New Mayor Takes Office in Reykjavík

Einar Þorsteinsson, city counsellor for the Progressive Party, was voted in as Mayor of Reykjavík at a meeting of City Council today.

Einar is serving his first term in the council after leading his party to its best result in Reykjavík to this day in the 2022 municipal election. He formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Alliance, the Reform Party and the Pirate Party. He’s served as chair of the City Executive Council since the election. Outgoing mayor, Dagur B. Eggertsson of the Social Democratic Alliance, will take over as chair until the end of the term, when he’s announced he will leave city politics behind.

From TV news to city politics

Einar is 45 years old and had a notable career as a TV news anchor and host of RÚV talk show Kastljós before entering politics in 2022. The Progressive Party had no representation in City Council in the preceding term, but Einar’s campaign received just under 19% of the total vote and four seats. As a result, the party was in a strong position to decide on how to form a majority, opting to join up with three of the four parties that formed the previous majority coalition. An agreement was made that Dagur would step down as mayor 18 months into the term to make way for Einar.

Ten year run as mayor

Dagur is the longest-tenured city councillor in Reykjavík and has been mayor since 2014. He entered City Council in 2002 as an independent member for Reykjavíkurlistinn, the centre-left alliance that ended the conservative Independence Party’s dominance in city politics. He later joined the Social Democratic Alliance and became vice-chairman of the party during Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir’s term as prime minister from 2009 to 2013. He has not ruled out a further career in politics and has been rumoured as a potential Alþingi candidate in the upcoming 2025 general election.

Reykjavík Evens Out Fees for Daycare and Preschool

preschools in iceland

The City of Reykjavík is increasing its subsidies to daycare providers so that parents of children 18 months and older will pay the same fees whether their child is placed with a daycare provider or in a public preschool. The changes were approved at a meeting of the Reykjavík City Council this morning.

In the last election cycle for Reykjavík City Council, campaign promises were made that children would be guaranteed a spot in preschool from the age of 12 months, when government-mandated parental leave ends. This has not yet been realised, with staffing shortages and long waiting lists remaining widespread in the capital area. Children are currently guaranteed a place in public preschools from the age of 18 months, though not necessarily in a preschool near their home.

The changes to fees take effect in February 2024 and will apply retroactively from July 1, 2023. The changes do not apply to children under 18 months of age. Daycare providers are permitted to charge an added fee for additional services that are not included in the standard fee, for example for diapers.

The council also approved a motion stipulating that parents who have children who turned 18 months old between June 1, 2023 to January 31, 2024 can apply for an increased subsidy for childcare fees.

 

Parking Fees Rise in Downtown Reykjavík

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses square

Higher parking fees took effect in central Reykjavík this month and have been criticised by some politicians and locals. The city has instituted paid parking on Sundays for the first time and extended the hours when parking is paid on other days.

In the P1 and P2 zones, parking will be paid until 9:00 PM throughout the week. It was previously free after 6:00 PM on weekdays and 4:00 PM on Saturdays. On Sundays, parking will be subject to fees between 10:00 AM and 9:00 PM.

Three-hour limit in P1 and P2

Guðbjörg Lilja Erlendsdóttir, Director of Transport at the City of Reykjavík, says this change was implemented to accommodate residents and shop owners in the city centre. “The aim of the fees is that as many people as possible can get parking when they need it. Therefore, in toll zone 1, where there are a lot of shops and services, we are also implementing a maximum time of three hours, and are extending the toll hours in zones 1 and 2. All this is done so that residents and visitors get more parking when they need it,” Guðbjörg told RÚV. It’s important to note that residents within paid parking zones can apply for residential cards, allowing them to park within applicable parking zones for free.

Fee increase to ISK 600 in P1

In the P1 zone, the cost of parking will also increase to ISK 600 [$4.31, €4.11] per hour, from the previous rate of ISK 430 [$2.95, €3.09] per hour. However, parking will now be free in zone P3 on Saturdays. A count revealed that parking spaces were better used on Sundays than Saturdays, so the change may help to better distribute weekend traffic in the city centre.

Independence Party politician Kjartan Magnússon criticised the steep price hike in the P1 zone, which amounts to some 40%. Guðbjörg says there has been relatively little response to the changes overall, however.

Working Group Established to Assess Future of Digital Archives

esperanto iceland

Following the decision to closure Reykjavík’s Municipal Archive, the Icelandic Society of Historians has called upon university professors, history teachers, and all others with an interest in the preservation of historical documents to speak out against the budget saving measure.

Read More: Reykjavík Municipal Archives to Be Closed Down

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson’s proposal was approved by the Reykjavík City Council last week, March 2, with a four-member majority. The measure was proposed in a report by accounting firm KPMG, which outlined future possibilities for the archive, and their respective costs to the city. Under the mayor’s proposal, operations of the Reykjavík Municipal Archive would be combined with the National Archives, with a focus on digital preservation. While the Reykjavík Municipal Archive would cease to be an independent entity, the documents contained there would be digitised under the plan.

