Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Malmo Story

Once upon a time....that's the way that most Swedish epic stories tend to start, with some Pippi Longstocking-like character charming their way through a slew of minor and laughable problems.  In today's world....Malmo (the city) would start their story with 'once upon a time', and then kinda halt there because it's not exactly a story that you'd like to weave or entertain people with.

Malmo isn't a household name to most Americans.  It's the first major city you come to....once you cross the bridge from Denmark.  It's the third largest city in Sweden, and mostly known for the past seventy-odd years as an industrialized city.

Part of the story of Malmo circles around the population shift.  In the late 1950s....as Sweden was quietly building up an industrial base....the city had a population of roughly 190,000 residents.  By the mid-1960s....they were up to the 230,000 range.  People came to Malmo....not just from within Sweden, or from Finland or Norway or Denmark.....but they came from across Europe because there was plenty of work.

Malmo was about hustle and bustle.....growing industry....urban growth....and essentially becoming some doorway of import/export between the rest of Sweden and Europe.

In the 1970s....the city hit some peak with 270,000-odd residents.  The business sector had outpaced itself, and reality set in.  A decade later....most agree that 10-percent of the city had packed up and left (they were down into the 233,000-odd level of residents).

Over the past seventeen years....they've gone from a base of 260,000 residents to 320,000 (roughly a 30-percent increase).

Roughly 40-percent (Wiki numbers) of the population of Malmo are non-ethnic Swede.  They either came decades ago or recently.  Fourteen-percent of the city are visa-carriers....which you can interpret as newly arrived or recently arrived.  The drive to immigrate or stay in Malmo?  Generally, at least in the earlier stage of the period....there were jobs and an average guy with limited resume could find himself a position.

The unemployment rate in Malmo now?  That's part of this story as well.  Nationally, Sweden has a problem with roughly 8-percent unemployment.  But in Malmo?  It's closer to fifteen-percent.  Added to this picture is that fact that Malmo wages are fairly stagnant....you'd make more in Stockholm or Gothenburg, for the same type labor.  Generally, this gets explained because of the large group of unemployed staying in town and refusing to leave....so employers don't have to edge up cost or salaries to attract more workers.

Various arguments will be made about the no-go myth or the no-go reality.  The thing is....like almost every other single European metropolitan area....the new immigrants (not just yesterday or the last decade....but over thirty-odd years)....settled into certain neighborhoods in Malmo, and these neighborhoods became highly ethnic territories.  Swedes living in these neighborhoods?  For the most part....no.  It's the same way in metropolitan areas of Belgium, France, and England.  No one thought much about this in the 1970s or 1980s.  Today....it's part of the big-story.

Some job growth does continue in Malmo....but we are talking about a couple hundred jobs on average per year.....not thousands.  So there are a fair number of people sitting there with not much to do, and some might suggest that a bad image of the city has become accepted (not just in Sweden).

Oddly, it's a historic city.  There's a major university.  There are various architectural structures to see.  And there's some art-related projects underway.  The Swedes do have a basis to be proud of the city.

What you end up with is a tale of two cities.  There is Malmo....the city whose image is being protected by the local resident Swedes and trying to correct everyone on the non-existence of no-go areas.  There is also Malmo....the city where violent assault, rape, and street crimes are a daily event which the cops now realize they are deep into a long-term problem.  If the cops do come out at night to a reported problem area....it's usually in a large group (not the two-man patrol unit as you'd see in France or Germany).  Most cops, by their own public admission....depending on the neighborhood.....will say that you have to have an effective plan of entry into a situation...detain whoever is designated....and then leave the area as quickly as possible.  That means that they really don't want any interaction with the locals because they expect trouble.  We can laugh over this plan of operation, but it's basically the same mentality that you'd see in Iraq....not some westernized society.

So, where does this all lead onto?  I would suggest three eventual issues that will end up being resolved:

1.  In September of 2018, there's a national election slated for Sweden.  Based on trends and public comments....there's a lot of hype that the Swedish Democrats (the right-wing party) will take a fair number of votes....much higher than the 12.9-percent of the last election.  My humble guess is that they will likely move to near 25-percent.  The Social Democrats of Sweden (the left-of-center party) took in the last election around 31-percent.  They might still be able to cling to some mid-20's number but it's apparent that they will lose somewhere around one-third of their public support.

I should add....this election won't really fix anything because most of the seven other parties to the Swedish Democrats....have already said they won't form a coalition with them, and so it's likely to be the number two winner of the election forming a weak and marginalized government with a minimum of two partners.

2.  Most of the city council of Malmo are moderate or left-of-center related political parties.  I would expect that trend to continue.  But I would also expect immigrant-candidates within the parties to be more noticed in the next city election.  Social programs, welfare programs, and improved social housing will be the likely promises made to entertain votes.  All relate to money, and to meet those programs and votes.....you will have to deduct the money or funding from other projects (street renovation, park upkeep, etc).  It may take a decade but the locals will eventually notice this and ask why the city appearance is sliding.  So the Malmo trend by 2030 will be a fair number of people who live beyond the city....20 to 60 km away...riding in by train or driving into their job.

3.  Cities out on the far side of Malmo....like Eslov (17,000 population currently) and Svedala (10,000 population currently) with railway access....will grow because of the exodus of people from Malmo.  Other cities will benefit and find new housing construction and urban growth to be the norm.....while Malmo stagnates.

Malmo, I think.....ended up like some 'magic kingdom' attraction where a lot of migrants and immigrants heard great things of the 1980s and the job atmosphere.  So they came.  Swedes there in Malmo never saw this as a negative situation.  Course, they never had much of a crime problem to exist in the 1960s or 1970s.  At the present point, unless politics change....the only way a local Malmo resident can fix the problem....is by moving beyond the shadow of the city.  Just drive or ride in...to do your job...and quickly leave at the end of the day.

It's a simple solution....which no one really wants to talk about around some pub, or drill down into at some televised TV forum.  You see the same mentality in most urbanized US cities with urban decay and no ability to change the direction of the city.  For those who stay....mostly because of their marginal income levels?  Well....they have to be shaking their heads because this isn't the magic kingdom that they dreamed about a decade ago, and it's more or less a ghetto in some dark state of existence for five months out of the year.  If you did plan on escaping....where?

Pardon me.....if I'm not writing a some pro-Malmo story.  But it's really a story about urbanization and how easily things can get out of control.  Once you have an urgent need for cops in your neighborhood, and there has to be a minimum of ten of them to show up, with a master plan of entry and exit.....that's the point where you know things are not relatively safe anymore.

As a footnote, I should add that the Swedish interior minister visited Malmo yesterday....mostly to listen.  Three folks shot dead over the past four weeks....with a fourth guy (local janitor shoveling snow still in serious condition) has some folks worried.  Typically, at least in Sweden, you don't get shot shoveling snow.

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