In 1995, a section was added to Chapter 4 of the Swedish Environmental Code. It read, “The Ulriksdal–Haga–Brunnsviken–Djurgården area is a national urban park (NUP) [called Nationalstadspark in Swedish and Stockholm Royal National City Park in English]. New development, new buildings and other measures shall only be permissible in national urban parks if they can be undertaken without encroaching on park landscapes or the natural environment and without detriment to any other natural and cultural assets of the historical landscape.” Despite its brevity, this passage represents the culmination of years of studies, coordination, and advocacy by more than 60 social movement and environmental organizations to establish Sweden’s (and the world’s) first National City Park in Stockholm.
For many Stockholmers, Nationalstadspark represents their banner of green urbanity to the world; the 27 sq km of mixed woodland that surround the city center support biodiverse habitats, provide a range of ecosystem services, and are within reasonable distance of every segment of the population. In this research inquiry, I hope to provide a meaningful summary of the history of Nationalstadspark, explain how it fits into the context of Stockholm parks, and explore whether its model is one that can be replicated in urban settings of comparable size or population.
Nationalstadspark spans over 6,671 acres (2,700 hectares) through three municipalities (Stockholm, Solna, and Lidingö). Beginning in Southern Djurgården it runs via Northern Djurgården, Haga, and Brunnsviken to Ulriksdal and Sörentorp in the north, forming a nearly uninterrupted green corridor that envelopes Stockholm’s central city. The system is defined by broad-leaved and mixed forests and an open grass-dominated landscape. The topography is laced with glacial remains such as eskers, precipice, faults, and ice-grounded rocks. The park also takes in several islands of the Stockholm Archipelago, Fjäderholmarna and Skeppsholmen being two of the most prominent.
HISTORY OF THE PARK
In geologic terms, the area that now comprises Nationalstadspark is quite young; an Ice Age in northern Europe compressed the land to such an extent that most of Stockholm’s landscape did not even appear until the ice had receded and post-glacial rebound had its turn to shape the archipelago. Human settlers are believed to have started putting down roots in the park area between the end of the Neolithic Period and the start of the Bronze Age (2300-1800 BC), when the territory had finally become inhabitable. Elmqvist et. al. describe this uplift as a dynamic process that is ongoing, saying “when humans first colonized this area…most of the land was still submerged under water and only the highest peaks were exposed and used for settlements by hunters and fishermen. Land uplift processes have raised land continuously and have provided human settlers with increasing access to fertile fine-sediment soils suitable for agriculture and cattle herding.” They also point out the anthropogenic factors in the evolution of the landscape, positing that, “humans have likely had a continuous strong impact on the area shaping the landscape and biodiversity during several thousands of years.”
The southern part of Djurgården is possibly the best recorded example of this human impact on biodiversity. The site became royal property in 1452 and then a royal hunting park in 1680, after which a royal land management agency (KDF) was established to oversee the forest and hunting grounds. The KDF still runs today, and it manages the larger part of the NUP. With a steady government hand in the maintenance of the forest, deliberate favoring of certain habitats began to determine much of the ecological evolution of the site. As Elmqvist et. al. sum it up, the royal management “favored stands of broad-leaved trees and particularly oak,” an action intended to provide to most desirable foraging for deer. This has led to a “relatively low nutritional status in the soil as a result of a long period of grazing,“ and has “resulted in meadows with very high plant species richness.” Apart from the Djurgården area, most of the parcels within the NUP have changed hands throughout the years, which has subsequently caused the general land uses to vary widely; anything from church gardens to pastures to industrial areas and railroad corridors can be found mentioned or depicted in historical documents.
The official designation of Nationalstadspark in 1995 was preceded by more than a century of staggering population growth in Stockholm, rapid industrialization in the country, and exploitation of the land for housing and other affairs, which has led to a sizable loss in biodiversity. According to Elmqvist and company, “industrialization had a large impact on the area through the construction of new railways, a gas plant, and a harbor, which meant that “unexploited parts of the areas were continually diminishing, and, in 1963, 50% of the green parts from 1913 had disappeared in Djurgården, and core areas for biodiversity have decreased with 13% since 1947.” This exploitation pressure increased through the end of the 20th century, with plans to build on the valuable land near the city center.
DESIGNATION AS A NATIONAL URBAN PARK
This lengthy period of diminished land quality did not go unnoticed. The royalty, parliament, stakeholders and residents were all cognizant of the NUP area’s importance. So much so that there were several proposals in the Swedish Parliament to protect the area (1809, 1913, and 1959) in reaction to development pressures before measures were finally taken in 1995. Speculations as to why the process took so long vary, but there is a general consensus that exploitations up until then were too incremental and relatively small in scale relative to the area to need legislative protection, and that a tipping point only came when the development proposal was large enough to fragment the forest. The World Wildlife Fund asserts that even though user groups have been a major part of the success of the green networks—with more than 60 social movement organizations (SMOs) regularly using the area—the popularity in itself was insufficient for protection. In their words, “crisis was probably a necessary factor in organizing these diverse groups into an alliance: the crisis of extensive plans to transform land in the area. A movement to create a national city park came together based on the existing social infrastructure of Stockholm's already active alliances against similar development projects, e.g. new highways.”
STOCKHOLM’S GREEN WEDGES AND A PARADIGM SHIFT
Apart from the avid activism of environmentalists and regular park users, the greater city of Stockholm, and really the entire country, was also in an introspective moment regarding its development patterns, making the governments more naturally inclined to push for protective legislation. Isling points out, however, that this can be a strategic struggle when trying to ensure accessible and qualitative green space:
“An intrinsic conflict in all park and city planning politics deals with the fact that there is a lack of land when town planning takes place. If parks use too much space, the town will be too sparsely built, leading to insufficient resources for the parks to be beautiful, sustainable and useful in such a sparse urban environment. There is even a specific term for what it can mean to some people to walk in excessively large and empty city squares: agoraphobia. Conversely, if space devoted to parks is too small, the town has a poor living environment. Thus, when conceiving a well-thought-out town plan, a reasonable amount of land for parks and city squares must be set aside in each part of the city”
Stockholm has risen to the challenge of finding this balance—even as the population is still rapidly growing and the city densifying—pioneering their own pattern of parkland designation in the form of green space zones. Isling states that “over recent years, the city has grown inwards and the concept of the 'city' has experienced a renaissance. This has meant that smaller amounts of parkland have been set aside in the new city districts. On the other hand, they have at best a better quality, and the choices of both material and design have been made with more thought. This idea of compensating quantity for quality is justified since many people in a limited area place great strain on the resources available from the land and its vegetation.” These well-defined parks and surrounding green areas are bound together in zones, or green wedges as they are called locally (see Figure 2).
THE IMPORTANCE OF DISPERSAL IN LARGE PARKS
Not only does this system of wedges resemble a significant accomplishment in providing widely dispersed and accessible green spaces, it also plays a vital role in preserving habitat within Nationalstadspark. According to the reviews and studies done by Elmqvist et. al., “there is no other area in Sweden of the same size [as the NUP], where similar high species richness has been described. There are more than 1,000 species of butterflies alone recorded from the area and more than 1,200 species of beetles and 250 species of birds.” They continue, describing the importance of oak dominated woodlands, which have produced a “unique set of niches for flora and fauna dependent on hollow trees hosting up to 1,500 other species of fungi, lichens, insects, birds, and bats.” The park also hosts more than 60 red-listed insect species, 32 red-listed species of fungi, and more than 20 species of red-listed vascular plants, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.
