I lived six years next to a “no-go zone” in Malmö

Recently there has been a lot of talk about Sweden, immigration and violence, and about Malmö in particular. I live in Malmö, and the city has been my home for the past nine years. Six of them were next door to a so-called “no-go-zone”.

Johanna Nylander
6 min readFeb 21, 2017


I moved to Malmö in 2008 to look for work in Copenhagen. My then boyfriend had gotten a job at a big game development studio and I was able to move in with him in his sub-rented apartment. I had just finished my studies in Game Development and had a couple of interviews at smaller studios in Copenhagen. Then the finance crisis hit Scandinavia. None of the game studios could hire for the positions I was qualified for, and I went back to the university to take a master’s degree. A year later we broke up, but I had part time work as a freelance writer, and a year left of my studies, so I decided to stay in the city and managed to buy my own 27 sqm studio apartment.

The old industrial docks in Malmö.

I loved my apartment. It was in a central but cheap area, you know one of those neighbourhoods where you talk about gentrification waiting to happen. Next door was an internet café, a couple of art galleries and a rehabilitation centre for ex-convicts. Five minutes by foot there was a big local shopping mall, and five minutes away by bike was the train station to get to Copenhagen. The apartment was so cheap to live in, that I decided to put a break in my studies and support myself as a full time freelance writer for a year. I never finished the studies, but was recruited for a job at a mobile games company in Copenhagen.

Street art in Södra Sofielund/Seved, Malmö

For over three years I commuted daily from my home in Malmö to the office in Copenhagen. This was before the social democratic government decided to put up border controls between Denmark and Sweden. It took around 45 minutes door to door to get to the office in central Copenhagen. A really bad day with snow or cancelled trains it could be the double. Once the bridge across the border was closed for three hours, and I had a beer outside the train station in the sun and chatted with a stranded stranger.

The commuting was ok, but after some years it gets tiring. I started my current job in Malmö and could take the bike to work instead of the train. I met my husband, sold my studio apartment and moved into the central parts of the city.

This house is also part of “Södra Sofielund”, aka the no-go-zone.

I like my life in Malmö, but everything about this city is not perfect. The crime rate is high compared to other Swedish cities. In January 2014 a hand grenade was was thrown through a bedroom window in a house just two blocks away from my studio apartment. The father in the family managed to rescue the kids from the room and close the door before it exploded. Someone probably mistook the house owner for a gang member. If I had been home that night I would probably had heard the explosion. At another occasion the police questioned me about a murder a block away. We had passed by the location half an hour before a man was shot to death. It was in the middle of the day and we were on our way home from the supermarket.

View from my window in the Studio apartment, a snowy morning in Malmö.

The summer before I moved out from the studio I was woken up one night when two men were dealing drugs outside of my window. I watched a film-like street corner scene with two cars, white pills, and a small pile of bank notes. One previous summer night a band stayed for a couple of hours in the same street corner and played a full reggae concert with a sax and everything.

Not the edible wall, just sunflowers close by.

Despite all of this I never felt unsafe in my neighbourhood. I just lived there. It was close to the nightlife, to shopping, to commuting. The so-called “no-go-zone” Seved one block away was announced as a special interest by the government, and they got some extra money for different projects that were supposed to get more people in to the job market. The unemployment rate in the area is high, and there were a large percentage of people with immigrant background living there. The municipality decided to fight the poverty and unemployment with a community centre where you, among other things, could learn how to grow edible plants along the house walls.

Malmö is far from the best example of how a city can welcome immigrants. The unemployment rate is high. A lot of kids don’t finish school. Families live in small crowded apartments. It’s often easier to get a job in the black market, get paid in cash on the side and get social security checks from the government. With high taxes it’s expensive to hire people for easier jobs, and the current government is making it harder. If you are an immigrant and get a proper job but your employer makes any mistakes regarding your contract, you will be sent home.

The municipality in Malmö wants to profile the city as young, urban and creative. Richard Florida’s research has been the guideline for the city planners. And in some cases this city exists. But it’s also a city where there is provable corruption between the city-owned public housing department and local construction companies. It’s a city where the politicians close privately run day-care centres and open their own facilities at poisonous grounds in old industrial blocks next to underground illegal clubs. It’s a city where politicians have held local Jewish people accountable for Israeli policy, and jewish kids gets bullied in schools. It’s a city where politicians talk about how important enterprise and entrepreneurs are for the community, but forget about the business. It is a city where the social democratic party have been in power during 92 of the last 98 years.

The art installation “Noix de Vie” and the mouse restaurant, at the street Bergsgatan in Malmö.

Malmö isn’t the best city in the world, but it’s the city I happen to live in. I like the fact that I can walk to work, take the bike to the beach a nice summer day, and enjoy the spring a bit earlier than my friends in Stockholm. But I want Malmö to be a better city. I want to be able to find good childcare if I ever get kids in the future. I want to be able to buy a house without being afraid of break-ins or sabotage, and I want more companies to start in Malmö or move to the city because there is a good quality of life here. If I ever start my own business I don’t want it to be taxed away into non-existence.

There isn’t an easy fix to make Malmö perfect. The border control to Denmark has decreased immigration in numbers, but takes away job opportunities in Copenhagen. Unemployment and education can take a long time to improve. But we can try, and the solution is not exclusion, but to make it the best city for everyone who lives or wants to live here.