Equality is a difficult notion for cities. Perfect in concept, imperfect in delivery. Before boarding a plane for a talk in Sweden, I received an email asking me to submit an image that represented urban equality to be projected during a panel discussion on the topic. There are only two people who know the struggle of choosing such a singular image for such a complex concept: myself, and the person sitting next to me in seat 3C who mistook my laptop for his inflight entertainment display.
I began thinking about urban structures the embody equality in their service. The lamppost is one such structure. No matter who you are or what you have, they cast the same light on everyone. And while all Lampposts by themselves embody equality of service, those in Hötorget, aka Haymarket Square, in Stockholm, Sweden, are, to quote Orwell, more equal than others.
At their base are access panels to high voltage power sockets for the lights, scales and mechanisms of the marketplace stalls. This is a common function of lampposts in public squares, but the path your eye travels from socket to stall reveals something special. The power cables do not jut out and across the surface of the marketplace, but travel up the length of the pole and arch overhead, freeing shoppers from tripping and a fairly fatal mixture of high power cable and slushy winter cobblestones.
Their arch is graceful and uniform in the market’s makeshift power grid. Specially designed tubes contain and channel the cables overhead, attached to a ring that sits high overhead, turning the singular lampposts into multi-functioning power infrastructure for the marketplace. Stalls can be set up evenly throughout the space without clustering around power sources, and shoppers to go about their tasks without tripping or bumping trolleys and strollers over the cables.
Some marketplace traders call on the lampposts for additional service, using their bases as retail extensions. Fridge magnets are displayed on one. A troupe of decorative ladybug magnets climb up from the base of another. Curtains, dresses and fabric hang from rings unadorned with the cable arch tubes. The Hötorget lampposts do not only power and light the market, they become part of the marketplace. Equalizers of commerce in form and function.
Marketplaces are great plazas of equality in the moment. The stall owner doesn’t care who you are, what you have or where you come from. The goods are the same price for everyone, and everyone waits their turn for access to the same goods. Bananas. Spices. Dates. Cloth. Its all laid out equally for everyone. The lampposts in the square or extensions of the same concept. Tall sentinels of equal service and respect, disappearing in their ubiquity and functional nature.
Leaving the market and entering busy Kungsgatan, I look back for a wide view of the area. The five Hötorgshusen buildings begin their march into the city from the edge of the market. The loud presence of these modernist buildings is intentional. When they were built in the 1950s and 60s, they were said to be five trumpetstötar, trumpet blasts, of the renewed city centre.
No one would think of the Hötorget lampposts to be similar trumpet blasts in the city, but for me, they are loud exclamations of equality and service that sit proudly in their small patch of the city.