With increased violence and worsening segregation in her city, the past two years have not been easy for Karin Wanngård. But the mayor of Stockholm is leading the charge against crime and inequality – and shows no signs of giving in.
When 41-year-old Karin Wanngård became Stockholm’s mayor in 2014 she probably had no inkling of the scope of the refugee crisis that would bring thousands of asylum seekers to her city in the coming years. In addition to that, problems with segregation were already severe and have only become tougher, leading to a worsening situation in many suburbs with high numbers of immigrants, including Akalla, Husby and Rinkeby: an area jointly known as Järva. In 2015, 10 per cent of Sweden’s murders and 40 per cent of the deadly violence in Stockholm took place in this relatively small locality.
Wanngård, who e-bikes to work and takes her kids to school and daycare herself instead of using a nanny, has pledged to stop segregation as her big political project.
Monocle: What are the biggest challenges Stockholm faces right now?
Karin Wanngård: Segregation is the main challenge. The first thing I did as mayor was set up a commission for a socially sustainable Stockholm and order a report from them to get facts as the basis of our politics, instead of just opinions. So now we know that there are differences depending on where in the city you live: differences in life expectancy or in kids’ dental health, for instance.
M: And what are you doing about it?
KW: One way of getting there is to reach out to children. We have “Swedish for babies”, which sees us get in touch with women who don’t speak Swedish at home and teach the language to both the mother and the baby. In some socially and economically weak areas such as Järva we also make house calls to parents with newborn babies to talk about anything they need information on.
M: More than half of Sweden’s unemployed are immigrants. Are there any initiatives to make that easier?
KW: There is work in Stockholm – we are short on almost all professions – but the problem is matching the unemployed with those jobs. Most jobs require at least a high-school education. We have programmes where people with shorter schooling can complement their education.
M: Internationally Sweden has been seen as close to perfect when it comes to equality but in reality people have trouble getting a job because of their surname.
KW: Yes. If we want an inclusive society we can’t have neighbourhoods that are Aryan white because that’s disastrous. But we do have a housing-segregation problem in Stockholm. Our most multicultural areas are also the most socio-economically challenged areas.
M: How will you make the white neighbourhoods more multicultural?
KW: We’re starting exchanges between schools. Weaker and stronger areas can exchange experiences by visiting each other and hopefully bonding, for instance. Being in an environment that you have only ever seen on TV will give you a new picture of that place. Many inner-city kids have never taken the subway to Rinkeby and witnessed the pulse there – it’s a fantastic place.
M: How has it come to this? In the 1980s people were not regularly shot in these areas.
KW: Generally there are many more weapons in circulation now. Naturally I don’t want any murders to occur in Stockholm and we have to prosecute and punish the people behind them. But how have we come to this? If you feel like you’re not an active part of society then you have to work with parallel structures. These parallel structures are dangerous for society and for integration. When there are deals made and when people end up on the other side of the law, criminal networks are formed and they have access to weapons. It can be an attractive alternative if you can’t see a way forward in society, with a job you like and options. It’s a bigger freedom than being stuck in subsidies – but we need to resist that.