What makes a city livable? Beauty. Culture. Space. Safety. Good transportation, schools and neighbors. Stockholm has them all. It also has its problems: rising crime and violence. Restless kids. A housing shortage. Alienation, particularly among people in the green-belt apartment clusters that ring the city. But strung together, these troubles are as misleading as Sweden's infamous suicide rate, which suffers from an honest count that doesn't exist where law or religion condemn the act; which is not Europe's highest; and which has increased only slightly since the turn of the century.
Social critics see the problems-particularly the housing shortage-as inevitable consequences of urbanizing a traditionally rural culture and as short-term dislocations within a long-range program that the people want. Where our urban chaos today threatens the national will, beneath Stockholm's headlines lies a serene conviction that Sweden's priorities are in order.
Foreigners visiting Stockholm for the first time frequently find it "boring." The charge is partially warranted, Swedes are difficult to know. But the charge is overblown; the foreigner, accustomed to clatter, fails to recognize a city at peace with itself.