A remote arctic settlement, with a centre dominated by a car park, Kiruna feels like the sort of city that might be forgotten about. The place is eerily, unnervingly quiet; the streets so empty I half expect a tumbleweed to pass by as a punchline. At one point, the gentle silence is broken by a procession of Harley-Davidsons roaring through the town. They don’t seem to stop.
This is Sweden’s northernmost city, situated 90 miles into the Arctic Circle and a 75-mile drive away from the nearest town, Gällivare. Home to about 23,000 people and 11,000 snowmobiles, Kiruna has gained an unlikely fame over the past year, as the world hears of its plans. This remote and rather unprepossessing place is to become the city that gets moved: two miles to the east, to be precise.
Kiruna’s current location hinges on the reason for its very existence, as well as its potential demise: this particular patch of Lapland – usually bright-white snow and reindeer – is, in fact, home to one of the largest iron ore deposits in the world. After the Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) mining company was established in 1890 and a railway to the area built, the city was founded in 1900. Kiruna grew quickly, and so did the mine.
But now the extent of the mining is threatening the city itself. The expansion of LKAB’s mining activity is leading to ground subsidence that is causing buildings to crack and collapse – and it will only get worse. […]