Vesturbær Residents Come to Aid of New Ukrainian Neighbours

Residents of Reykjavík’s Vesturbær neighbourhood rallied together this weekend to assist Ukrainian refugees who had been given accommodation in Hotel Saga. Residents arranged deliveries of food, clothing, and other essential items to the group of around 100 refugees who had been moved to the hotel on short notice. Nearly 600 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Iceland since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, more than one-quarter of them children.

Hotel not prepared

Gylfi Þór Þorsteinsson, who oversees the reception of Ukrainian refugees in Iceland, acknowledges that the facilities at Hotel Saga were wanting when refugees were moved there, but that the situation has been rectified. “There are beds in the rooms that have been taken into use. The cooking facilities are ready, were ready immediately on Friday. But it is quite right that cleaning and other such things were deficient in the common areas of the [hotel], which we fixed and completed over the weekend,” he told RÚV reporters.

Some of the refugees at Hotel Saga were relocated on short notice from Ásbrú, near Keflavík Airport, the roaring sound of nearby airplanes conducting NATO exercises caused children in the group to panic. Atli Viðar Thorstensen, director of the international department at the Icelandic Red Cross, points out that Iceland has never taken in as many refugees in such a short time, and “the scope is such that [efforts] may not always be as successful as they should be.” He says he believes authorities are doing a good job overall when it comes to receiving refugees from Ukraine, though situations like the one at Hotel Saga may come up.

Residents rally to provide clothing and food

Vesturbær resident Markús Már Efraim created a Facebook group to connect the refugees staying at Hotel Saga with others living in the neighbourhood. Locals have answered the call, arranging food for the group, donating clothing, and providing entertainment for the children at the hotel. Markús has asked would-be helpers to avoid emptying their storage lockers and simply dropping things off at the hotel, rather check first what is needed, either by looking at posts in the group or an online document that has been created where refugees can write down what they need.

As of the time of writing, residents are requesting bicycles or scooters for children and adults, as well as working to set up play dates between children at the hotel and other children living in the neighbourhood.

Cricket Conquest

Cricket Krikket

It’s a grey spring day in Southwest Iceland. In the town of Hafnarfjörður, in Víðistaðatún park, few people are out and about except for the occasional dog owner taking their pet for a stroll. One pauses under the angled façade of Víðistaðakirkja churchto cast an inquisitive glance at a group gathered on the field. Then a […]

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No Hot Water in Downtown Reykjavík or Vesturbær Tomorrow

There will be no hot water in parts of downtown Reykjavík and the Vesturbær neighbourhood tomorrow, August 17, between 3:00 AM and 4:00 PM. The closure is necessary to connect a new hot water pipeline for the National University Hospital to the main pipeline that transports hot water to Vesturbær.

Residents are advised to have all taps off during this period to avoid damage once water is turned on again. In case of cold weather, it is advisable to keep windows and doors closed in order to conserve heat. The affected area is marked red in the map above.

Veitur will post progress updates on their Facebook page.

Site of Fatal Reykjavík Fire to Be Demolished

Bræðaborgarstígur fire

Demolition will begin today or tomorrow on the house in West Reykjavík where a fire led to three deaths almost one year ago. RÚV reports that the house has been purchased by property developer Þorpið vistfélag from the company HD verk, which owned it when the fire occurred. Sigurður Smári Gylfason, CEO of Þorpið vistfélag says all necessary permits have been acquired to demolish the house and work will begin shortly.

Three people died and two were left in critical condition in the fire, which occurred on June 26, 2020. Marek Moszczynski has been charged with three counts of manslaughter and ten counts of attempted manslaughter in relation to the incident and will be sentenced in the Reykjavík District Court today. The fire initiated a public conversation about the conditions facing foreign workers in Iceland.

Read More: Charged With Endangering Workers in Unsafe Living Quarters

The Bræðraborgarstígur house was on a list of illegal residential housing published by the fire brigade in 2017. The building was reported on as far back as 2015 in Stundin newspaper regarding sub-standard housing for foreign workers and was covered two years later by the TV programme Kveikur, which conducted an investigation of illegal residence in the house. A government report commissioned in the wake of the fire found that thousands are living in non-residential buildings in Iceland, where fire safety measures are often inadequate and put their lives at risk.

