I live in an ugly city. It is just to the north of Stockholm’s inner city, with more of Stockholm sprawling to the north.
There are no nice views here. If you walk up to Blue Hill, the monumental Stalinist apartment blocks, you can take in a panorama of train tracks, 70’s apartment buildings, a really ugly mall and factories. Walk a little in the other direction and there is the highway and other big roads.
Down by the water are more hulking apartment buildings. There are office parks and industrial zones littered everywhere. The site where they are building the new national soccer stadium is currently a post-apocalyptic waste land of burned cars and rusty piles of trash.
Solna is so much uglier than Orange County, New York, where we used to live. That is still almost all forest, with single family homes and the odd factory set back in the scrub. Yes, there is ugliness, specifically on Route 211 East in Middletown and other crossroads in Newburgh or down in Monroe.
But here is the catch. Here in Solna, I never see the ugly. I walk around a forested lake and down a charming main street. I skirt one ugly road on my way to the tree-covered water in one direction – complete with pool and 4-H animal playground – and cross one highway to a royal national park. There are snaking trails of beauty here. We live near an ugly mall but our window faces trees and rocks, and we play in a hilly park with an old noble house on the grounds.
In Orange County, you always drive, which means you see the ugly, you breathe the ugly, you become the ugly. There the sprawl is where you go to shop, where you spend your time at traffic lights, or in vast parking lots.
They are like perfect opposites, one a photo negative of the other.
I choose this version, where I live the green and peaceful, not where I glimpse it as I drive towards the hazy sprawl.