A 106-year-old Swedish Whitebeam tree that stands at Grettisgata 17, downtown Reykjavík, will be spared by zoning officials after the people of Grettisgata and surrounding streets organized demonstrations, including petitions and an outdoor concert, to protest its imminent removal.
Although trees above a certain age or height limit are protected under Icelandic law, that protection no longer applies once a construction permit has been issued for the area they stand on. A hotel is planned at the location.
The Cultural Heritage Agency has also decided to find a new place for two protected buildings that were set to be moved from Laugavegur to Grettisgata to make way for the hotel. That decision was also protested by the inhabitants of Grettisgata, as the houses, if moved to that location, would block light from those buildings already there.
“We are satisfied with this arrangement,” said Eiríkur Kristinn Jónsson, one of the organizers of the demonstrations, to visir.is. “Then it’s another story entirely, how many hotels are meant to be here in the downtown area. There are about eight hotels between Frakkastígur and Klapparstígur. You wonder, what will this area look like in the dead of winter when all these hotels are half-empty.”
In addition to the hotel, developers intend to lay a path from Grettisgata to nearby Laugavegur. People in the neighborhood not only protested the removal of the tree, but also the planned developments, as they say the traffic of hotel guests and tour buses will cause an added disturbance to the inhabitants of nearby houses. Popular band Retro Stefson publicly opposed both the removal of the tree and the construction of the hotel, as did musician Egill Ólafsson.
“With all these hotels the inhabitants of the neighborhood are being pushed out to make space for wealthier people. This is extremely political,” said Unnsteinn Manúel, frontman of Retro Stefson, who lives near the Whitebeam.