It hardly went unnoticed this spring when Reykjavík’s controversial mayor, Ólafur F. Magnússon, appointed musician-slash-jack of all trades Jakob Frímann Magnússon (no relation) to the (some claim) newly created position of Reykjavík’s ‘Central City Director’. No stranger to controversy, the latter Magnússon accepted the post unfettered by numerous public accusations of nepotism (the pair are childhood friends). He has since tackled some of the problems facing downtown Reykjavík with an apparent vigour that some celebrate and others call excessive, and potentially harmful.
A well known, oft disputed public character in Iceland, Jakob Frímann Magnússon has lead the country’s most consistently popular pop outfit Stuðmenn through an often tumultuous career for over thirty years. He has also pursued various other callings, among them politics and film production. Magnússon has also been active in various musician’s unions and currently works as chairman of STEF, the Icelandic Royalty Association. He agreed to answer some of the Grapevine’s questions via e-mail.
Grapevine: What exactly is a Central City Director?
Jakob Frímann Magnússon: Someone who
focuses on improving downtown Reykjavík in every sense of the word. This job was originally held by Kristín Einarsdóttir while Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir was Mayor of Reykjavík.
Grapevine: Is such an official needed? Why?
JFM: The number of requests, phone calls, e-mails and visits I’ve received in the last couple of months suggest a definite yes. The Mayor of Reykjavík would simply never have enough time to personally deal with 101’s infinite list of suggestions, complaints and concerns. The goal is re-establishing 101 Reykjavík as a pretty, clean and safe city centre.
Grapevine: 101 Reykjavík has been known as a vibrant centre for a long time, and studies show that a lot of tourists (not to mention locals) actively seek out the lively atmosphere to be found there. Do you believe a heavily regulated environment, such as the one the City of Reykjavík seems to be creating there now, is suited to maintain in the increasingly valuable 101 ethos?
JFM: My brief is to take on board the concerns of everyone living, working and playing in 101. We must seek to protect the lively and creative vibe of downtown Reykjavik, while respecting the rights of house and shop owners who want their property left alone and the residents who need to get some sleep.
Grapevine: Is it then your belief that imposing a bureaucracy on downtown activities and creativity the best way to ensure they thrive?
JFM: Like it or not, rules and regulations have existed for decades in Reykjavík as in most other cities we know, protecting ownership rights, the right of citizens to be left alone, etc. My job is to listen to all parties concerned, take on board different viewpoints, suggest an amicable way forward and seek to solve matters so that everyone is happy. I’m optimistic we’ll succeed. So is the Mayor, Ólafur F. Magnússon, who has made the well-being of Reykjavík City Centre one of his main priorities.
Grapevine: Many claim that your campaign against graffiti and “un-authorised” street art is misguided.
JFM: I’m the first one to admit that street art is a form of culture to be respected and reckoned with. We have started a dialogue with lots of street artists, gone into partnership with some as in the case of Hljómalind square and are currently looking for suitable premises to encourage and nurture graffiti art and related activities. If someone volunteers their own house, wall or premises, we will also be happy to take their details and help delegate matters.
We are working with young artists whose ideas and art is currently being marketed and sold on the Internet in the form of T-shirts and in some cases on YouTube. Homeowners or businesses that want their premises clean and untouched must be respected, however, and I’m pretty sure we are establishing a mutual understanding of how to go about these things in the future.
Grapevine: What is your position on the future of Hverfisgata?
JFM: Upper Hverfisgata was, until recently, an unfortunate example of ignorance and disrespect. We’ve managed to better it some and are still working on it. Hverfisgata starts off really well with the 101 Hotel, Þjóðmenningarhús, National Theatre, Danish Embassy etc. It has the potential to become fantastic and I’m sure one day it will. The Arts Academy will be situated there as of 2011 and many developments and renovations are in progress. So, for the time being, bear with us please, we’ll soon get there.
Grapevine: The Grapevine has received complaints from Hverfisgata residents that they are threatened fines and legal action from your office to clean up and maintain their properties, while the infrastructure on the street goes all but ignored by the same office (citing broken sidewalks and a lack of streetlights, for instance). We have also received numerous complaints that your office’s current actions, while welcome in theory, are proving one-sided and one dimensional, among other things neglecting the viewpoint of 101’s current residents/dwellers. Do you care to comment on any of this?
JFM: It is a well known fact that some property owners and developers have intentionally let their property be run down, unattended with no care or maintenance, in the hope of city officials giving up and allowing them to tear everything down and build a concrete tower with lots of square meters to sell at a premium price. In some cases these “cold wars” have lasted for years and I find it very sad, because the rest of the area suffers as a result, and things get totally out of hand as happened in some parts of Hverfisgata.
Once you let things slip below a certain standard there’s no respect left and you’ll soon face a horrid slum. Reykjavík City officials have not given in to any of this and have no plans to. In other cases people simply seem too broke to do any maintenance at all. Yet others have applied for some help and gotten it. One theory claims that if you can’t afford to maintain your property, you can’t afford to own it.
Things are getting back on track however and I predict we will see some fantastic restorations on Hverfisgata in the near future as well as some beautiful new buildings.
In regards to sidewalks and streetlights being broken, your report will be taken most seriously and has already been forwarded to the relevant party.