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Essay excerpted from Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget, published by Actar Publishers.

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Different Perspectives: Problems & Opportunities

In conclusion, instead of starting new projects which will demand an incredible amount of resources, recycling or retrofitting the neighborhoods on the outskirts seems like a reasonable way forward, and would be an important step for the whole town.

In order to proceed, a first step would surely be to get an overview, and understand which processes are in place bottom-up. Mapping the activities arising from the initiatives of the inhabitants can suggest certain possibilities in the way of development. They show alternative ways to re-use the built environment with scarce resources, ways which are often more sensitive to the local environment and also create opportunities to build a sense of community, often sorely lacking in the areas.

Moreover, the scattered initiatives satisfy specific and urgent needs that should be the point of departure in a renovation project.

Although there are some individual examples of innovative use of space, no collective claims or any kind of social movements seem to be emerging, aside from those that are directed particularly at people in the direst financial straits – The Home Association for example.

Singular initiatives in scarcely populated and spread-out parts of town can be so weak and dispersed, that even if they are interesting, innovative and respond to an immediate need, they may not have the power to conglomerate into something more structured that has an effect on a broad scale. It seems that support from an external source is needed, in order to start a real process of renovation for the outlying neighborhoods. This might in turn inspire a bigger group of residents to use the built environment (such as housing) as a resource for their own advantage, in ways that would help them overcome their problems.
ICE protest
It would be desirable if the support were to come from institutions. However, neither the municipalities nor the national government seem to be very concerned with the outskirts, as discussed earlier. On the contrary, the projects proposed by the official urban planners hardly differ from the urban development of the boom period; they seem to be a direct continuation of it. In fact, they can even be interpreted as an accelerated stage in the competition between the municipalities. In this scenario the central (and largest) city of Reykjavík plays out the queen of spades; the center of town against the ongoing expansion of the other municipalities. These efforts (on which the municipal planners are employed to use their expertise and energy) may attract more taxpayers to the municipality with the best housing product (location being part of the equation), but they can also seem quite absurd, bearing in mind the surplus of housing built during the boom.

In this context, what could be done by architects and planners? After investigating and mapping the interesting activities initiated by the inhabitants, as a second step there are several options, which could complement one another:

a. Publicizing the initiatives that are in place, and bringing to light the problems and potentials of those areas are actions that can create a public debate, the aim being to generate an awareness which is almost totally absent at the moment.

Making the neighborhoods on the outskirts an object of public concern is the path to getting support from private foundations or institutions, as well as helping strengthen and expand the creativity that is surging from the bottom-up.

b. Creating some kind of relationship between the initiatives of the inhabitants, which at present are too dispersed. Links and networks can save time for resourceful individuals, and empower them to get better at what they are doing and resist forces that pull in another direction.

When individuals coming from different backgrounds make the effort to cooperate on shared solutions for a common goal, it creates a broad base for communication and produces a variety of perspectives. Potential conflict (a familiar challenge from discourses and initiatives after the crash) can be dealt with by tried and tested methods from cultures with extensive experience in collective designing and collective space. The Danes have experience of designing shared solutions when it comes to housing. Thus they have developed valuable tools in terms of design issues and conflict resolution.

The Co-design concept applied in Lathi, Finland, and the Transition Town movement which started in the UK, can also be useful role models. Retrofitting the city with spatial solutions that enable the shared space to be in focus can in turn increase social cohesion.

c. Providing new perspectives, helping with the visualization of new options and alternatives, showing their spatial implications. Architects and planners can provide a more general vision in which the smaller problems and initiatives of everyone could be contextualized.

Essay excerpted from Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget, published by Actar Publishers.

Learn more:

urbanNext (July 16, 2024) Different Perspectives: Problems & Opportunities. Retrieved from
Different Perspectives: Problems & Opportunities.” urbanNext – July 16, 2024,
urbanNext October 14, 2015 Different Perspectives: Problems & Opportunities., viewed July 16, 2024,<>
urbanNext – Different Perspectives: Problems & Opportunities. [Internet]. [Accessed July 16, 2024]. Available from:
Different Perspectives: Problems & Opportunities.” urbanNext – Accessed July 16, 2024.
Different Perspectives: Problems & Opportunities.” urbanNext [Online]. Available: [Accessed: July 16, 2024]

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