The Society of Historians likewise urged the Reykjavík City Council to postpone all decisions on the future of the archive until relevant experts can be consulted.

The Society of Historians stated: “It is not intended to cast doubt on the  ability of the National Museum to take care of this project […] However, it would be a step backwards if the nation’s largest municipality was the first to close down its archives. It is also harmful that this is being done without consultation or cooperation of the archive or other experts. It is important, especially in the age of  disinformation and fake news to not reduce our ability to preserve and communicate history.”

The society has also raised questions of the future of other cultural and historical institutions given this precedent.

Working Group Appointed

In response to some of these criticisms, Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir has appointed a working group to assess the future organisation of archives, and to create a strategy for the digitisation and long-term storage of archival documents.

According to Lilja, “There have been major changes in the activities of archives both in Iceland and abroad, and their administrative role has increased at the expense of their cultural and research role. It is imperative that a comprehensive review be made of how the future arrangement of archives will be arranged, how to accelerate the adoption of digital solutions, to use economies of scale and to explore possibilities for further cooperation.”

The working group is to deliver a report on their finding no later than September 10, 2023.

 

Mayor Proposes Closing Reykjavík Municipal Archive for Budgetary Reasons

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has proposed that the Reykjavík Municipal Archive be shut down for budgetary reasons, RÚV reports. Per the proposal, the archive’s primary functions would be assumed by the National Archive and the dissemination of, and educational outreach related to the archive’s holdings would become the responsibility of the Reykjavík City Museum. If the proposal is approved by the city council, Reykjavík would be the first municipality in the country to close a district archive, and perhaps the only European capital not to maintain its own archive.

The Reykjavík Municipal Archive was founded in 1954. It stores over 10,500 shelf metres of documents and has also increased its digital holdings and services in recent years.

Under Icelandic law, municipalities are permitted, but not required, to operate a district archive. Iceland’s National Archives already oversees archival duties for municipalities that do not maintain their own archives. The mayor’s proposal suggests that the capital simply follow suit, as costs of effectively maintaining an archive are only expected to increase in order to keep pace with the demands of record keeping in the digital era.

In 2022, it cost the City of Reykjavík over ISK 170 million [$1.18 million; €1.10 million] to operate its Municipal Archive. It is expected to cost an additional ISK 10 million [$69,587; €64,910] to operate the archive in 2023. According to archivist Svanhildur Bogadóttir, however, the actual cost to run the archive is relatively low; a third of their budget goes towards the rent they pay the City of Reykjavík.

Reykjavík Archive does not have resources to fulfil its mandate, says private audit

The mayor’s proposal comes in the wake of an assessment conducted by auditing and accounting firm KPMG, which states that based on current funding, the Reykjavík Municipal Archive does not have the resources to fulfil its mandate. KPMG’s assessment suggests that beyond the basic savings associated with greater cooperation between the Municipal and National Archives, this arrangement would also lend itself to a number of additional benefits: better facilities, better use of staff expertise, and improved services.

Although they were aware that KPMG was conducting an assessment related to “strategic planning” for the Municipal Archive, none of the employees had any idea that there was talk of closing their place of work all together before the mayor submitted his proposal. One plan that had been on the table was for the Municipal and National Archives to be relocated to the same building, but in that scenario, they were intended to remain separate entities.

The mayor’s proposal does not outline will happen to the Municipal Archive’s staff—nine full-time and two temporary employees—in the event that the archive is closed.

Today is Women’s Rights Day

Today, June 19, is Women’s Rights Day in Iceland. The holiday commemorates the day, in 1915, when all Icelandic women aged 40 and older, were first given the right to vote in parliamentary elections and also run for parliament.

A brief history of women’s suffrage in Iceland

“As early as 1882, widows and women of independent means had received the right to vote in municipal elections, and in 1907, this right was extended to all women,” writes Stefan Jonasson, editor of Lögberg-Heimskringla. Alþingi voted to extend women’s voting and candidacy rights to parliamentary elections in 1911, but this was struck down—twice—by the Danish king, until Kristján X relented in 1915. Iceland became an independent state under the Danish crown in 1918, and two years later, all age and income restrictions were lifted, giving all Icelandic women equal voting rights in 1920.

Statue of Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason in front of Alþingi, Image by Anna Kudryavtseva (CC 3.0)

The Icelandic suffrage movement was driven by the Icelandic Women’s Association, which was founded in 1894, as well as the Women’s Rights Association, which was started by Kvennablaðið (‘The Women’s Paper’) founder Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir in 1907. Bríet and three fellow suffragettes were elected to the Reykjavík Town Council in 1908. Bríet held the seat until 1911 and then again from 1913 – 1919. She then became the first woman to run for parliament in 1916, but was not elected. Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason, the principal of Kvennaskólinn (‘The Women’s School’) became the first woman to hold a seat in Alþingi in 1922. A statue in her honour stands in front of parliament today.

