Aug 20, 2017

A summer afternoon in a changing Umeå

A sunny day with an ice cream in Rådhusparken, to remember when the darkness folds around me!

It’s been a year since I last was downtown Umeå. The reasons are two, and in combination they make it very hard for me. The first reason is that most of the time I can only walk a few meters. And although downtown Umeå is just a few blocks, it’s way too much for me. The second reason is the constant city center construction work that makes it impossible to park anywhere within walking distance to where I need to be.

Construction work in a city, wether it is Umeå or Seattle, we know as a sign of development. To me, it is a healthy sign. Places not developing are usually stagnated or even dead. There is no moving forward. Sometimes development can be too much of course. Too fast and too cruel. And sometimes, like in Seattle, the constant flow of people moving in from other places can be overwhelming and too much when it comes to housing and infrastructure. 

Umeå is growing too. And there is a lot of redesigning in the city center. It all started when Umeå was applying to become The European Capital of Culture. The appointment enhanced the process which is still ongoing, three years after carrying the title in 2014. Changes are difficult and there has been quite some criticism of new architecture and parks not looking the way they used to.

This is the second summer in a row where Rådhustorget (the City Hall Square) right at the heart of downtown is fenced in with something looking like crush barriers. The open inviting place with fresh fruit stands and people sitting down having an ice cream is behind bars and the whole area feels unfriendly and impossible to navigate.

The protracted redesign of Rådhustorget has taken it’s toll on the downtown shopping. Closing (temporary, but still long-spun) the main artery for cars moving through the area doesn’t help. Many stores have had to close, and of course it’s not H&M and alikes but small local and very dear businesses leaving.

I have not been able to follow what’s going on first hand as I am never in the city center, but I am reading the papers, watching renderings of what to be. Very much like how I am following the changes of Seattle, come to think about it. Funny, I’m only 20 minutes from downtown Umeå and about 20 hours from Seattle! Both far away though.

Sometimes I have errands to run downtown. They tend to linger on my to do list forever though it’s such a hazard for me getting to it. Lying on my couch here at the end of the road the feel of trying to get it done such a weight on me. Dark, cold, wet, icy, slippery. And you never know where you can drive and park. So the trick is to plan for it during the light and non-slippery part of the year.

Summer 2017 has been crappy weather wise. But this Thursday delivered a sunny 66° (19°C) afternoon, and it wasn’t even that windy, what a treat! And Mohammed - who works here Monday and Thursday afternoons accompanying me to my treatments - and me headed for downtown, finally. We managed to find a parking and my back allowed me to do all the errands on my list, check!

It’s funny though how I am still trapped in old pattens from when I could drive and live a movable life. In a store, browsing, I find myself thinking I don’t have to make up my mind buying (a crazy nail polish) or not just now, I’ll wait for the next time. You would think, after soon five years on my couch I would know there won’t be a next time. Well, I remembered and bought the polish, intense and glossy turquoise.

Content with check on my to do list and still some minutes left, Mohammed and I bought an ice cream. We walked the few steps from the hostile Rådhustorget to Rådhusparken, the park connecting the city center to the Umeå River. We sat down on a bench in the upper part of the park, finalized last fall. Of course I haven’t been there before so I was very curious about the outcome which I know some have critized. 

I couldn’t walk around in the park, but what I could see I liked. And I loved the moment. The surprise summer afternoon. The delicious ice cream. The view of the park and the river. The feeling of being one among other Umeå residents taking the opportunity of a gorgeous day. 

And enjoying the company of Mohammed who fled here from Bagdad in 1915 and. As one of few in that stream of refugees he now has a permanent residence permit. It happened a month ago. Mohammed I say, if you are still in Umeå in ten years you can tell your children you came here when the city was changing. Yes, Mohammed says, when it was all built and redesigned. And it will all be good, he says. Rådhustorget, the park, life. It will all be good, everything.

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