This article examines the development of Hammarby Lake City in southern Stockholm on a former industrial, waterfront site during the 1990s. The setting may resemble global redevelopments of urban waterfronts and docks; however, Stockholm needs to be viewed against longer cultural, aesthetic and historical influences. This includes early twentieth-century precedents rooted in civic and residential engagement with the modern and industrial shoreline. In addition, an informal human interaction with the abandoned southern Hammarby harbour evolved during the 1950s through reoccupation by an itinerant community of workers. Such forerunners have often been overlooked in dominant accounts of a late twentieth century dramatic transformation of industrial waterfronts. The article concludes that there is scope to align the theme of waterfront development more closely to the longer history of the twentieth century city. This perspective provides a useful counterpoint to the leading view of such spaces as an expression of late capitalism.