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Oslo Old Town - Community Participation in Environment Improvement

Keyword: Community Participation & Urban Governance


The Old Town of Oslo is an inner city area of Oslo with 22,000 inhabitants. Education levels are very low by Norwegian standards and unemployment rates are twice the Olso average. The area is reckoned to be one of the most deprived areas in Norway. Some years ago initiatives were taken to turn the trend of a negative development into a positive social, cultural and environmental development of Oslo Old Town by civic involvement and partnerships between national, municipal and local authorities and community organisations. The main goals of the project are: to improve the environment, housing and health conditions, to create new jobs, to draw attention to the assets represented by historical monuments and sites and a living urban environment.


The city of Oslo has 460 000 inhabitants and is devided into 25 Urban Districts. Oslo Old Town is one of these districts situated in the eastern part of the inner city and traditionally a part of the working-class area of Oslo. The Old Town has today 22 000 inhabitants and is rapidly growing. The growth rate in 1993 was 8,6%.

Oslo Old Town is one of the most deprived areas in Norway. Income and education levels are very low by Norwegian standards and unemplyment rates are twice the Oslo average. The death rate is twice that of the more affluent outer city areas to the west. About one third of the population is immigrants and at some primary schools up to 90% of the children come from immigrant families. The environmental standard is also among the lowest in Oslo with derelict housing and a lack of green areas and parks. Railway lines, harbour and heavy traffic routes cover more than 35% of the land-area making the noise-level, pollution- and accident-rates the highest in Oslo.

But Oslo Old Town also has resources and potential. The Medieval Town of Oslo was situated in this area from year 1000 and became the first capital of Norway around year 1200. Today the remnants of the Medieval Town are partly covered by roads and railway lines, but has the potential of becoming one of the main attractions in Oslo and one of Northern Europe's most extensive ruin parks. And Old Oslo has very active community based organisations which during the last 15 - 20 years have struggled to protect their housing areas from demolition and environmental decay. During the few years applied strategy they have become important change-agents for their neighbourhood.

Process Planning with People's Participation:
In the late 1980's the newly set up local administration and the local council responsible for primary health and social services saw the need for an action plan to improve the living condition of the people of their Urban District. Sponsored by an Environmental Health Programme from the Ministry of Health associated with the WHO's Healthy Cities Year 2000 Programme, the local administration started a process towards making a Plan for the promotion of Environmental Health for Oslo Old Town.

The planning process was based on a series of workshops where representatives from the local administration and the different community-based organisations in Oslo Old Town participated. Later, working groups were established for the different issues raised.

The first workshop identified the main problems threatening the inhabitant's health and well-being:-traffic (pollution, accidents, barriers, noise), -bad housing conditions, -lack of green spaces and children's playareas, -social problems (drug addiction, alcoholism, unemployment), -rubbish and litter in the outdoor environment.

An Environmental Status Report was prepared on the basis of the problems that had been identified. Data were presented and compared with the overall situation of Oslo as well as with the most affluent Urban District in the western part of the city. This report thus became a strong piece of evidence of Oslo as a divided city and Oslo Old Town as a neglected area in need of massive improvements and public investment.

As most of these matters were not in the hands of the local politicians or the local administration it became a main objective of the planning process to influence the priorities and decisions made by other public institutions like the City Departments, City Council and the State Ministries concern with the living environment of the people of Oslo Old Town.

The next workshop, which also included professionals like transport engineers and architects commissioned by the project, raised the issue on how to solve the problems, with the following results: -short term/spot improvements mainly concerning upgrading of public parks and outdoor areas, -long term solutions, a "Vision for Oslo Old Town year 2000", visualised in a "bird's eye perspective" and later on presented in a leaflet showing the main through traffic in tunnels, the remnants of the Medieval Town as part of a Medieval Park, recreating the medieval waterfront and increased areas for recreational purposes.

