Can we make Manila a sustainable and livable city once again? Could we find practical and lasting solutions to the problems of traffic, pollution, congestion, and crime?
These questions were on my mind when I was listening to the plenary speakers of the 13th ASIALICS International Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, which was jointly organized by the Asian Association of Learning, innovation, and Coevolution Studies (ASIALICS) and the National Innovation Agency (NIA) of Thailand.
ASIALICS is composed of academics, policymakers and practitioners who seek to explore and develop the concept of learning, innovation and competence building as analytical framework” and to “stimulate the establishment of knowledge-based strategies for economic development in Asia”. The theme of this year’s conference was: Area-based Innovation in Asia. Area-based innovation, an emerging concept that goes beyond the classical industrial cluster and the traditional regional innovation system, focuses on how space can induce innovation activities, taking into consideration mega-infrastructure, city development, and linkages with local communities.
One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of Mr. PehrGranfalk, Mayor of the City of Solna, Sweden, who was justifiably proud as he discussed Solna’s journey towards sustainable growth. Granfalk talked about how Solna, Sweden’s third smallest municipality, became its country’s fastest growing city. Just 20 years ago, Solna had low growth, lower-than-average income and lower-than-average education in the Stockholm region. According to him, Solna succeeded by taking advantage of its proximity to Stockholm, by being business-friendly, by establishing fast and efficient planning processes, by focusing on key investors and developers, by lowering taxes on income, and by making people feel that “it is here where things happen; this is the place to be.”
Among Solna’s major initiatives was the establishment of a life science cluster in Hagastaden. This cluster is anchored on Academia KarolinskaInstitutet, one of the world’s foremost medical universities known for its medical research. Within 10 years, Solna created a district with 6,000 new apartments, a new university hospital, new research facilities, 25,000 new workplaces, a new metro that linked Solna with Stockholm. Coupled with the business-friendly policies of the local government, Solna became a new hub for life science businesses.
Another major project was the creation of a modern city district with mixed commerce in Arenastaden. This was made possible with the building of the Friends Arena, which is Scandinavia’s largest multifunctional arena for 65,000 spectators; and of the Mall of Scandinavia, the largest shopping center in Northern Europe. These attracted investments in hotels, restaurants, housing, and office buildings that served as headquarters of some large multinational firms. What is worth noting is that the investments in infrastructure development, including the transportation systems (e.g. a new metro, a tram system) to and from Stockholm and the Arlandaairport, were financed by developers instead of taxpayers.
All of these investments, which were brought about by effective city planning and business-friendly policies, have created quality jobs for Solna’s citizens. In fact, Solna’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.4%, which is lower than Stockholm’s 6.3% and Sweden’s 8.0 percent. With increased job opportunities, government’s spending on welfare (income support for households) has correspondingly gone down.
Also worth noting is that employment opportunities and the quality of life in Solna have attracted talented and creative people from within and outside of Sweden. This does not only enhance the diversity of Solna’s population, but also serves to reinforce the cycle of growth and development in the city.
Raymund B. Habaradas is an associate professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teaches management of organizationsand management research. He also does research on SME development, corporate social initiatives and social enterprises. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.