From Iceland — Reinventing Reykjavík

Reinventing Reykjavík

Published June 18, 2008

Reinventing Reykjavík

On Saturday May 10, the second half of a two-day international conference ‘Reinventing Harbour Cities – Urban Planning and Art in Public Space’ takes place at the Nordic House. Organised by CIA.IS (Centre for Icelandic Art) in cooperation with the Iceland Academy of the Arts and the Nordic House, the aim is to open public discussion on urban planning. The future of Reykjavík as a modern harbour city will be debated and the role that artists and designers can play in urban development discussed.

The conference brings together groups with interest in Reykjavík’s development, emphasizing that the city’s reconstruction is a shared responsibility of policymakers, corporations, urban planners, artists, and individuals. The goal is to try to find common interests between people working in the private and public sector as well as local residents, artists and architects and to offer a forum for opinion making. Speakers will come from across the globe and include Jürgen Bruns- Berentelg, CEO of HafenCity Hamburg; Vito Acconci, an architect and designer from New York; and FREEE, an art collective from London. The organisers, Christian Schoen and Shauna Laurel Jones from CIA, stress that all these different aspects are important and will hopefully lead to creative discussions that can help improve the city.

Creating a New Image

“I think it is necessary to bring in foreign knowledge and foreign expertise, look at foreign examples and different approaches,” says Christian Schoen, director of CIA. He sees a growing interest in the field of urban planning and names the discussion on the future of Vatnsmýrin area (where Reykjavík’s domestic airport is located) as an example. He’s satisfied with the international planning competition for the area and how the proposals were introduced to the public, although all future development plans are still very uncertain, due to political disputes. He emphasizes that the public should be involved and have a say in how the city develops: “Public space is always a political matter, because it belongs to everybody and everybody should know about what’s going on. We’re talking about our future and our kids’ future. It is a long process and we should really spend good portion of time on discussing how to develop our city.”

In recent decades Reykjavík has seen great economic growth and the cityscape has rapidly changed. Introduction and consultation with locals though is often missing. “To have a public discussion is the first step. That means that everyone involved in the city-making process has to take the public’s opinions into consideration. That’s the aim of this conference. That’s why we invited professionals from different groups, like creative people working for landscape architects and architects of course As the city expands, mistakes have been made and what the city seems to need the most today is a clear development policy. Empty buildings on Laugavegur and Hverfisgata are depressing symbols of how the policy-making is stuck between the private and public sector without any clear solution of how the centre should develop. Schoen points out that what is obviously lacking is a sustainable master plan for the future. “We’re talking about identity and city planning, not shortterm interests of investors. The Concert and Conference Centre down by the harbour is in my view a fantastic landmark-creating opportunity, but that is not enough. It is important to think of the whole structure and that, of course, is of public interest”, he adds and continues: “We need to ask ourselves: How do we see the future of the city in say 2050? What do we want to create? What kind of image? Today, I don’t see the answers.”

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