“The reality is,” he explained, “that there are four parties acting in the development of any city planning project: architects, planners, city councilmen, and the public. Architecture involves designing, which is different than planning. Things go awry when architects take over planning.” A pretty bold statement coming from a man who is himself an architect.
Underground parking lots and giant swords
Some examples he cited for this were the proposed building of an underground parking garage underneath the lake Tjörnin, the giant sword that was to be sticking out of the ground at Melatorg and, worst of all in his mind, the re-direction and joining of Miklabraut and Hringbraut.
“This just doesn’t make sense,” he said, “Miklabraut and Hringbraut are both four-lane roads. But what they’re planning to do is bow them away from Landspítali, connect them, and expand this bow into six lanes. The hospital does need room for an exit, but a much simpler way to do this would be to have the connection remain at four lanes, and have it dip under the ground through a short tunnel. What I think is sorely missing from the entire process is the involvement of the public – they should be made a crucial part of the decision-making.”
Gestur pointed out that city councilmen seem to follow the mistaken belief that “all development is good” – build it, and they will come. Here we see an example of councilmen not listening to city planners, who try to convince the council that research regarding environmental impact, property values, and competing businesses need to be taken into account before building anything.
Leaving the airport to the swamp
On the bright side, there are a few projects on the table which could benefit Reykjavík tremendously, or at least make it more interesting.
Despite many approaches from property developers, the Reykjavík Council has indicated that the city airport will not be phased out until at least 2016. Then the big question will be, what to do with all that land? One award-winning idea has been to leave Vatnsmýri swamp free from development, leave the runways where they are, and simply allow the swamp to gradually take over the runways as a testament to nature conquering development. In the meantime, the runways could be used by joggers, rollerbladers, or anyone else who’d love to make use of an enormous stretch of asphalt.
Urban sprawl (if one can use such a term for a city of less than 300,000) has typically extended towards the end of the peninsulas in Reykjavík, Kópavogur, and Hafnarfjörður. As the connecting road between the three towns stretches along the mainland, one can see the kind of traffic problems this causes and they won’t be getting any better. One of the more innovative ideas has been to build a connection between Reykjavík and Hafnarfjörður, using a system of bridges and roads which would pass over Álftanes. This idea could reduce traffic congestion tremendously in the capital area but as of yet, the idea hasn’t been taken off.
Will cars become obsolete in the capital?
If Gestur Olafsson represents one of the radical architectural students of the 60s, Sólver Hafsteinn Hafsteinsson represents one of the new generation. A recent prize winner of Landsbanki Íslands’ Idea Competition for city planning, his proposal is to build elevated pedestrian walkways through the empty alleyways behind downtown Reykjavík’s buildings for a stretch of nine city blocks (see illustrations). These walkways would also feature open spaces where shops could open up, trees could be planted, or where people could just sit and read the paper. And this is one of his more quotidien ideas; he also has begun designing an Icelandic subway system.
His idea is to have a subway system which not only connects Keflavík and Reykjavík, but to have a ring-shaped line surrounding Reykjavík, passing through the surrounding suburbs.
Sólver’s ideas, like those of anyone wishing to change the face of Reykjavík, will undoubtedly go through numerous permutations as it passes through the hands of city planners, councilmen, and other interested parties. Perhaps the public should become more involved in deciding which ones will make the final cut.