From Iceland — War of the Nerds: The shadow war on Laugavegur

War of the Nerds: The shadow war on Laugavegur

Published March 22, 2019

Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

There is trouble brewing, trouble that hides under the dust of Laugavegur, under the ever-flowing groups of tourists, behind the Viking-street-singer who only (poorly) sings Neil Young and Bob Dylan.

You would think that Iceland’s main shopping street would be a peaceful place. But think again. It’s a war zone out there.

In 2011, city council dropped the first bomb, figuratively speaking of course, when it decided to try something that had never been previously tested on Laugavegur. They sought to close part of the street temporarily to vehicles, changing it into something called a “walking street.”

This, of course, for the Icelandic car-loving nation, was a shock. Important questions arose from this unprecedented situation. Do they want us to use our legs? Just walk down the street? What are we, animals?

It quickly became apparent that this was not all bad. Pedestrians started to enjoy this new space and even going into the shops, that they used to drive past while carrying out their sacred icelandic ritual called “rúnturinn” (driving aimlessly).

But there was a resistance brewing. Some shop owners claimed that fewer were coming to their shop because of the lack of car traffic. Still, they went along with the changes, hopeful that something would change. It only got worse.

The tourist boom exploded like a supernova over the dark grey skies of Iceland, and hundreds of thousands of tourists filled the streets like an invasion army in flashy Gore-Tex. Again, Laugavegur was closed, now for the duration of the Icelandic summer. The resistance realised that the city council would not stop until there were no cars at all on Laugavegur. Only people.

But the City Council had a devastating ace up their sleeve. They published a poll that showed that the majority of the shop owners were delighted to be free from the oppression of the cars. The resistance was not convinced. None of this mass tourism—now over four times the population of Iceland—was keeping their business afloat. One shop owner made his own poll, and stated that the vast majority was unhappy with the seasonal closure of Laugavegur.

What’s more, the City Council now wants to close the street to car traffic  indefinitely as of May. The tension has never been higher, and one can only hope that a full-fledged war will not break out and the easygoing shop owners will not end up throwing those cute puffin mascots at each other. But beware. The final battle is upon us. So tread lightly, and stay hydrated.

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