In English – ”Umeås Second Summer Feast” published in VK

About Lars Widding park, the great summer celebration of 1988 and the Capital of Culture 2014.

In the summer of 1988, Umeå celebrated a hundred years of growth after the city fire. ”No one now alive will get another chance to participate in such a party. Nothing of this magnitude will take place until the end of the century!” This is a quote from social democratic politician Everth Gustafsson, to the local paper. It would be not only a big party, it would be a rare party. Grass would sprout out of the stone paved square – Rådhustorget.

Umeå’s urban transformation process was facing a breakpoint. The localization policies had been successful. The city’s slogan was now ”Umeå – Norrland’s capital”. The same year, Åke E Andersson’s book “The future of the K-society” was published.

K-samhällets framtid.

Kommunikation, kunskap, konst och kreativitet.
Communication, knowledge, art and creativity.
Municipal ideas about cultural-driven growth soon became rooted in the system.

Midsummer 1988, the local author Lars Widding held the speech ”Umeå in my heart” outside the City Hall. After the speech, he was surprised by municipal politicians who appointed him Umeå’s first honorary citizen. The Streets and Parks department had in fact rolled out a large grass lawn on Rådhustorget. The anniversary of the city fire was the biggest children’s party of the century.

In the local newspapers, you could read reports of the chaotic festivities. The TV-personality Ingvar Oldsberg, wearing a Zorro suit, had run around as a gamehost on the crowded square. In a coffin, which will be opened in 2088, some of Lars Widding’s books were symbolically packed. Also Umeå air and water from the Umeå river, a snow shovel and a symbolic heart amongst other things.

Five days earlier, the city council had celebrated the anniversary in 19th century clothing. They had vacated the City Hall during a symbolic fire exercise and let Professor Åke E Andersson speak.

I’m reading articles from June 1988 and finding a furious debate article by Sara Lidman. She has read the Åke E Andersson book “The future of the K-society” and is disgusted by his human vision. According to Sara Lidman, the aim is growth – only growth. She writes: ”The K community is about the future of the billionaires and congressional league flying between the world cities and looking down on resources like on a chessboard.” But despite her critique, the K-theories landed well with the municipality. 

In 2014, no grass will sprout out of the square, but the icy river will be set on fire. The festivities of the Cultural Capital will be familiar.

The winter cold and the snow rolls over Umeå last minute. After a pizza at Pizzeria Pronto, a friend working at Streets and Parks shows me around in Lars Widding Park. It is a small park squeezed in between the Western Cemetery and a residential block called the Plate Maker, Plåtslagaren.

My friend hugs a big spruce and pronounces its name: Abies lasiocarpa, mountain spruce. In the middle of the park between two graveled paths, you can find “Perennavågen” designed by Ulf Nordfjell. It is an illuminated constellation consisting of grass, perennials and stone. Previously, it was found in The Northern Garden, Trädgård I Norr, which was built the year before the anniversary in 1988, in connection with the Umeå Housing exhibition. Before it was torn down, the Northern Garden was the most visited park in Umeå. The move of Perennavågen was a rescue and an attempt to make Lars Widdings park to look like a park.

A large garage will be built under Lars Widding park. My friend has expressed concern that this will ruin the vegetation. She says ”we officials must make demands and make sure the park is restored as much as possible”. I read in the local paper that 30 additional apartments will be built in the Plate Maker block beside the park, hence the need for more parking space. In 2006, property owner Näslund bought surface under the park for 700,000 Swedish crowns from the municipality. During the build, the amount of squaremeters used under the park has been reduced.

Enclosed to the application to build the garage is a letter from a politician. It turns out Lennart Holmlund, the highest municipal politican (at that time), is a tenant of the block. In the role as a politician he has been involved in the case. But he adds his private opinion as well. No one will lose out by building a higher house in the yard, the letter claims. And it will be cheaper for the tenants if more parking space is built under the park.

The County Administrative Board has questioned the project and many private individuals have fought it. The municipality took the matter to the highest instance in 2012 and the decision came to Näslund’s advantage.

The build of the garage will greatly affect the park. The soil layer will be more shallow, trees need to be moved and the park has to be excavated and restructured. There will be less access to groundwater, so the municipality has to start watering the park. The microclimate can change, the ground can settle in places and heat radiated from the garage underground can affect the vegetation. Me and my friend, from streets and parks, agree that it would be difficult to argue for this garage if it were not for today’s population goals and the rush for densification.

The park got its name because Lars Widding and several of his characters is buried next door. The first bo ok in the series, “The maid and the glory”, is 2014:s regional book club book. The book club premiered last Saturday at Västerbotten museum. On stage were Fillie Lyckow Widding and Birgit Lindberg.

Afterwards I talk to librarian Annika Edlund from the library in Grubbe, which together with ABF is the main organizer. She tells us that this year’s book is a bit more readily available than last year’s book. The possibilities for other arrangements around Lars Widding also attracted. The schedule for the events about Widding is dense. She says it was natural that this years book was about Umeå during the cultural year.

Both in 1988, and in 2014, Lars Widding will lend his name to the municipal festivities. I think he really appreciated the honors appointment and he would certainly have been moved if he saw the schedule of the year. But I wonder how he would feel about the garage under the park and the urban transformation that takes place in the name of culture alongside the festivities – 1988 as well as 2014.

/Johannes Samuelsson

text originals in Swedish published in VK 2014