Proposed Kanye West Statue in West Reykjavík Proves Popular

Aron Kristinn Jóhannsson, Kanye West fan

Close to 700 people have expressed their support for Aron Kristinn Jóhannsson’s proposal to put up a statue of American musician Kanye West the swimming pool in west Reykjavík, Vesturbæjarlaug, RÚV reports. This is by far the most popular idea to be entered in the Reykjavík city online proposal collection My Neighbourhood. A city project manager states that there is a possibility that the idea can become reality.

Every year, the people of Reykjavík have a chance to present their ideas for projects to make the city a better place to live. They can concern parts of the city such as its green spaces, entertainment, or art in public spaces. The deadline to turn in new ideas was midnight January 20. The most popular idea by far was to raise a statue of the American pop musician Kanye West right outside the Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool. The idea was entered by Aron Kristinn Jóhannsson, who grew up in west Reykjavík, commonly known as Vesturbærinn but currently resides in the city centre.

“When the proposal competition ended last year, I regretted not sending this idea in because I thought the ideas that were accepted last year were incredibly uninteresting,” Aron told RÚV. The city is split into 10 neighbourhoods for the proposals. To give an idea of other popular proposals, In Laugardalur, the most popular idea is to expand the Sólheimasafn library. In Kjalarnes, the most popular idea is to put up hot tubs on the beach so the locals can enjoy the coast more.

According to Eiríkur Búi Halldórsson, project manager with the City of Reykjavík, “The people of Reykjavík set a new record. They entered 1,321 proposals, a considerable increase from the year before.” He is the project leader for the My Neighbourhood proposal competition. Everyone can send in an idea or express their support fora proposal, no matter where they live. Close to 700 people have supported the idea of a Kanye West statue.

“I challenge the city officials to listen to the young people and make this happen,” said Aron. When asked if it wasn’t a little strange to put up a statue of an American artist in west Reykjavík, Aron replied: “It’s weird, sure, but it also makes sense. Reykjavík is a tiny place and we could use some more culture.”

Aron is a fan of the American artist, telling interviewer: “It would be an honour for Kanye West. I don’t think there’s a greater honour than getting a statue in their likeness.” He also thinks the statue might prove to be a tourist attraction and even suggests that locals change the spelling of the west Reykjavík neighbourhood from Vesturbær to Westurbær.

When asked how likely it is for the proposal to become reality, Eiríkur replied. “Now, we start the process of working through the proposals and assessing which ones are possible.” Next autumn, the people of Reykjavík will vote on the approved proposals and the most popular ones will be put into reality next year. “I can’t rule out the possibility but I also can’t promise anything,” Eiríkur added.

 

Owner Will Have One Month to Demolish Fire-Ravaged House

Bræðaborgarstígur fire

The owner of a Reykjavík house, now in ruins after a fatal fire, will be ordered to demolish the building’s remains within 30 days, RÚV reports. The Vesturbær Neighbourhood Residents’ Council has expressed concern that impending winter weather could knock over the compromised structure. The house owner’s lawyer has said the building cannot be demolished due to an insurance dispute.

The fire that occurred at the house last June resulted in three deaths and is considered the deadliest fire in Reykjavík’s history. A man was immediately apprehended following the fire and has since been charged with manslaughter and arson. The house was being rented for use as workers’ housing and had been investigated by media for unacceptable living conditions as far back as 2015.

Read More: Fire Sparks Conversation About Working Conditions Facing Foreigners

Owner Cites Insurance Dispute

Skúli Sveinsson, the house owner’s lawyer, told reporters it is not possible to demolish the house as there is an ongoing dispute between the owner and his insurance company on whether the house requires demolition or simply renovation. The City of Reykjavík’s Buliding Inspector Nikulás Úlfar Másson says the dispute is irrelevant to authorities. “Our duty is to ensure that buildings don’t pose a danger to their environment, can harm or even cause health problems to passersby or those living in their vicinity,” Nikulás stated. “We have been monitoring the scene, with the net that covers the house and the fence, and all of that has been exemplary so far but now of course we can expect all kinds of weather that could simply destroy the house. We don’t truly really know what condition it’s in.”

