One hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle lies the Swedish mining town of Kiruna, population 20,000. Sitting atop one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits, the city has flourished since its founding in the early 20th century, enriched by the operations of the state-owned mining company Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB). But there’s a problem. Over the course of a century, miners have dug so many tunnels in the area that the city is literally sinking into the earth.
Since the mining operations couldn’t be moved, and were too valuable to close, LKAB decided in 2004 to move the city instead. The company acquired a new plot of land around 2 miles to the east and began offering Kiruna residents buyouts and subsidies to encourage them to move. The town’s 21 most important buildings, such as the home of the city’s founder, which has been turned into a museum, are being physically transported to the new location. The company is projecting that the move will cost around $1 billion.
Austrian photographer Gregor Kallina first visited Kiruna in 2013 after reading about it in his local newspaper, and quickly became fascinated by how the town was uprooting itself. “The city wouldn’t exist except for the mine, but now the mine is threatening the city,” he observes. “Some people are losing the place where they grew up, where they spent their life. All those memories will be gone.”
A futuristic-looking City Hall was recently unveiled in what is to become the new town center. Although Kallina hasn’t observed any large-scale protests against the move, he has spoken to many disgruntled Kiruna residents. “Some people don’t want to move, so they are simply leaving the city altogether,” he says.
Then there are the indigenous Sami people of Scandinavia, whose traditional lifestyle revolves around herding and hunting reindeer. The Sami have long protested against the building of new mines in their ancestral homeland. LKAB officials claim the relocation of Kiruna won’t affect the Sami because the new site was already a town dump, but the Sami themselves have a somewhat different take. “They just don’t need to give a fuck, so they don’t give a fuck,” a member of the Sami parliament told The Guardian.
With a target date of 2035 for the move to be complete, the relocation of Kiruna is very much a work in progress. And Kallina, who visits the city about twice a year, plans to be on hand to document whatever happens. “This is a lifetime project,” he says.
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