Famnen: urban living with (re)purpose

Although not a village in the geographical sense, this urban eco-district has in many ways become an independent enclave, separate and distinct from the city even as it contributes to it.

The wise traveller avoids unnecessary expense—and while there may not be such a thing as a free tour, in Malmö‘s Famnen eco-village, you can at least pay with your time and labour rather than your hard-earned kronor.

Although not a village in the geographical sense, this urban eco-district has in many ways become an independent enclave, separate and distinct from the city even as it contributes to it. Located in what used to be Malmö’s harbour district (Östra Hamnen) in the 2010s and the 20s, Famnen consists of a set of former Industrial complexes that were repurposed after a strong decline in international trade. Its name (translating to “the embrace”) was chosen to represent the idea of the village as a community characterised by care towards fellow humans and non-humans, but also to the aim of living within closed loops.

As the Municipality’s attempts to regenerate Östra Hamnen failed through the 2020s, the value of the land eventually declined. A chunk of this territory was subsequently given to Famnen—some founding members had been squatting there for some time already—on the condition that the community contribute to the city’s economy with surplus energy, carbon-negative commercial activities, industrial recycling (e.g. shipbreaking, and the sanitation of old oil tanks), and urban mining. This was less novel than it might seem, given the context: the harbour district had long been a site for recycling, albeit in the crude forms it took in the early decades of the C21st. This history—and the legacy of old materials left on site—made a particularly suitable location for the Famnen founders, who—then as now—build only with re-purposed materials.

Famnen’s coastal location is a mixed blessing. On the upside, the sea-gardens and wind park allow the “village” to be more than self-sufficient, trading foodstuffs and energy for the civic services (e.g. water, healthcare) they cannot provide for themselves. On the downside, the steady rise of the sea level is a threat. In contrast to many seawalls constructed elsewhere around the city, Famnen refused to settle for anything less than a nature-based solution, and their eel-grass frontier—comprising of stone and concrete chunks chosen for their irregularity, in order to provide anchorage for the eel-grass and habitats for other flora and fauna—is something of a perpetual project.

While living at Famnen does not cost a lot of money, it does come with significant obligations. Every resident is expected to engage in one of the various committee “circles” devoted to various forms of care, such as health (of elders, kids, and the sick), sanitation, and preservation (maintenance of wind turbines, metal mining, refitting spaces). Moreover, it is mandatory to participate in the monthly assemblies, which require 95% of the enfranchised residents to be present in order to validate decisions. Despite this hyperdemocratic character, certain practices and rules are non-negotiable and regulated by the community’s constitution, such as rogorous carbon-budget, and the ban on new energy generation. During the foundational period in the late 20s, this rather unforgiving system struggled to attract new residents, as it required a fairly flexible working schedule. As such, the introduction of the citizen salary in 20xx (and other key employment reforms) were even more of a blessing for Famnen than many other communities, and it’s one of the few neighbourhoods in Malmö that has actually seen a small but steady growth in population.

Famnen is well-known and well-respected, if somewhat grudgingly in some places, but its architectural aesthetic helps to ensure its enduring niche appeal. As all dwellings are made exclusively of re-used materials, a “house” may have started life as one or more old shipping containers, a re-fitted factory or warehouse, or even a former oil tank. The common areas—fitted with small-scale insect farms, dry washing machines, and root cellars/fridges—are carefully designed to meet the very strict energy and carbon budgets. Despite what detractors describe as a culture of rules that makes the Swedish norm look libertarian by comparison, there is a lot of space for individual expression, and artists of one sort or another are heavily represented in Famnen’s demography. Indeed, those who are less interested in the rather spartan living arrangements still visit Famnen to see the art, or to catch concerts and performances of all sorts. Of particular note are the hanging tapestries to be found on many interior walls, made by members of the second wave of Japanese refugees from the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant disaster of 2035.

(Much as in Christiania, the notorious neighbourhood in Copenhagen, there are other reasons to visit Famnen, which for legal reasons we will not discuss here–except to note that what can be done inside the community is not always acceptable or legal outside of it!)

After the tour, you’ll be assigned to one of the contribution circles, depending on your experiences and merits. If you’re lucky, you will be assigned some of the more exciting tasks like care-taking of the communal sea garden, assisting the local eel-grass cultivation guild, or conducting maintenance work at the off-shore wind park (assuming you don’t suffer from sea-sickness). Others will find themselves cleaning oyster tables, scrubbing out oil tanks, or recovering metals, plastics and electronic components at the urban mining facility. If you are an extrovert, expect to end up on a shift at the various swap shops close to the ferry terminal.

Food options are plentiful, and very specific to the location. The Rough Planet team recommend the Famnen Bouillabaisse—much tastier than the locally-produced bug burger, if you ask us.

Tour information

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