Monday, September 24, 2012

Oslo, a City of Farmers?

It's been a busy summer, inching my way into Oslo's seemingly young scene surrounding the topics of urban development, design, and planning. At a 'urban and local development' conference a few months ago, a politician from Bergen challenged the room with an accusation that Oslo has never been urban. Local rivalry between Bergen (Norway's second city with its rich Hanseatic trade history) and Oslo aside, I have noticed repeats of this sentiment echoing with Oslo being called a "city of farmers" or even "accidentally urban."

These terms typically come under critical views of Oslo's development progress and the city's sometimes seemlingly inconsistent plans for the future. Densification and sustainability but everyone needs a parking place for their car and buildings shouldn't be placed too close together. Sometimes it does seem that many Oslo-ites aren't quite sure how to handle the mass of people coming into the city - neither in day-to-day life (read: Justin Bieber concert cripples downtown traffic) nor in planning for future growth. With Oslo being one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, it's an exciting time to be here.

The "city of farmers" analogy is one that has stuck with me this summer - not in the negative way the comment was perhaps first intended, but rather in wondering what it means to bring farmers into a city. I've been preoccupied with the stewardship of land - the connect between people and places, something that I often find lacking in urbanity. Farmers have the tradition and history of stewarding land, so I wonder if there is something in the mentality that could be collectively motivated in the city. Perhaps following this line of thought, an American artist here, Amy Franceschini, has succeeded in starting a provoking urban gardening project in the midst of infrastructure and construction - 'Herligheten'. I braved the awkwardly signed road detours and chain link fences and managed to find the entrance to it on my bicycle during last month's 'open Bjørvika' day.

The garden lies at the base of vent towers going down to the traffic tunnel below.

Proximity to Bjørvika, one of Oslo's main development zones on the fjord front.

There are 100 plot boxes in total, not many people were working them this day.

...but, things were growing!