Writings

Åk alla till Akalla


Today I'm going to revisit another cornerstone of my childhood. The place I grew up, a little suburb outside of Stockholm called Akalla.
Åk alla till Akalla
I, after the fortune of adoption, came to grow up and learn about life in Akalla. The suburb was part of an agenda from the government to put their money where their mouth was, and develop high quality housing for all it's citizens. Sweden in the seventies seemed to genuinely care for it's people, and this project, 'Miljonprogrammet' aimed to build a milion new houses during it's ten year programme, which at the time was a record investment in it's citizens welfare, we have to remember that at the time Sweden had only 8 milion inhabitants. Whole new suburbs were created, mainly outside the big cities and most of them outside Stockholm. All the housing, some apartment buildings, some small chain houses were of good quality, maybe not pretty exactly, but since part of the agenda from the government was to raise the standard for how the Swedish lived. All was built to last.
Akalla was one of the last pieces to fall in to place in 'Miljonprogrammet', and we moved there in 1975. To a small orange house, one of many that were neatly lined up on top of a gently sloping hill that looked out over fields and forests.
I revisited, these childhood dwellings again last year, wanted to show it to Iomi and experience it from the other side, from the perspective of a parent. And I was floored. What a gem, what a wonderful place I grew up in. The little suburb is situated ca 16 km north of Stockholm, had at the time I lived there a population of ca 10 000. It had three schools, and you could walk all over town without ever hitting a road with traffic, which was heaven for us kids, cause we were allowed to roam around pretty freely. In the outskirts of the settlement there was a little mini farm, with pigs cows, 4H activities and a huge playground, with trees and barbecues all looking over the vast spread of fields and forest. Families were offered little plots, where you could have your own garden, and there was a well lit, perfectly maintained running track that was landscaped through a dense quiet forest. There were two supermarkets, one bank, one post office, one pet shop/candy store, a kiosque that made hamburgers, one pizzeria that gave all children lollipops, and the all important subway station, our bridge to everywhere else that also marked the centre of town. The schools were newly built, had all the equipment and facilities a well thought out school could have, the food was decent, the teachers inspired, and all of it was for free. What a dream. I had like I've mentioned no real friends from the time we moved in, when I was three, until I started school where everything changed. I was bright and the learning environment, which came very natural to me, made me thrive. I finally got friends. My beautiful childhood gang. Kakan, Majsan, Petra, Lotta, Sussie. My childhood sweetheart Anders, that I think I was with for almost two years, a number I until I met Igor never managed to match. The whole beautiful class of 1A, which I think we were called, were all in all a great bunch of kids.
The freedom of movement that Akalla provided both parents and children, gave vivid opportunitiy to express your imagination. Not perhaps so potent in the early stages of childhood, but when we hit puberty we did fully use the extent of that freedom, and dear oh dear what little hooligans we were.
There was a very important factor in our pubescent appetite for life: Centrumgården. It was a youth hang out which you could enter from the age of 13, provided of course by the generous Swedish government. This youth hangout, which had a drinks and snack bar with generous seating areas, a disco room and a pool table, gave us access to sniff the social aspect of the adult world, the world of girls and boys. This excitement in the midst of our raging hormones created the desire for more adult, forbidden and unexplored. And since we were granted quite a generous freedom of movement, we lived out that desire every opportunity we could. We hung out in mixed gender gangs and found excitement and novelty in the new mix of nationalities that Sweden had just started aquiring, which for me was such a relief. Up until seven I had never even seen anyone else that had black hair, except in documentaries from far away places. We mixed it up, had sex way too early snuck drinks from our parents, got very drunk, wrote our grafitti tags in the different public buildings and were I guess quite lucky that we only got in to minor trouble.

Those all important growing years, were as growing years tend to be, a mixed bag of curious pleasure seeking, pain and confusion, but it taught us independence, allowed us to create a quasi adult, micro universe where we could try our wings as almost grown ups and learn about life through experience, all because of this genius set up of Akalla, where us kids were kings and queens of the streets but with a very gentle shelter of forest and fields surrounding our exploration.

When I saw all this from my perspective of an at least a little more adult person, it made my eyes tear up. What a wonderful place to grow up in! And although I couldn't wait to get out of there, when seeing it again and vividly remembering the good times I spent there, I realised that those years, with all that space for semi adult experimentation, were vital to who I am today and I felt so fortunate to of all possibilities go through the growing pains of childhood in that particular suburb.
The slogan for Akalla, when it wanted to profile itself in the, at the time very innocent media, was: 'Åk alla till Akalla', 'Go all to Akalla'. A slogan I now heartily recommend. Go visit Akalla, especially you that grew up there but haven't had the chance to revisit your childhood dwellings. Bring your family for a picnic in Akalla by, let your kids roam around the forests and the field and enjoy the mulitcultural diversity of that milionprogramme paradise. Forget the stigma, and reputation it has aquired of late and just look at what an incredible place you had the good fortune of growing up in. I have been around the proverbial block a few times but in all my travels I have never encountered another place which could rival my childhood setting. A heartfelt thanks to the Swedish government of those years, for the opportunity to grow up in that suburban idyll. Thanks to all of you now grown up kids that made it the incredible adolescent adventure it was.

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