You can say what you like about Staffanstorp—and as any Staffanstorper will tell you, the snooty city types in Malmö and Lund frequently do!—but there’s few who would deny their knack for turning problems into opportunities.

It all started in 1945, when ten villagers bought plots of land and built the first three houses on this stretch of the fertile Lundaslätten (“Lunda plain”) south of Lund… and now Staffanstorp is a sizeable town of almost 40 000 inhabitants. But the struggle is real, as the kids used to say: it has been a long and occasionally challenging journey for Staffanstorp in its quest to become the middle-sized Scanian town it always aspired to be.

Aspiration is definitely the right word, here. Described in its own marketing materials with the provocative and proud strap-line “as the rest of Sweden should be”, this town—and the municipality whose name it shares—has forged a reputation through a combination of very low municipal taxes, strident property rights, and a decades-long campaign of privatisation initiatives. Things really took off during the 2020s, when its promise of a safe and harmonious community spoke loud and clear to white-collar workers who suddenly found that working from home was an option, or even the default. Quite how harmonious it really is, well, that’s a pretty subjective question… though those who live here certainly find it to their liking.

It’s not without its attractions for the visitor, either. Be sure to check out the Gästgivaregård: this largely untranslatable word is given to places that combine the functions of meeting rooms, restaurant and bar under one roof, and Staffanstorp’s is an absolute hub of the local social scene; if you’re a Rotary Club member, you’ll be among friends here!

Centralskolan: an architectural gem in the rough

Another must-see in is the centrally-located Centralskolan, which regained its original name when former pupils decided to rescue the school from demolition as part of the kommun’s urban densification initiative. This school, designed by architect Bror Thornberg almost a century ago, was at the time a pioneering experiment in comprehensive education in Sweden—an enhetsskola, as they were called—which attracted the attention of ministers and county councillors.

In rather touching childhood stories, collected in a jubilee book for the school’s 70th anniversary, former pupils reminisce upon the impressive aula, the mosaic adorning the school entrance, the folding wardrobes… all of this and more a testimony to the mix of aesthetics and functionality that famously characterises Swedish architecture and furnishings. Enthusiasts of C20th Nordic design may be pleased to know that reproductions of the book are available to purchase at the municipality central office (though they may be rather less pleased by the price).

The Bror Thornberg Association, which now runs the school, has worked to restore its former glory by reopening the main entrance, and inviting the best architects and designers for a “restoration lab”, in addition to reinstating most of Thornberg’s original values (e.g. seeing the school as a link between society and home). After classes are done for the day, it becomes a lively meeting place for a bunch of Staffanstorp residents, where various activities are organised; a “bike kitchen” and a well-equipped maker-space attract designers from all across the region. As the restored School—much like the 2030s vertical housing blocks nearby—has attracted the admiration of a new generation of urban planners and architects, the municipality has embraced it like a prodigal child, despite the uncharacteristic whiff of collectivism it brings to the area.

The school also became the first in Skåne to offer an international summer course in restoration art. Last time we were there, the course was fully booked for the coming three years—but given the likelihood of long-haul travel disruptions, it’s well worth putting your name down for a space on the reserve list.

And, yes: despite its distinctly market-centric attitude, Staffanstorp has a lot to offer to travellers longing for feelings of community and reconnection. Staffanstorp’s unique beträdor, a 13-kilometre long path on the edges of the town’s flourishing farmland [Ed. note: this is private property, so keep to the path and don’t pick anything!] offers a close encounter with the mix of crops most common across the Lunda plain, such as lentils, sweet lupine and broad bean, as well as other flora and fauna typical to the region*.

(The conservation of this much-loved track is largely due to the EU Recap policy of recent decades; if the kids are getting fractious on the long walk, set them the challenge of finding the sign which acknowledges the funding!)

A New Clear Municipality?

As a somewhat eccentric and rebellious member of the Skåne family, Staffanstorp’s relentless autonomy has made it an exciting laboratory for new ideas. Back in the late 2020s—in what some academics refer to as “the nuclear (re)turn”—Staffanstorp was at the front of the queue to volunteer and play host to the controversial attempt by one of the major Swedish energy companies to test new small modular nuclear reactors, in defiance of widespread concerns over the difficulty (and profitability) of restarting old nuclear plants or building new ones.

The condition set down by the municipality as the price of their participation in the experiment was that Staffanstorp should be the sole beneficiary of the lower prices expected from the electricity generated. Even those with ideological or economic objections should pay respect to Staffanstorp’s dogged determination to “beat the bills” and deal with the energy crisis quickly. When the fourth generation reactor designs—popularly known as “circular nuclear”, lead-cooled and fueled with recycled uranium—proved unready for rolling out at scale by 2027, Staffanstorp’s mayor decided to go back to the original water-cooled reactors on the decommissioned site of Barsebäck, and get them up and running again.

Little did he know at the time that what Skånians nowadays refer to as “de jävla översvämningshelvetesåren” would also affect the Barsebäck when the recommissioning project was only around half finished. Repeated flooding drew a lot of public attention, and while some have argued that the risks of nuclear incidents were exaggerated by alarmists, heated protests in the Barsebäck region finally drew a line under the west coast’s nuclear story. Having sunk a lot of money into securing the site, however, the municipality decided to turn with the tide for a change… which is why Barsebäck is now home to one of the largest combined solar and wind parks in Sweden.

You can say what you like about Staffanstorp—and as any Staffanstorper will tell you, the snooty city types in Malmö and Lund frequently do!—but there’s few who would deny their knack for turning problems into opportunities.

* The linguistically-minded reader may be interested to know that, while punning and wordplay is thought of as a Gothenburg preserve, Staffanstorp’s made-up word beträdor plays with the verb beträda (to tread) and the noun träda (fallow land). Humour, it must be said, has its own terroir.

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