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.