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Home* News and Stories → Lon­gye­ar­by­en: a gre­at place to live, but a tough place to live

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.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (1): Spitz­ber­gen – vom Polar­licht bis zur Mit­ter­nachts­son­ne”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2018-10-17 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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