These are impressive indicators, and they certainly give substantial support to the argument for preserving large open spaces in urban areas. Czerniak et. al. would welcome such data into the mix of their essays in Large Parks, where they posit that any park larger than 500 acres “allows for dramatic exposure to the elements, to weather, geology, open horizons, and thick vegetation,” and that their “large, contiguous, non-fragmented yet differentiated area is fundamental to their ecological performance, and aspects of wildness are inescapable.” However, the Elmqvist study cites some very important qualifications to the idea that the size of a large ‘urban wild’ determines its ecological success. It concludes that while the size of the NUP has been an important driver to its richness of habitat, there has still been a loss of biodiversity over the years, such as the disappearance of certain gastropods, common species of amphibians and reptiles, and some important bird species. Much of the recent disappearances of hollow tree dependent organisms is due to the decline of oak forests caused by epidemic oak disease that has spread across Europe over the past few decades. Such a decline will spell bad news for the NUP area if the oaks do not recover, and their natural regeneration rates are often low per heavy predation on acorns and seedlings coupled with naturally slow growth rates. The authors also point out that “natural regeneration of oak is dependent on animal dispersal,” which is an issue that transcends the boundaries of the park. This means that the park must not only remain non-fragmented within itself but have strong connections to the greater green wedge system of Stockholm County (see Figure 2) if it is to continue thriving and providing its essential ecosystem services—a goal that can only be accomplished, at least in any meaningful way, through intergovernmental coordination.
REGIONAL COORDINATION IN LAND MANAGEMENT
If the model of a national city park is to be emulated, it is essential to draw lessons in regional land management, both good and bad, from Nationalstadspark. The good is most certainly the unprecedented amount of public participation and intergovernmental coordination that went into creating the NUP concept. Without the cooperation of multiple stakeholders, municipalities, regional, and finally national and international governments, the success of the NUP designation would not be possible, especially given the opposition and clout of the three expansive exploitation projects that brought on the “crisis” of open space in the first place.
Despite the success of the coordination leading to Nationalstadspark’s designation, there still remain examples of what to avoid in ongoing management practice. A study by Peter Clark showed that “during the nine years that have passed since the National Urban Park Act was established there have been positive actions by the municipalities, such as the developmental work in the field of biodiversity, but the net effect of implementation has been limited…studies of the impact point to the fact that the preservation of the NUP was not a priority for those municipal bodies in charge of planning.” Such facts highlight the need to ensure that regional coordination between municipalities is clearly laid out from the onset of an NUP management plan, something that was largely seen as missing in Nationalstadspark’s plan.
Envisioning a world dotted with national city parks that mitigate climate change while providing essential ecosystem services to urbanites is both encouraging and actionable. Given the well observed data about Nationalstadspark and other NUPs following suit, I feel confident in concluding that there are at least a few conditions under which the model can thrive no matter its location or size. If NUP candidates show signs of a consistent engagement with the area by residents and stakeholders, clear evidence of connectivity between the site and significant ecological dispersal points, and have undertaken an ongoing intergovernmental management strategy with clearly defined roles on the part of municipalities, there is potential to establish functional, beautiful, and perseverant urban wilderness.
 The Swedish Environmental Code, Ministry of the Environment and Energy, 25.
 Elmqvist, Thomas et. al. "The Dynamics of Social-Ecological Systems in Urban Landscapes: Stockholm and the National Urban Park, Sweden." Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences 1023, no. 1: 308-322. Wildlife & Ecology Studies Worldwide, 2004, 312.
 “The Oldest Landscape,” The Park History, Nationalstadspark.
 Elmqvist, 312.
 Ibid. 312-313
 Thomas, Aaron, “World’s first national city park,” World Wildlife Fund, March 2012.
 Isling, Bengt, "A Typology for the Parks of Stockholm," Garden History 32, no. 2 (2004): 251.
 Elmqvist, 314-15.
 Czerniak, Julia, George Hargreaves, and John Beardsley, Large Parks. n.p.: New York: Princeton Architectural Press; Cambridge, Mass: In association with the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2007. Louisiana State University, 11.
 Elmqvist, 314.
 Elmqvist, 315.
 “The Park”.
 Clark, Peter, The European city and green space: London, Stockholm, Helsinki and St. Petersburg, 1850-2000. n.p.: Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. Louisiana State University, 170.