It’s Time to Build Up Two Cities in Iceland, Says Akureyri Councillor

Akureyri in winter

Is Akureyri a town or a city, and how should the Icelandic government support its development in the coming years? These are two of the questions a newly-appointed government task force will attempt to answer, Vísir reports. The group’s goal is to better define Akureyri’s rights and responsibilities as the largest settlement in North Iceland and second-largest outside the Reykjavík capital area (after Reykjanesbær). Building up Akureyri’s infrastructure would benefit the region and the country as a whole, one councillor argues.

City vs. Town

“In the old days cities were defined by if they had a cathedral,” stated Hilda Jana Gísladóttir, a local councillor in Akureyri. “Now we consider cities as a centre of public operations, finance, healthcare and so forth and as having thus some responsibilities toward smaller settlements within their area of influence.” Akureyri has around 20,000 inhabitants, but the size of its population is not necessarily the best factor to determine whether it is a city or a town, rather its role within the region. Many of the North Iceland’s inhabitants seek services like healthcare and education in Akureyri.

Hilda Jana stated that Akureyri councillors have often been encouraged to increase local service offerings by residents of smaller towns in the region. “I remember when I went to a town hall meeting in Þórshöfn the local council representatives were encouraging us to fight for more healthcare services, for example an optometrist, so they didn’t have to go all the way to Reykjavík to get service.”

Akureyri Will Not Become Reykjavík

The task force’s job is to define what Akureyri’s role is within its region, but it would be naïve to expect it to become a second Reykjavík, according to Hilda Jana. “It’s utopian to think that Akureyri will have everything that is in Reykjavík and in the same sense it’s unrealistic to say that Þórshöfn will have everything that Akureyri has. This centres on defining what these obligations and responsibilities entail, for whom, and what others expect from Akureyri, what is the service area.”

Political Will Required to Develop Infrastructure

“My feeling now is that it’s time for the next step and to say: we’re going to develop two cities in Iceland on either side of the country that provide certain [services] and support the surrounding area,” Hilda Jana stated, and pointed out that other Nordic countries had carried out similar initiatives. This decision requires political will at the highest levels, but it wouldn’t only benefit Akureyri. The task force’s role, says Hilda Jana, is to “not base observations on Akureyri’s special interests, rather the country’s and then the interests of the area. That it’s considered in a holistic context.” The task force has representatives from several towns in North and East Iceland.

The working group will hold their first meeting soon and is scheduled to submit their conclusions by July of next year at the latest.

Authorities Remove Graffiti Supporting New Constitution

A message painted on a wall in downtown Reykjavík last weekend asking “Where is the new constitution?” was removed only two days later, reportedly by government authorities. The removal may have had the opposite effect of that intended – as there has been an uptick in signatures on a petition urging Iceland’s government to adopt the crowdsourced constitution Icelanders voted on in 2012. The movement in support of this constitution appears to have been gaining steam lately.

Between 2010 and 2012, Iceland “crowdsourced” a new constitution which was handed over to Parliament. A national referendum followed, where a majority voted for the document to be used as a foundation for constitutional reform. Yet it was never adopted. Eight years later, a movement in support of that constitution is growing.

Sign painting company Reykjavík Sign Painters revamped a graffiti-covered wall on Skúlagata street in downtown Reykjavík last weekend by covering it with huge lettering reading: “Where is the new constitution?” The wall was on public property and the painters reportedly asked for permission before initiating the project. Just two days later, cleaners appeared in an unmarked van and pressure-washed the wall to remove the message.

Read More: Where is Iceland’s Updated Constitution?

Twitter users expressed outrage at the incident. “What is happening!!!!!! A wall that has been covered in graffiti for many years and is not privately owned is cleaned two days after “Where is the new constitution?” is written on it. Who ordered this and why?” asked Steiney Skúladóttir.

Stundin reports the removal was ordered by Umbra, a management company in the ownership of government ministry offices. The removal of the work appears to have caused a surge in support for the new constitution. A petition demanding Iceland’s government adopt the document has gone from 28,500 signatures to over 31,500 since the message was removed.

Supporters of the 2012 constitution insist it is a much-needed overhaul that better reflects the will of the people on key issues like human rights and use of natural resources. Its critics have claimed its lofty language may cause legal conundrums or its ideals are impossible to achieve. Iceland’s Parliament is currently working on its own revisions of the constitution in a cross-party committee with little direct involvement from the public.

COVID-19 Restrictions in Reykjavík: Less Traffic and More Online Shopping

There was 21% less traffic in Reykjavík last week compared to the same week in 2019, according to figures from the Road and Coastal Administration. Tightened COVID-19 restrictions are likely the reason. The statistics reflect a similar drop that occurred in March 2020, when restrictions during the first local wave of the pandemic were tightest. Online grocery retailers have seen a surge in customers in the past two weeks, also comparable to the increase seen last March.

COVID-19 Restrictions were tightened across Iceland on Monday last week following a rise in domestic case numbers. Further restrictions were imposed on the Reykjavík capital area two days later, where the vast majority of Iceland’s active cases are concentrated. The measures are similar to those imposed in March, including a 20-person cap on gatherings and the closure of gyms, bars, and swimming pools. The decrease in traffic last March also measured 21% as compared to March of 2019. A week-to-week comparison of traffic between 2020 and 2019 shows a decrease in most weeks throughout this year.

RÚV also reports an increase in online grocery shopping, reflecting similar trends in March of this year. “We are experiencing a huge rise in demand [in online shopping and delivery] in light of this new epidemic,” Ásta Sigríður Fjeldsted, CEO of grocery chain Krónan, stated. “It has just been increasing in the past few months and there’s been a real explosion in the last two weeks.” Online grocery retailer Heimkaup’s CEO says the company has experienced a 400% increase in demand and has had to hire new staff.