The current climate crisis and its effects on infrastructure and society are becoming increasingly apparent. To mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, municipal infrastructure for streets, water and sanitation systems must be renovated and reinforced. Pär Blomkvist, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Industrial Engineering at MDU, conducts research on the history of municipal infrastructure to explore how it can help society adapt to the challenges of the climate crisis.

The climate crisis has an impact on infrastructure and society
“The threat of the climate crisis and its impact on infrastructure systems and society has become more transparent in recent years. The rate of climate change is accelerating, and our future seems uncertain,” says Pär Blomkvist and continues:

“Sweden and Europe, as well as the whole world, have experienced heat waves during the summer with water shortages, a crisis in agriculture and wildfires, but also deforestation, rising sea temperatures, melting polar ice, extinction of wild animals and Russian large-scale environmental destruction through the war (what is known as ecocide) in Ukraine. Severe rainfall and flooding are not distant forecasts but in fact harsh reality.”

Society needs to adapt
Pär Blomkvist believes that infrastructure development is essential for enabling society to adapt to the challenges that exist. To mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, to a certain extent, municipal infrastructure for streets, water and sanitation systems must be renovated and consolidated.

During the day, Pär Blomkvist conducts research on sustainability and innovations in infrastructure systems. In his newly published book ”Articulating Publicness in Infrastructure: The History of Municipal Streets, Water and Sanitation in Sweden,” he investigates the history of municipal infrastructure in Sweden.

“I hope that insights from history can help us to reach that goal.”

Historical events have an impact
Pär Blomkvist links the historical development of streets, water and sanitation infrastructure to research in medical, social, cultural, economic, technical and political history.

“This interconnection highlights how significant contextual factors in society as a whole have influenced the development of streets, water and sanitation. What is apparent is that public infrastructure systems have been heavily influenced by historical events at the municipal level,” he says.

Examples of factors that have influenced the development of streets, water and sanitation:

  • Local autonomy
  • Urbanisation, demography and industrialisation
  • The municipal reform of 1862, and the reform for water and sanitation in particular
  • The gap between the private and public spheres; what is known as the “social issue”
  • Concerns about cholera, a new perception of health and disease but also the English sanitation movement.

During the 1900s, three additional factors emerged that have affected today’s system for infrastructure: environmental concerns due to water pollution, circularity (reusing resources) and sustainability.

Infrastructure development is crucial
By comparing historical events and having a long-term perspective, Pär Blomkvist believes that it is possible to discover similarities and differences in the development of infrastructure around streets, water and sanitation.

“The development of municipal streets, water and sanitation has left a historical legacy that still influences how they are managed at the municipal level today. However, to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, these systems must be adapted, renovated and reinforced. Here infrastructure development is crucial to enable society to adapt to the challenges that lie ahead. My hope is that insights from history can help us reach that goal,” he concludes.

Pär Blomkvist, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer in Industrial Engineering at Mälardalen University (MDU)
Telephone: 021-10 70 45
E-mail: par.blomkvist@mdu.se