Women’s Rights Day celebrations in Reykjavík this year

The celebrations will start at 11:00 AM in Hólavallagarður Cemetery with a musical performance by Una Torfadóttir. Afterwards, Vice President of the Reykjavík City Council Magnea Gná Jóhannsdóttir will deliver a speech and lay the wreath on Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir’s grave, in honour of her contributions to the suffrage movement.

Later in the day, Kvennaheimilið Hallveigarstaðir, which has served as the home for women’s organizations in the capital area since 1967, will celebrate its 55th anniversary. Guests are invited to join festivities at Túngata 14 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Refreshments will be served and guest of honour Eliza Reid, First Lady of Iceland, will give a speech. Rakel Adolphsdóttir from the Women’s History Museum will give a short lecture on the history of the building and the event will be rounded out with a performance by the Hrynjandi Women’s Chorus.

Einar Takes Over as Reykjavík Mayor in 2024

City of Reykjavík council majority June 6 2022

The Social-Democratic Alliance, Progressive Party, Pirate Party, and Reform Party of the City of Reykjavík held a press conference yesterday where they announced that negotiations to form a majority coalition on the city council had been successful. Incumbent Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson will remain in the position until the end of next year, with Progressive Party Councillor Einar Þorsteinnson taking over as mayor at the beginning of 2024.

Together, the four parties hold a majority of 13 seats out of the total 23. The Social-Democratic Alliance has five of the seats, followed by the Progressive Party with four, the Pirate Party with three, and the Reform Party with one seat. The new City Council’s first official meeting will be at 2:00 PM today.

Einar opened yesterday’s press conference by expressing satisfaction with the coalition agreement, stating that it fully meets the Progressive Party’s demands for changes in the coming term. Pirate Party councillor Dóra Björt Guðjónsdóttir stated that her party is pleased with the emphasis the agreement places on climate issues, democracy, transparency, and a just society, all priorities of the Pirate Party. Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir of the Reform Party expressed satisfaction that the majority plans to focus on labour and innovation in the coming term.

Read More: Municipal Election Results Across Iceland

Incumbent mayor and Social-Democratic Alliance councillor Dagur B. Eggertsson stated he was pleased with the new majority and that the city will continue to develop toward being more environmentally sustainable.

The coalition agreement includes housing construction projects on plots in Úlfarsárdalur, Kjalarnes, Hlíðarendi, Gufunes, and Ártúnshöfði, as well as a competition for the development of Keldnaland and Keldnaholt.

The new term will bring higher subsidies for children’s activities as well as free swimming pool access and public bus trips for primary school children. The majority also promised to bring back the night bus service as well as run a pilot project to have one pool in the city open until midnight.

Municipal Election Results: Gains for Progressives Across Iceland

Last Saturday’s municipal elections will go down in Icelandic history books, both for the Progressive Party’s success across the country, and the Independence Party’s worst-ever outcome in Reykjavík. The Progressive Party doubled its following nationwide compared to the last municipal election, held in 2018, and more than tripled its number of councillors from 22 to 67.

Iceland holds municipal elections every four years, in all municipalities concurrently. While the results gave the Progressive Party much to celebrate, several other parties saw losses in their number of seats on local councils, including the Centre Party, the Social-Democratic Alliance, and the Reform Party. While the Independence Party lost following across the country, it remains the party with the most local councillors nationwide: 110.

Reykjavík results

Reykjavík’s four-party governing coalition – consisting of the Social-Democratic Alliance, Reform Party, Pirate Party, and Left-Green Movement – lost two of its 12 seats in the election, and therefore has lost its majority on the 23-seat Reykjavík City Council. The Social-Democratic Alliance and Reform Party both lost seats, the Left-Green Party held its single seat, while the Pirate Party increased its number of seats from two to three.

As elsewhere in the country, the Progressive Party saw great success in Reykjavík, going from zero seats on the City Council to four. The Socialist Party also saw an increase in voters, doubling their seats from one to two. While it received the largest proportion of the vote, or nearly 25%, the Independence Party lost one seat, going from seven to six councillors following the election.

Poor voter turnout

Voter turnout decreased in all of the country’s largest municipalities except Hafnarfjörður, where it increased by 2.4%. The lowest voter turnout was in Reykjanesbær, where less than half of registered voters turned up to the polls. Voter turnout was 63% across the country, a drop from 68% in the last municipal elections.