Implementation of small scale improvements 1991-93:
By this time, spring of 1991, The Ministry of Environment had set up a grant scheme to combine environmental improvements with emplyment opportunities. This meant that the implementation of proposals for small scale improvements could start immediately. Most of these improvements were physical upgrading of the outdoor environment. At last something concrete happened that could actually be observed by the residents. An local people on social security got meaningful employment opportunities!

This so called "small scale" improvement also included the building of a Children's City Farm initiated by children at a neighbourhood workshop. The construction work was partly done by local people giving their free labour and partly by people on employment schemes. The running of the farm is now a shared effort between the local administration and the local residents where the children themselves take an active part.

The achievements of the Environmental Health Plan:
From the plannning process started in 1989 until 1991/92, The Environmental Health Plan had lead to concrete improvements as mentioned above, although small scale and not solving the multiple environmental and socio-economic problems of the area. But it created hope among the residents and it gave a new boost to local activities and an urge to carry on with improvement work.

It also established a partnership between the local administration, the local politicians and the residents and it created "alliances" and contacts in the State Ministries and research institutions which proved vital for the furthering of the improvement work.

The partnership with the neighbourhood associations was important in many ways. They could act more freely and take initiatives which the local administration being part of a formalised bureaucratic system, could not take. They used the press to promote their views, they contacted the local politicians, the city council politicians, the directors of central departments and key people in the State Ministries.

In 1992, the community organisation of the neighbourhood of Gamlebyen invited the State Minister of Environment to visit the Old Town, presenting the vision for the Old Town year 2000 and raising the issue of a state-city co-operation project for more substantial environmental improvements. This made the point of departure for a new era for the Old Town.

The Environmental Town of Old Oslo:
In 1993 "The Environmental Town of Old Oslo" was established as a comprehensive programme for integrated socio-economic development and environmental improvements. The programme is financed jointly by the city and the state. It is directly connected to the City Council's Executive Board and has a political steering committee consisting of five Deputy Ministers (from Ministry of Environment, -Sulture, -Communication, -Local Government and Labour, -Social Services), three Commissioners of the City Council and the head of the Local Council of Oslo Old Town. The programme is based on co-operation across all sector barriers and it is supposed to deal with the multiplicity of the problems of Oslo Old Town.

A secretariat for the project was set up to co-ordinate activities, initiate projects and allocate "seed" money in close collaboration with the local residents, the local administration and the city's ordinary service agencies like Parks and Roads Department.

The general targets set for year 2000 are to create new jobs and to improve the environment, housing conditions and general health and social welfare of the local people. This implies developing a constructive relationship between the different ethnic groups and securing the partnership between the inhabitants and the public sector. Some specific targets are to develop en environmental friendly transportation system and to recreate the medieval waterfront and historic adventure of Old Oslo including a Medieval Museum and a park displaying the medieval remnants.

What has been achieved so far, -current conditions:
Substantial improvements in the peoples' living environment have already been achieved and the local peoples' "Vision for Oslo Old Town Year 2000" is partly fulfilled. The effort has brought about a healthier environment with less pollution, less heavy traffic and traffic-noise, more green areas, better school facilities and a more attractive looking urban environment.

A new road-tunnel for through traffic avoiding the residential areas and the remnants of the Medieval Town was opened in July 1995, and the existing motorway bridge will be demolished next year! This is partly a result of a long process where the local residents together with the archaeological authorities have joined forces against the road authorities. Further plans are to continue the motorway under the bay replacing the existing motorway along the seaside and making space for new housing and recreational areas. The last "battle" for the local people has been the railway traffic to the new International Airport passing through their housing areas. People from all parts of Norway have come out in support and Parliament has recently decided that Norwegian Rail must find alternatives for tunnel through the area.

Programmes and allocations for the rehabilitation of the remaining 100-year old housing are in progress. "Environmental streets" have been established with tree-lining, enlarged pavements and bicycle-lanes. Old parks and urban spaces have been upgraded and schools and school-yards have been refurnished. New kindergartens are being built and an old Primary School was reopened last year. It has been decided to build a new Secondary School in the area to provide better education opportunities for local young people. Also a training centre for local industry and crafts was opened this year.