“Now it’s time for us to send a letter to the owner and ask him to demolish the house within 30 days or come up with an explanation as to what he plans to do with the ruins,” Nikulás stated.

Both the house’s owner and the man who has been charged for the fire are expected to face legal proceedings from the families of the victims. All three people who died in the fire were Polish citizens.

Vesturbæjarlaug Pool Closed for Two Weeks

Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool

 

Vesturbæjarlaug pool in the west end of Reykjavík will be closed from June 24 to July 5 due to maintenance and renovations. The main projects include painting the pool and hot tub surfaces, fixing tiles in the wading pool and hot tubs, as well as more extensive renovations on the water filtering equipment in the basement.

For swimmers desperate for a dip, the closest public pools to Vesturbæjarlaug are Sundhöllin in downtown Reykjavík, and Sundlaug Seltjarnarness. Vesturbæjarlaug pool is set to reopen July 6.

https://www.facebook.com/Vesturbaejarlaug/posts/446572249511975

Parents On Crossing Guard Duty After Teen Hit by Car

Reykjavík baby

Parents and school staff in the Vesturbær neighborhood on the west side of Reykjavík are on high alert after a thirteen-year-old was hit by a car while walking to school this week, RÚV reports. The same afternoon, city officials stationed a crossing guard at the accident site to make street crossings safer for schoolchildren, but just to be safe, neighborhood parents have also taken up an informal watch.

The victim, who luckily did not sustain any serious injuries during the event, was hit at the intersection of Hringbraut and Meistaravellir at 9.00am on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, neighborhood residents, such as Ólöf Jakobsdóttir and her husband and father, stationed themselves at different points along the busy street in the early morning hours. The new crossing guard is intended to be stationed at Hringbraut and Meistaravellir until the spring, but Ólöf says she intends to personally monitor traffic and pedestrians at her corner, Framnesvegur and Hringbraut, until they feel sure that local children will be safe.

Parents Take Up Watch

“[We’ll be here] for a while, at least,” Ólöf confirmed, “and we hope that [other] parents take some part in this, too. We’re going to do it, at least, me and my husband. My dad, a grandfather, is up for coming out and keeping watch there, too. Maybe until we see that it’s in place, this crossing guard patrol, that the city’s providing. Just until we feel safe about stopping.”

Ólöf also believes that the traffic lights at intersections along Hringbraut should be adjusted so that all traffic comes to a stop when the walk sign is green.

Margrét Einarsdóttir, the principal of Vesturbæjarskóli elementary school, also came out to monitor traffic along Hringbraut this morning. “Everything went well this morning and there was also a police officer on site…But of course this issue needs to be examined more closely – [traffic] speed, etc. And we’ve been doing that for a number of years – that’s not lacking.”

School Lacked Funding for Crossing Guard

Crossing guard duty in the area is actually under the purview of a school employee. But although the school had previously received requests for a crossing guard at Hringbraut and Meistaravellir, Margrét says that the city had not provided funding for this until the accident occurred on Wednesday. She says that local residents have been complaining about traffic conditions along Hringbraut for many years.

A working group led by the City of Reykjavík’s Environment and Planning Committee did in fact publish a report in January 2017 which proposed, among other things, that the speed of traffic west of Kringlumýrarbraut be lowered by 10 km/hr in two areas where the current speed limit is 50-60km/h (31-37mi/h). It was also suggested that pedestrian paths along streets where the speed limit is 40-50km/h (25-31mi/h), such as the section of Hringbraut where the child was hit, be raised and more clearly marked.

Police will hold a meeting with residents next week to discuss traffic along Hringbraut.

Thief Steals Children’s Coats

A thief snuck into Vesturbæjarskóli elementary school on Thursday morning and stole coats belonging to eleven students, RÚV reports. Police have been alerted, but so far, there are no leads on the perpetrator or the stolen winterwear.

The thief came in through an entrance that faces Framnesvegur. In an email to parents, school principal Margrét Einarsdóttir wrote that in light of the incident, that entrance would henceforth be locked after children arrive in the morning and that the school would also be reviewing its security.