As Anna König Jerlmyr leads us through the spectacular Stockholm city hall built in the early 1900s – also the home of the famous Nobel prize banquet – the 41-year-old mayor seems almost oblivious to the grandeur of her workplace. “Let’s go through here,” she says, pulling open a heavy door to an area typically shut off to visitors. It leads to a stunning corridor with crystal chandeliers, blue-stone pillars and floor-to-ceiling paintings.
Her nonchalance could be down to the fact that outside city hall, Stockholm is facing a less splendid reality. Though the Swedish capital is renowned for its excellent quality of life and strong social support network, the city still has its struggles. According to König Jerlmyr, safety and security have been her top priorities since becoming mayor. (A member of the Swedish Moderate party and leader of the opposition in Stockholm since 2014, she was named mayor last October.) In August, Stockholm recorded its 14th fatal shooting this year. Increased crime levels, drugs and problems in schools are all challenges.
What’s more, social divides have never been so wide. Economic differences between rich and poor suburbs have reached record levels and this has had a ripple effect on the likes of education, housing and even life expectancy.
MONOCLE: What are the issues facing Stockholm right now?
ANNA KÖNIG JERLMYR: Besides the global climate challenge – safety and security. We have problems with drug abuse and organised crime; with shootings and violence. We have to collaborate more with the police and also work with early interventions when it comes to children at risk. We will have action plans where we define the problems, adopt a joint strategy and agree on what should be done. It’s not only about more police and cameras but also about social prevention.
M: How can schools help?
AKJ: We need schools that can deliver knowledge in a safe environment. We need to get more qualified teachers and more branches of popular schools to the suburbs. We collaborate with the most prestigious schools and ask for their commitment in establishing outreach in more segregated areas.
M: Segregation is at the core of many problems. How can this be tackled?
AKJ: Every growing city has problems with segregation. This decreases when there is a mix of housing – condominiums and rental apartments side by side. People should be able to own homes regardless of their social status. And I want citizens to sign up to be co-creators of a better city and society.
M: When it comes to problems that aren’t unique to a city but are of a global nature, such as climate change, how can mayors make a difference?
AKJ: I often turn to international networks for advice and knowledge. For example, I learnt from an international meeting with investors that there is interest in offshore wind power at the moment. I went to Copenhagen to learn more. You can’t stay in city hall, you have to get out in the world to meet businesses and researchers.