Is their slums in Norway

Urban space
The future of Oslo

Many cities are characterized by the segregation of living space. But in the center as an arena, social differences are part of everyday life for the residents. Nowadays city centers are gearing up to become more attractive, especially for tourists and those with higher incomes.

Who has a right to the city? This question has grown louder now. In any case, in Henry Lefebvre's theory it contains an ethical obligation in urban planning. After that, all social groups should be able to use the city and live in it. The ideology of equality is very popular in Norway. However, she did not take into account the view of the social configuration of the city. It seems socially accepted that Oslo is a divided city. There are now signs of a desire for a more collectively oriented city. Over time, this could lead to a greater commitment to a solidary city.
The right to the city is a perspective and a form of action. At the origin of the term, Henri Lefebvre is about the universal right to live in it, to use it - across all social classes. Everyone should be able to stay in the city and must not be displaced. Everyone in public space is equal. Urban researchers leaning on Lefebvre deal with social equality in the city. They see public space as a common good and consider differences and diversity to be significant. This form of action is being fought internationally. People should be able to keep their homes and their neighborhoods when the city comes under pressure. The pressure comes from politicians who want to make the city attractive; Investors and property development companies see the earning potential. Resource-rich citizens win the competition in the market when housing becomes an investment project. On the part of the city, it is becoming important to protect universal aspects of public space - in the city itself and in society.

A new social division

Until the 19th century, Oslo (then Christiania) was divided between the city and the suburbs. These consisted of wooden houses outside, built by the Danish king in the 17th century. These suburbs were burned down several times to prevent the formation of slums, but were quickly rebuilt. People had no alternative.
From 1840 Christiania grew rapidly with a stream of migrants who were drawn to the industry, which developed particularly along the Akerselva. A new social division emerged in the course of the industrial era, as described by the historian Knut Kjeldstadli. The Akerselva, which flows through the middle of the city from north to south, has largely divided the city, with the upper middle class in the west and the lower middle and working class in the east. In the 1950s, the satellite towns also grew rapidly. In this way, Oslo was shaped by various forms of geographical boundaries. This is expanding and condensing even more these days.
The city as a way of life and identity has now aroused the interest of the middle class. In the 1980s, the move to former working-class districts in the city center began - a process of gentrification known all over the world. Due to the pull towards the inner east of Oslo and the development of expensive apartments near the sea, as an east-west axis, the border of the Akerselva is becoming more and more blurred.
Since the 1990s, urban development policy in Oslo has aimed to strengthen the city's image and attractiveness. In many ways, the gaze is directed more outward when it comes to who the city should be prepared for. In its extreme consequence, the part of the population without financial means can only live outside the city limits again, with the same limitations as in pre-industrial times.

Fairly low engagement

There is political consensus to preserve Oslo's common natural areas. Forest borders, fjord areas and parks are protected for general recreation. At the same time, the municipality is relying on compact expansion of the city, which puts public space under pressure. In connection with the “policy of attractiveness” and a majority of private investors, Oslo's public space was abandoned. It is designed in a regulating way that symbolically and materially prescribes use through activity and design adaptation. This also happens in the center, where there is an important arena for the Oslo and Norway public.
The engagement around the law in the city of Oslo has proven to be low. The reasons for this are probably a generally high level of prosperity, a strong welfare state and a well-established housing policy that values ​​ownership of housing. This means that the majority, the middle class, will win in a liberalized housing market. Existing ideologies of equality may also mean that the population is not even aware of the growing inequalities that have also been accepted as the separation of living spaces, especially in Oslo. There are signs of new social dividing lines between the inner and outer city, including an existing east-west border. The right to the city should therefore be given a higher priority on the public and political agenda.
It looks like several residents are now busy making Oslo more diverse. Several meeting places for the public need to be created. As in other cities, new collectives are being formed - such as barter rings, urban greenery, mobile cafés and neighborhood festivals. There are many indications that the commitment to creating a creative city is greatest in these fields. The basis for this is formed by joint solutions with artistic and cultural means. As a next step it is important to include the entire population with this commitment. The right to a creative and diverse city applies to everyone.


Heidi Bergsli, urban sociologist and researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research.

Translation: Jutta Martha Beiner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Norway
September 2015