In 1626, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden commissioned what was to be Sweden's largest warship, Vasa. Two years later, while King Gustavus was away at war, Vasa was completed and sailed into Stockholm harbor. Minutes into her maiden voyage, a light breeze tipped over the behemoth and she quickly sank into the clay-rich bed of the harbor. Perfectly preserved in the frigid, protective clay, she sat there for nearly 350 years, before she was salvaged, conserved and housed into what is now known as the Vasa Museum. Of the many well-known museums and exhibits I've visited all over the world, this was perhaps the most impressive in size and scope. The lessons that can be learned from the Vasa Museum are numerous and it should be a mandatory visit for governors, mayors and chief executives of cities, the world over.
You think it's a Disney World type-attraction when you enter through the heavy triple-doors of the museum. "This can't be real," was probably the initial reaction of the 25 million visitors who experienced Vasa before me, but it is. The 230-feet ship is imposing and mind-boggling to all in its sheer size alone. The museum, however, is impressive in that it has a little something for everyone. The story of the excavation and preservation of Vasa are matched in incredibility only in the contributions to science that preserving the ship have yielded. New methods in ship-salvaging, timber-preservation and climate-control were the byproducts of work being done at the Vasa Museum.
The museum offers lessons in biology and anatomy with the 10 skeletons of the deceased on display. Each skeleton has been analyzed and a "story" of the recovered bodies has been reconstructed. Some of the young minds traveling through these exhibits will undoubtedly be the future of life sciences as they grow up.
The displays dealing with excavation and preservation of the ship will surely spark interest in the minds of future mechanical, electrical, chemical and bio-engineers.
The next generation of historians will be mesmerized by the documents uncovered that detail the massive construction project, the wars being fought at the time, as well as the strategy devised by the King Gustavus in hurrying along such a project. Young political scientists will argue over the environment the king fostered which led to his advisers hiding the truth behind the ship from him, lest the messenger be punished for the message.
The 15-year-old future economist will be intrigued by the impressive cost of the project, the labor used to complete it, and the funding choices made by the king in order to underwrite this undertaking.
More comprehensive and educational than perhaps weeks or even months of formal schooling, the Vasa Museum and museums like it, should be the standard bearer that all other cities aspire to. While most cities will not be so lucky as to have such an important part of history laying in their respective harbors protected from the sea creatures that would otherwise devour the ship, they need to make due with whatever they have.
While Vasa was the most impressive aspect of my short stay in Stockholm, Stockholm itself offered many other lessons for city planners. The extensive tunnel structures have left entire forests intact that surround and encompass the city. I had to chance to travel throughout the city and the divide between rich-and-poor that exists in so many cities was not as stark. The "rich" neighborhoods are only minutes away from the "poorer" neighborhoods. The conspicuous consumption of New York or London was not as apparent in Stockholm. The houses appeared to be more modest, the cars not as flashy. While the Swedes have their own set of problems no doubt, they appear to be doing some things right. The influx of foreign refugees, while negative in the eyes of populist movements throughout Europe, actually have added benefits for export rich countries such as Sweden. Therefore, the social policies of the Swedes appears to be beneficial to the greater economy and thus benefits all citizens. Just as the eurozone is able to fight deflation and an appreciating currency with the inclusion of the Mediterranean countries, so too does Sweden with social policies benefiting newly arrived refugees.
A must visit place for city-planners, sociologists, economists and politicians alike, Stockholm awaits.