“We don’t want Laugavegur to become a restaurant street”

Reykjavík walking district laugavegur

City officials and restaurateurs are at odds about whether the ongoing expansion of the downtown shopping and dining district is actually good for businesses long-term, Vísir reports. On one hand, officials say that more shops and restaurants have opened in the last 18 months than closed. On the other, local restaurateurs point to the recent closure of several long-running downtown restaurants of note, saying that the influx of restaurants is overwhelming the market. But city officials say they will not be setting a cap on the number of restaurants that open in the area.

Among the Reykjavík restaurants that have closed recently are Dill—previously the only restaurant in Iceland with a Michelin star—as well as its sister restaurant (the aptly named Systir) and Óstabúðin, a cheese and charcuterie shop that also operated a popular café. The latter shuttered only this week, and in an interview about the closure, owner Jóhann Jónsson remarked that the business environment in downtown Reykjavík has become particularly difficult because so many restaurants are entering the market. Restaurant owners have to contend with competition not just from other sit-down venues, he said, but also food trucks.

Jóhann also noted that there are 35,000 seats for diners in downtown Reykjavík alone. For perspective, per Statistics Iceland, the population of Iceland was 360,390 at the end of the second quarter of 2019. So currently, just under 10% of the population could sit down for dinner in downtown Reykjavík at the same time.


“This is about protecting shopping downtown”

Many restaurant owners have spoken out in recent months to say that the city is issuing too many permits for restaurants in downtown Reykjavík. According to Sigurborg Ósk Haraldsdóttir, the chair of the city’s Planning and Transportation Board, there is only a quota in place to control the number of shops that are allowed to be on specific downtown streets.

“In reality, this is about protecting shopping downtown because we think that’s important,” she said. “Restaurants are allowed to come in when the quota of shops has been filled on those streets. That’s where the oversight comes in. We don’t want Laugavegur to become a restaurant street—that would be monotonous and it would lose its draw. That’s why we want to keep the stores there.”

As the number of tourists have increased on Laugavegur, more opportunities have been made for stores to open on the main street and, as a result, more restaurants were given permission to open as well. However, this increase in restaurants has mostly occurred on side streets that cross Laugavegur, or in nearby neighborhoods such as in the area around Hlemmur, the former bus station turned food hall, and Grandi, a former warehouse district near the waterfront on the west side of town.

Sigurborg Ósk says that downtown expansion is happening quickly, and that demand is driving the number of restaurants that want, and are being given, permits to open. “Downtown has really gotten a lot bigger in recent years and in the future, it will reach all the way up to Suðurlandsbraut.” (Laugavegur becomes Suðurlandsbraut east of Kringlumýrabraut and runs along Laugardalur on the east side of Reykjavík.)

“There is a certain market prevailing here and if there is demand for more restaurants, then more restaurants will open,” Sigurborg Ósk continued. “I think it would be very unusual for us, as the government, to directly intervene in that.”


“Downtown is booming like never before”

Sigurborg Ósk says that downtown is the most sought-out area in Reykjavík. It is responding to an international trend, she says, wherein people opt not to go to large shopping centers, but rather focus on downtown districts where they can experience the everyday life of a place and local food culture.

“It’s safe to say that there are more places opening than closing and downtown is booming like never before.”

Closures Extended at Three Popular Sites Near Mývatn

The Minister for the Environment has approved a request issued by the Environment Agency of Iceland to extend closures at three popular natural attractions in the Mývatn region in North Iceland, Vísir reports. Access to Hverir geothermal area, Leirhnjúkur mountain, and Stóra-Víti crater will remain restricted until November.

The Environment Agency restricted foot traffic to these three sites on August 2 while their condition was assessed. During the initial closure, the Environment Agency also began work on elevated foot paths to facilitate future access to these areas without causing more damage to them. Two weeks since the initial closure, however, all three areas are still extremely wet and muddy, making it necessary to extend foot traffic restrictions while the ground recovers.

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The restriction of foot traffic to natural areas of interest is permitted under law 60/2013 on nature conservation, which allows for traffic to be limited or prevented entirely when an area is at risk of damage.

“If there is a significant risk of damage due to heavy traffic or because of the particularly sensitive condition of a natural area, the Environment Agency of Iceland may limit traffic or temporarily close the area in question to travelers on the recommendation of stake-holding municipalities, the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland, landowners, or on its own initiative,” reads the law. Closure or traffic restriction decisions are made in consultation with representatives of the tourism industry, as well as the aforementioned stakeholders, and can be extended with the approval of the Minister for the Environment.

Preparations for New Refugee Arrivals Going Well

Twenty-five quota refugees are expected to arrive in the capital area in the next month and preparations for their arrival are well underway, RÚV reports.

The towns of Garðabær and Mosfellsbær will both welcome ten refugees each and five will be moving to Seltjarnarnes. (One of the newcomers has already arrived and is getting settled in Seltjarnarnes.) The refugees are arriving from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Building on experience in Mosfellsbær

“We, the staff of the town of Mosfellsbær, are excited about the refugees’ arrival and things are going well,” said Unnur V. Ingólfsdóttir, director of Mosfellsbær’s family division. She continued that “…[P]eople in town [are] eager and positive about the arrival of the refugees.”

Unnur also said that preparations are easier this year because staff already has experience resettling refugees; Mosfellsbær welcomed ten people from Uganda last year. The most complicated part of the process is, as it was last year, finding housing for the new residents, but town officials are in the process of locating accommodations.


First time for resettlements in Garðabær

This is the first time that refugees will be resettling in the town of Garðabær. Ragna Dögg Þorsteinsdóttir, the project manager responsible for the refugees’ reception there, said that there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of, such as ensuring the new arrivals have access to both physical and mental health services. Then, of course, housing needs to be found and financial assistance made available while people are getting their feet under them in the community. Nevertheless, Ragna said that work opportunities would be plentiful for the refugees in Garðabær, and previous resettlement experience in places such as Mosfellsbær has shown that refugees are quick to find work after arriving in Iceland.

There are a lot of things that newcomers to Iceland have to adjust to, says Ragna, not least learning a new language and getting used to the weather and long, dark winters. But people are also more insular in Iceland than they often are in the countries that the refugees are coming from and in Iceland, and the new arrivals don’t have the benefit of a whole social support network of old friends and family.

Garðabær residents have a good attitude about their soon-to-be neighbors’ arrival, says Ragna. Mayor Gunnar Einarsson seconded this, saying that people are “generally positive” about welcoming the refugees.

Pride Parade Takes Place Today!

Reykjavík Pride will reach its apex today with the annual Pride parade, RÚV reports. Several downtown streets will be closed for festivities from 10 am to 6 pm.

The parade route will be different than previous years. This year, it will begin at Hallgrímskirkja at 2 pm. It will then proceed down Skólavörðustígur to Bankastræti, turn left onto Lækjargata, proceed to Fríkirkjuvegur, and end then on Sóleyjargata, right by Hljómskálagarður park and Tjörnin pond. Concerts will be held in the park right after the parade ends.

If you want to start celebrating early, head over to Klapparstígur at noon for the Parade Warm Up and dance on the street’s painted rainbow “while music plays from Iceland’s biggest ghetto blaster!”
Happy Pride!