From Iceland — When You Own It, You Might Not Break It

When You Own It, You Might Not Break It

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Published June 24, 2005

When the guy that used to come by my house and steal my hard boiled eggs got a 15 million ISK loan to buy an apartment, I knew things were probably going to change in Iceland. With no real precedent to look back on, I pictured thousands of locals ordering pints of Absinthe from the bar, Monday through Sunday, on their immense home and small business loans. I pictured rows and rows of Minis being driven into light posts by unsigned bands with penchants for Chuck Taylor All Stars. I pictured galleries springing up for miles containing nothing but Polaroids of arty people drinking to excess.

I did not picture a whole generation of young artists and café workers suddenly taking out loans, buying places, and being responsible. That seems to be what has happened.

The fact that a large number of the typical rowdy crowd now own their living quarters and a part of the town is the best reason I can come up with for the celebrations on June 17th, Iceland’s Independence Day.
Describing the unusually mellow festivities, a young friend put it best, “I was hanging out with my friends on the 17th, and it was really weird because we were all sober. And it was a nice time, but I never thought the holiday would be like that.”

Time and time again, in asking about the recent holiday, I’ve been told that few remember a more sober June 17th. True, many have told me that the drinking on June 16th was out of control, but I was out that night, I didn’t see too much damage.

The change in behaviour matches changes in major cities in America that have undergone “gentrification”. In American cities, there are mixed feelings about this phenomenon: yes, crime is down and property values are up, but the character of cities is fading away, especially as new people move in.

Iceland has a different take on gentrification: with changes in bank policies, the people who are buying and changing the neighbourhoods are, for the most part, the same people who lived there before, only they now own the place.

I bring all this up because in this issue we’re taking a look at the new economy of Iceland. If you read through the interview with Fréttablaðið journalist Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir, you’ll get an idea as to how much seems to have gone wrong with the privatization of the local banks. Other aspects of the economy also deserve close examination, and we do our best with this issue.

Still, as when we reviewed difficulties with the promotion of local culture, and as when we questioned the marketing of the image of the Icelandic woman, we realize some things are going right. The positives of being able to do things like come home and feel you own the place are remarkable, and do stretch out into other aspects of daily life. We simply feel that the profits of the Icelandic Miracle should be handled fairly and used to invest in the region so that 2005 won’t be Iceland’s 1928.

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