What would it take? Please leave a comment below!