Kiruna town was founded in the year 1900. However, the presence of the Sami and Finnish cultures dates back many thousand years in the area and mining have been taking place here since the seventeenth century. The town is situated in the far north of Sweden, far away from the largest cities in Sweden (see figure 1), but close to the Norwegian and Finnish borders.
The municipality is the most northern in Sweden, located north of the Polar circle, and the vastest in geographical size. The municipality has 7 urban areas (with more than 200 inhabitants), but 73% of the population resides in Kiruna town. Population grew fast as soon as the railway came to Kiruna in 1902. The population peaked in size in the 70’s, just as the mining industry did. The population has since then decreased (see figure 2). The municipality as a whole has around 23 000 inhabitants. The labor market has traditionally been the same as the municipality. Since 2015 it has also expanded to the adjacent municipality Pajala.
Kiruna has three main industries; mining, tourism and space. However, Kiruna is in some ways still a mono-town with the iron ore company LKAB as the dominant employer and local player. LKAB is owned by the Swedish state and has always played a key role in Kiruna’s development. The mining industry is very dependent on the world market price on iron ore and this can be reflected in the regions historical growth levels. After a long negative trend, in the late 90’s and early 00’s, the iron ore price is higher again. LKAB extracts the ore and then produces iron ore pellets that are transported by railway to Luleå and Norwegian Narvik before further transport to steal plants in foremost Europe.
Large investments have gone into the tourism industry since 2000. Kiruna has several attractions; the many national parks (see figure 4) and vast nature in the mountains, the Ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, the Kiruna mines and the rocket base Esrange. The tourism industry attracts visitors all year around.
The largest overland test range for aerospace systems in Europe, is found on the rocket base Esrange 40 km outside Kiruna town. The location is strategic due to high regularity of clear skies, the northern lights, proximity to the North Pole and large uninhabited areas. Esrange Space Centre was initially built in 1964 and attracts both national and international researchers and holds the Institute for Space Physics. Satellites and tests of space vehicles are launched and controlled from the center. Luleå University of Technology have a department in Kiruna with related education.
Kiruna faces several challenges. Some of them are:
- Just like many other more peripheral regions in Sweden, Kiruna is having a negative population development. This creates challenges for public authorities in terms of a decreasing tax base and for employers in finding skilled workers.
- After the mining crisis in 1976-1982, several service companies located themselves in Kiruna and the municipality have for decades worked towards diversifying the economy. Tourism is clear example of this. Yet, Kiruna is still very dependent on LKAB today.
- The mining adjacent to the town center in Kiruna, Kiirunavaara, is done under ground and the orebody extends below the town center. When extracting the ore, deformations are created on the ground, making the area unstable and unsafe. In 2004 the threat on the city became more evident, and plans to move the city center started. The city center, together with several buildings of high architectural value, will be moved to the east. This is an opportunity for Kiruna to reinvent the place and create a modern and sustainable city center. The urban area is though surrounded by values of high national interest which makes relocation more difficult. The municipality has planning monopoly, but LKAB is also important in the moving process, as a key local actor and financier.