Monday, October 25, 2010


I've been doing research over the past few months, trying to understand what aspects deter (or can help) residents to identify with urban spaces. A weekend walk through of Oslo reminded me of a larger problem - the city, much as any other in the globalizing world, seems to have an identity crisis of it's own. Now instead of asking how we can identify space in a city as "our own", I ask instead, what are cities defining themselves as? What is Oslo?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Un-learning, Re-learning

It's been more than a year now since I left the U.S., and I realize I have come to take a lot of aspects of my 'new' surroundings for granted as 'normal'. It is interesting how one begins to forget the differences, or simply assimilates new phenomena over time in a different place. In this regard, I find that Norway sometimes deceives me. 

I remember in my first impressions of the country being rather surprised that things don't look much different here than in many parts of the U.S. Most houses are made of wood, apartment blocks still follow modernism, a large percentage of people drive (compared to the rest of Europe) because the towns and cities are relatively low density and subject to sprawl (where geography allows). The culture can seem peculiarly shy, or keeping to small circles of friends but having lived in New York the anonymity does not seem so new (when do city dwellers ever meet their neighbors anyways?).

Despite many apparent similarities, there are, of course, differences - even when masked in subtleties. These differences become all the more important entering the second year in this country - as I attempt to insert myself into the legal system here obstacles continue to appear reminding me that I am not from here and that I do not always have the most clear or complete understanding of my surroundings that I was used to in the U.S. - from social situations that are at the easy end to adjust to, to navigating the infrastructure I interact with every day to various degrees of success. 

A very humbling experience yesterday brought this to light when, despite 13 years of holding a driver's license in the U.S., I managed to fail the practical driving exam in Norway. Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, the major fault in the exam was a matter I find to be a shining example of the very subtle differences between the countries. In Norway, a driver does not stop at an intersection - rather they slow down and apply a 'right hand rule' for determining the right of way. Having been explained this rule, and thinking I had understood it I realized to be a very different from practicing it. I find it simple enough to watch to your right as you drive and allow people to go in front of you, but when I approach and intersection it is too bred into me to stop and wait for the traffic to clear before continuing. Maybe it can be the fault of having been a New Yorker (or Bostonian for that matter), or maybe it's simply coming from the U.S. Directly or indirectly, we are taught not to trust other drivers and we operate in a system with limits to prevent interaction when possible. I certainly don't have the experience to judge if one of these is somehow better than the other, but I find it to be potentially an interesting commentary on the link between very basic infrastructure (form and rules) and culture.

Image found in Norwegian traffic discussion thread: