Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden, just 145 km south of the Arctic Circle. It's home to 18,000 people. And it's moving — all of it — two miles to the east, starting next month.
The reason for the move is the iron mine that sits smack dab in the middle of town. It's been in operation for more than 100 years, and is said to be the world's largest. Now, the company that runs it, Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB), wants to make it even bigger. The company's plan is to dig deeper into the mine, which would upset thousands of homes, as well as municipal buildings in the centre of town.
LKAB has a solution: shell out $1 billion to shift everything eastward by dismantling, moving and reassembling houses and local landmarks — including the historic church, which was voted Sweden's most beautiful building in 2001 in a nationwide contest.
This plan has been in the works for a decade already, and even as the move gets underway next month, it's projected to take as many as 25 years to complete.
"Everyone that lives in Kiruna has known that the city will eventually be relocated — everyone can see the mines eating up the city," Viktoria Walldin, a social anthropologist hired to work on the relocation, told the BBC. "The question has always been when."
The mining company has commissioned White Arkitekter AB, a Stockholm-based architecture firm, to design the new city centre and many of the new buildings. The firm's plans envision a city that's dense, pedestrian-friendly and sustainable.
"We have been around the world looking at how other countries like Germany and parts of Africa have handled similar projects, but they are just moving small villages and houses, not huge city centres," says Yvel Sievertsson, urban transformation officer at LKAB. "We're using all the expertise we can to help us, but it's a completely unknown situation."
Of course, this kind of thing has been tried before. Remember this? (Skip to 9:45)