The Wrong Side of the Tracks: Barriers in the Urban Fabric

As Lior wrote in the last post, we are quite busy at the moment. I want to share with you what it is I have been working on lately.

Örebro is a city located about 200 Km to the west of Stockholm. With about 140,000 thousand inhabitants, Örebro is the seventh largest city in Sweden. It has an annual population growth between 1500 and 2000 new residents a year, which makes it one of the fastest growing cities in the country.


This growth seems to have a lot of positive influences, for instance the growing importance of the university, which expanded with a new medical doctor program just a few years ago. However, over the years this growth has also created new problems, or rather challenges. When the city first got its railroad, 150 years ago, it was situated outside the city. Since then the city expanded westwards leading to the current situation where the railroad forms a physical barrier which divides half the city’s population from the older eastern part.

In the eastern part of the city you will find the city’s centre, with all the main services, like the library, town hall and shopping streets, museums and theatre, are located. In a conversation with the city’s architect, she told humorously that I shouldn’t forget the Systembolaget (governmental liquor store), because it would decide for many Swedish towns where the actual centre is.

Of course the barrier is not impenetrable: several tunnels allow people to get from one side to the other. But what effect do these tunnels have? When my fiancé lived in Örebro one of these tunnels was referred to as the ‘Rape Tunnel’. I can imagine that this image scared people, mostly women, girls and their parents, to cross the tracks. This effect will most certainly be strongest during night-time, but what influence does it have when the sun is out?

The city is planned in such a way that the tunnels are the only places made for pedestrians and cyclists to cross to the other side, and I want to know more about their impact. Even though the barrier might not withhold people on the east from walking and cycling into the centre, some sort of impact might still exist. Do people who live on a street that is at “the wrong side of the tracks” feel further away from the central square than people who live on “the right side”, although the actual distance is the same? Next week I will tell you all about the results.

The city is working hard to make the rail area a more attractive and integrated part of town, and if you can’t wait until next week to know more about this project, you can read more here: Pullsåder projektet (Swedish text) 

Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .