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Kista: Have science parks anything to do with ethnicity?

It is 8.30am and the platform at Stockholm's T-Centralen underground station is packed with people waiting for the blue-line train heading north to Akalla. Many are well-dressed, a suit jacket and tie or a nice blouse. Many also carry a small case, probably containing a laptop and a few written documents. Many are in their thirties or forties. Others, younger, wear baggy trousers, sneakers and a fleece jacket. The train enters the station and, as its doors open, the platform empties.

Who lives, works and shops in Kista and what policies could change this? Picture from Kista Gallerian.  Photo: SCANPIX

Who lives, works and shops in Kista and what policies could change this? Picture from Kista Gallerian. Photo: SCANPIX

The train arrives at Kista some 20 minutes later, and everybody walks rapidly towards the north, to their offices at Ericsson, The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), IBM or one of the smaller IT businesses.
At the southern end of the underground station the tempo however is not so frenzied. In one of the corners of the expansive Kista-square a man with a Middle Eastern background sets up his fruit stand. He sells mangos from Pakistan, cashew nuts from India, and dates from Egypt. Apart from him there is nobody else in sight. On the platform two or three women of foreign appearance wait for the train that will transport them to their respective workplaces in downtown Stockholm: a hospital, a private home, a home for the elderly, or a kindergarten. Their jobs are often in the care sector, tending to the loved ones of those whose work takes them to the other side of the tracks, both physically and metaphorically.

An underground ride from the centre of Stockholm to Kista, one of the capital's northern suburbs, provides something of an insight into contemporary Sweden. It is also symbolic of one of the most pressing tensions of the Western world at the beginning of the 21st century: urban economic growth paralleled by the "ghettoisation" of social exclusion.

Kista is, depending on the particular situation, either presented as the epitome of Sweden's high-tech society – an IT-cluster of international standard, or as an immigrant ghetto – another example of Sweden's failure to integrate its people of foreign origin. Kista, as well as its neighbouring boroughs within the Järva region, is a suburb with a high proportion of residents of immigrant background living on welfare benefits.

In September 2000, the Executive Office of the City of Stockholm presented the long-term plans for the Järva region in a document entitled Kista Science City – From vision to reality. Two broad goals can be distinguished in the Kista Science City vision. Firstly, to invigorate the business cluster present in Kista, converting it into a motor for Stockholm's, and even Sweden's, economic growth; to energise its companies and industrial sector transforming Kista into an internationally recognised high-tech region.

Secondly, to use economic growth as an opportunity to address some of the social problems present in the residential areas of the Järva region, more particularly unemployment and segregation; to create "job opportunities for the residents of Järva." In so doing, the actors behind the vision hope to integrate the residential and industrial areas to bridge today's socio-economic gap.

Kista's economic and social divide has however increased during these years. The percentage of people with an immigrant background increased from 59% in 2000 to 67% in 2006. And although the number of employees in Kista increased by almost 12%, from 26 549 to 31 331 unemployment among residents rose from 3.1% to 5.5%.

Moreover, the figures look even more sombre in this regard for residents with an immigrant background. Despite all efforts to the contrary and despite all good intentions, the socio-economic gap between ethnic Swedes and people of foreign descent that divides the region has, if anything, intensified.

In this light two questions emerge, what are the economic and social processes cementing the divide? And to what extent does the logic underlying science park development models contribute to increased socio-economic differences between ethnically defined groups?

There are two things that may help us understand these increasing socio-economic differences. The first is the economic logic inherent in science- and technology-based development projects and the second is the ubiquity of the ethnic boundary.

Science parks offer a model for regional development. The logic implicit in such a development model builds upon the assumption that scientific knowledge leads to technological innovation which in turn fosters economic growth and results in social change that is global in scale. Often inspired by the history of Silicon Valley, science parks are being implemented in regions as far apart as Bangalore in India, Sophia Antipolis in Southern France and Kista, north of Stockholm.

Science- and technology-based regional development projects are structured along the technology boundary. Activities carried out are described according to the amount of technological expertise required, places according to the degree of technological specialisation, people according to their technological expertise. As such then the technological boundary is used to describe who "we" are and what "we" do. But a "we" implies a "they" and thus the beginnings of a process of exclusion.

The result is the emergence of a techie/non-techie dichotomy. "Technology" is used here to distinguish between attractive and un-attractive customers, educated and un-educated co-workers, relevant and irrelevant education, exclusive and un-desirable localities, appropriate and un-appropriate dwellers. People are positioned in a hierarchy wherein each derives meaning from the other. The "techie" is presented as sufficient, highly competent, global and transformative, while the "other" is deficient, unskilled, local and acted upon.

When science- and technology-based regional economic development policies are exercised in a historically immigrant-populated suburb, a suburb burdened with unemployment and social welfare dependency, a suburb structured along ethnic lines, the technology boundary weaves together with the ethnic boundary.

As a consequence, the project of creating a "science city" at best re-produces previous divisions. At worst, it intensifies them by adding yet another disqualifying characteristic to "the immigrant" other – that of low-tech. In a region defined and organized by high-tech and knowledge, the new epithet implies a further loss of social and economic power.

Science parks have been very successful in the achievement of regional economic development. Yet, the very logic of projects based on science and technology make it inevitable that the technological and educational elitism on which they build inevitably translates into another sort of elitism. In the Kista case this elitism is tightly connected to ethnic differences.

Without giving up on such regional development models we should nevertheless remain aware of this and try to deal with such differences accordingly.

By Ester Barinaga, Associate Professor, Ph.D, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School