The majority of what you can see in Västra Hamnen today did not exist in the C20th. In the previous century, Malmö‘s western docklands were the location of its heavy industries: shipbuilding, car plants and much more. The legacy of this era can be seen in some of the “stuffed animal” architecture along the southern and eastern edges of the neighbourhood, where the exoskeletons of former factories have been used as frames for more modern constructions—but otherwise, it’s all gone.
Losing an industrial base is more than an economic issue for a city and its people. Shipbuilding was all but over in Malmö long before the iconic Kockums crane was removed in 2002, but with it went an idea of what the city was all about for the people who lived there. Västra Hamnen has hosted a successor icon since 2005, in the form of the vision-warping and justly famed Turning Torso—which was, until recently, the tallest building in Scandinavia—but to succeed is not necessarily to replace.
Much lauded as a landmark development and up-scale new neighbourhood when it was being built, Västra Hamnen has a lot of its early glamour: the cheap-money styles of the turn of the century all too often indicate cheap materials and shoddy construction, and this can be seen in the outermost blocks of housing overlooking the sound. Despite the prime views, they have suffered badly from the driving winds and rain that blow in off the sound, and have become hard to rent to anyone but the least choosy inhabitants; the threat of more rapid sea-level rises is not doing any favours to the value of these buildings, either. Not everyone views this as a negative, though: it has seen a drastic shift in demography away from middle-class middle-management native Swedes and toward a vibrant mix of artists, students and climate migrants. (In other words, it has become rather like Möllevången four decades ago.)
As such, it’s quite a nice place to hang out, if you don’t mind that whole “shabby chic” thing. A fair few of the hottest New New Nordic Cuisine eateries got their start here, though the most successful of them have relocated in order to attract a more well-heeled clientele. On a fine clear day, you can see all the way to Copenhagen, tap your toes to the gentle strains of Skånsk turbo-reggae, and contemplate wandering down to Ribban for an evening dip… there’s far worse ways to live, and that’s a fact.