In Reykjavík, voter turnout was 61.1%, or 5.9% lower than in 2018. It bears noting, however, that amendments to election legislation that took effect in January increased the number of registered voters in the city by around 10,000. A total of 61,359 people voted in the city in this year’s election, while in 2018 that number was 60,417.

Coalition talks begin

In light of the weekend results, parties across the country are beginning coalition talks. In Reykjavík, Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has announced that his Social-Democratic Alliance has begun negotiations with the Pirate Party and the Reform Party on forming a governing coalition. Progressive Party councillor Einar Þorsteinsson said he was open to collaborating with all parties with seats on the council. Independence Party councillor Hildur Björnsdóttir stated she had had several informal talks with other councillors, while Left-Green Movement councillor Lif Magneudóttir has stated the party will not participate in majority coalition talks this term.

Reykjavík to Cap Speed Limits at 50km/h

driving in reykjavík

Speed limits will be lowered to 50km/h throughout Reykjavík according to a motion approved by Reykjavík’s Planning and Transportation Council yesterday. Most streets in the city will have a speed limit of 30-40km/h. The motion does not affect arterial roads managed by the Road and Coastal Administration such as Miklabraut, Sæbraut, or Kringlumýrarbraut.

Aim to Improve Traffic Safety

The goal of the change is to promote improved traffic safety and prevent serious accidents. Per a notice from the City of Reykjavík: “The lower the speed of a vehicle, the easier it is for the driver to prevent an accident, because in the time it takes to react to an unexpected event, the faster the speed, the longer the distance travelled. Traffic speed is therefore a very important variable in any discussion of traffic safety.” Reducing maximum speed limits should not only help prevent accidents, but reduce the severity of accidents that do occur, according to the notice.

Lowers Noise and Pollution

The notice suggests implementing the measures over a five-year period, which is expected to cost ISK 240-300 million ($1.9-2.4 million/€1.6-2 million). Besides improved safety, lower speed limits are expected to have other positive impacts, including a decrease in traffic noise and pollution. A recent Icelandic study found that vehicles created up to 40% less particulate pollution at lower speeds. Particulate pollution affects air quality in Reykjavík and elsewhere in Iceland, particularly in the spring time when weather is dry and many vehicles are still using studded tires.

Not Expected to Cause Traffic Delays

According to the City of Reykjavík, lower speeds will not lead to heavier traffic: “The maximum traffic capacity of the street system and delays around rush hour are usually determined by the capacity of intersections, light controls, and other traffic. The reduction of the maximum speed is not expected to have a significant effect on delays during rush hour, as at those times traffic lights and other traffic will have a greater effect on the actual speed than the maximum speed limit.”

 

City Council Wants to Open Safe Injection Spaces in Reykjavík

City of Reykjavík strike

The Reykjavík City Council unanimously passed a motion yesterday to open talks between the municipality and the Ministry of Health on opening a safe injection site in Reykjavík. This spring, Alþingi passed laws that permit the opening of safe injection sites. An estimated 700 people use intravenous drugs.

A report attached to the motion states that the Welfare Committee passed a policy last summer for homeless people with a great and complex need for support. The policy contains proposals such as establishing a facility for women with concurrent disorders (both a mental illness and a substance use problem), reinforcing the city’s on-location advisory team, allocating 20-25 small houses, purchasing more apartments, establishing a new emergency shelter, looking specifically into women’s position and increasing education and knowledge of issues facing people with substance use problems.

The report also states that the Reykjavík Department of Welfare considers it a positive step to legalise safe injection spaces for intravenous users. Damage reduction is essential, and it’s vital to provide a safe location for these individuals to avoid further harm, sickness or even death.

“according to the ministry’s data, intravenous users experience a great deal of prejudice, also from within the public health care system, which only adds to their predicament, increasing the risk of them not asking for help and support. For the safe injection space to work as it should, it isn’t enough, as many have said, to open a room where people can go, absolutely not. These individuals’ basic needs need to be taken into consideration. They should be able to come in from the street and have access to clean facilities, nourishment, hygiene facilities, clothes, and clean and safe space,” said Heiða Björg Hilmarsdóttir at a city council meeting.

The majority’s entry to the meeting’s minutes read: “By passing this motion, we want to get a safe injection site in Reykjavík, as research has shown that damage reduction-focused actions decrease the negative and dangerous effects of substance abuse. It is our goal to introduce damage reduction ideology into the city’s service, but for safe injection spaces to become a reality, cooperation with the Ministry of Health to provide necessary healthcare is needed. Experience from other countries shows that opening a safe injection site decreases outdoor substance use, thereby improving the local community.”

The laws on safe injection sites were passed in parliament last May, giving municipalities the option to open safe spaces for intravenous substance users. Left-green MP Ólafur Þór Gunnarsson hoped the first such spaces would open this year and called the law “the first step towards decriminalisation of substance use.”