A Medieval Festival, where the local community organisation plays an important part, was arranged for the third time this year. The improved urban environment together with plans for establishment of attractions like the Medieval park and Museum will hopefully anticipate a positive identity among the residents of belonging to an attractive and historically important area of Oslo.

The Environmental Town of Old Oslo also supports the local administration's further efforts for preventive health and social care and community-based projects for better integration of the immigrant people into Norwegian society. Alle the community organisations now get grants for the running of neighbourhood-centres and local activities. They publish newspapers, arrange festivals and participate in cleaning-up the outdoor environment. The effort has also stimulated the self-help activities among the resident themselves and consolidated the partnership between the resident and the local administration/the Environmental Town of Old Oslo for further improvements.

The challenge which still remains:
The challenge which still remains, is to bring about a better social integration and social-economical development for the inhabitants of Oslo Old Town. "The Environmental Town of Old Oslo" has recently revised its objectives for 1995/96 putting an even higher emphasis on these issues which means an increased effort for better education, especially targeting the immigrant children, for job-creation and for bringing the immigrant communities more activly into the planning and development process.


-A childrens City Farm was erected in 1993, initiated by children at a workshop and built by local people on employment schemes and local people giving their free labour
-existing streets like Groenland and Schweigaardsgate have been converted into "Environmental street" with tree lining, enlarged pavements and bicycle-lanes etc.
-parks and open spaces have been upgraded
-shools and school-yards have been refurbished
-the formed Groenland Police Station has partly been made into an International Education Centre and Museum and will also contain Oslo Municipal school of music
-a Multicultural Information Centre is set up in Groenland 12
-a new road tunnel for through traffic avoiding the residential areas and the remnants of the Medieval Town was opened in July 1995, and the existing motorway bridge next to the housing area will be demolished this year
-the through traffic have been heavly reduced.

So far, no comprehensive evaluation have been made of the project, but is planned to start this spring. The impact of the project will then be better documentet in facts and figures.


I believe that the effort mentionned above will bring about lasting changes and can act as a model for sustainable practice, because:
-The local community are organized in strong and active Community Based Organisations
-the local community have been the force and drive for changes during a long period of time
-the strong partnership between the local community and the local administration in the initial stage in formulating the goals and in creatin a common vision for the future of Oslo Old Town, as a common base for changes and development
-the etablishment of the project:: the Environmental Town of Old Oslo, as a shared effort (financly and administrative) between the city and the state, which have continued the close partnership with the local people and recently revised the future vision
-the multi-sectoral approach covering culture, social welfare, health, education, employment, housing, parks, green areas, public open spaces, roads, transport, operation and maintenance
-the small scale/spot improvements based on grants and the local peoples own initiativ, interests, labour and effort
-the long term investment for environmental improvements reducing through traffic etc
-the etablishment of national attractions like the Medieval park and Museum to anticipate a positive identity among the residents
-the different efforts for better integration of the immigrants into the Norwegian society like better education facilities and job-creation
-the official proclaimed aim to continue this effort as a joint venture between the city and the state untill year 2000. (When Oslo celebrates its 1000 years anniversary.)


Indicators will be developed as part of the evaluation of the project to be started in spring 1996.


    The Environmental Town of Old Oslo
    Trondheimsveien 5
    Tel: +47 22082606


    The City Council of Oslo, State Ministries, The Local Adm. of Old Oslo
    The City Council of Oslo
    Oslo Rodhus
    Tel: +47 22861600


    The Ministry of Environment, P.B.8013 Dep, 0030 Oslo, Norway
    May Sommerfelt, NBI
    P.O.Box 123 Blindern
    N-0314 Oslo
    Tel: +47 22965500
    May Sommerfelt @BYGGFORSK.NO

    The Local Administration of Old Oslo, Heimdalsgata 14 b, 0561 Oslo,
    Per Gregersen, Project Manager, MGO
    Trondheimsveien 5
    0560 Oslo
    Tel: +47 22082606

    The Ministry of Local Government and Labour
    Astrid Stein, Gamlebyen beboerforening
    0560 Oslo

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