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Daily Archives: 17. October 2018 − News & Stories


Lon­gye­ar­by­en: a gre­at place to live, but a tough place to live

The times are curr­ent­ly most­ly calm in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Spits­ber­gen other­wi­se. The­re, is, of cour­se, always some­thing that cat­ches public atten­ti­on. The pha­seout of coal mining in Sveagru­va and the cle­ar­up of a who­le litt­le sett­le­ment is a dis­cus­sion and will remain so for quite some time. Some buil­dings may be pro­tec­ted as part of Spitsbergen’s cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge, others will pro­ba­b­ly be remo­ved. The ques­ti­on of poten­ti­al fur­ther use of the infra­s­trac­tu­re in Sveagru­a­ve, within sci­ence, tou­rism or wha­te­ver, is still lar­ge­ly open. The only thing that is clear is that the who­le pro­ject will cost a lot of money, just as ope­ning the mine at Lun­ckef­jel­let, which has never seen any­thing but years of cos­t­ly stand­by ope­ra­ti­ons bet­ween ope­ning and shut­ting down the mine.

Sveagruva

Sveagru­va: a mining sett­le­ment in pha­seout.

A woman in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is accu­sed for having thrown a stone at a guest of Huset (a popu­lar pub/disco/night club) during a late hour visit in March. The man recei­ved minor inju­ries.

A heli­c­op­ter had to res­cue to stu­dents from Sar­ko­fa­gen, a moun­tain clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The two hikers had ven­tu­red into a steep slo­pe and were unable to move any fur­ther or back.

Sarkofagen

The moun­tain Sar­ko­fa­gen clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Things that hap­pen in a litt­le arc­tic vil­la­ge after the end of the busy sum­mer sea­son, at the onset of the polar night. Most make them­sel­ves com­for­ta­ble at home, taking care of nor­mal ever­y­day busi­ness and enjoy­ing calm days as it is get­ting dar­ker out­side.

But not ever­y­bo­dy can enjoy cosy evenings at home. The housing mar­ket in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has been dif­fi­cult for years. The­re are seve­ral reasons for this, inclu­ding ava­lan­ches which have ren­de­red who­le streets unsui­ta­ble for living in recent years. Airbnb is ano­ther issue, that makes some homes unavailable to long-term resi­dents in need of housing. This has hap­pen­ed in many places in the world, but in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, you can’t just move to the next vil­la­ge some­whe­re near town and com­mu­te to work. At least, an important houseow­ner has recent­ly announ­ced that he does not want to rent flats out through Airbnb. Inves­tor Fre­d­rik Eken told Sval­bard­pos­ten that his 84 flats in Lon­gye­ar­by­en will not be available on the men­tio­ned plat­form for reasons eco­no­mic­al rather than poli­ti­cal or ethi­cal.

Many flats and hou­ses in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are owned by major insti­tu­ti­ons and employ­ers such as the Sys­sel­man­nen, muni­ci­pal admi­nis­tra­ti­on, UNIS and others who need to offer housing to their employees, which is under­stan­da­ble but at the same time making a signi­fi­cant pro­por­ti­on of the local housing mar­ket unavailable to the public.

The local admi­nis­tra­ti­on has done hers to make the situa­ti­on more dif­fi­cult, at least for some, than might be neces­sa­ry. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the­re is a num­ber of hou­ses, most of them in “Sjøom­rå­det” clo­se to the fjord, which have flats. The­se flats are, howe­ver, not appro­ved for per­ma­nent use, but rather for lei­su­re use only. Some of the­se “lei­su­re time flats” (frit­ids­bo­lig, as they are cal­led in Nor­we­gi­an) have, howe­ver, been used more or less per­ma­nent­ly for years. In recent years, the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on inclu­ding the fire depart­ment have pushed to take more dra­stic mea­su­res to kick peo­p­le out of the­se flats. Last week, repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on and the fire depart­ment went on an unhe­ral­ded con­trol mis­si­on to some hou­ses in ques­ti­on, as Sval­bard­pos­ten repor­ted. This led to 6 per­sons losing their accom­mo­da­ti­on on a short war­ning: they were given 24 hours to move out.

Sjøområdet, Longyearbyen

The area cal­led “Sjøom­rå­det” in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Six peo­p­le were recent­ly remo­ved from flats that are not appro­ved for per­ma­nent use.

Reasons given for such rather dra­stic mea­su­res are main­ly fire safe­ty, fol­lo­wed by the miss­ing appr­oval for using the hou­ses for per­ma­nent living in the use zoning plan.

It will not sur­pri­se that this approach is met by cri­ti­cism and des­pa­ra­ti­on among­st tho­se con­cer­ned. Tho­se who lived in the­se hou­ses for years knew that their pro­lon­ged stay was not legal, but it was not a mat­ter of choice for some at least. The pri­va­te housing mar­ket does sim­ply not pro­vi­de afforda­ble accom­mo­da­ti­on. Some of the 6 curr­ent­ly con­cer­ned will have to stay at fri­ends’ places, beco­ming what is local­ly refer­red to as “sofa peo­p­le”. Pos­si­bi­li­ties to find an afforda­ble place to live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on a long-term basis? Do hard­ly exist.

Con­side­ring this, the cur­rent approach of the muni­ci­pal admi­nis­tra­ti­on to remo­ve peo­p­le from flats that are at least appro­ved for short-time use appears con­tro­ver­si­al. The admi­nis­tra­ti­on has announ­ced fur­ther con­trols as nee­ded.

Fire safe­ty can be taken care of by tech­ni­cal mea­su­res, and a use zoning plan is a mat­ter of poli­ti­cal decis­i­on making. The admi­nis­tra­ti­on has at least announ­ced to start a pro­cess that may include pos­si­bi­li­ties to lega­li­ze the prac­ti­ce.

Sounds extre­me­ly pro­mi­sing, doesn’t it? But it won’t help tho­se who need a place to stay the­re and now. The polar night is coming, and Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a very dark and cold place during the win­ter.

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