Nordregio Forum Day 1: Nordic cities in a global perspective

Day one of the annual Nordregio Forum, held at Vulkan in Oslo on 29-30 November, took a view at the Nordic city both as a local challenge and a potential global inspiration. The theme of the conference was urban-rural relations and synergies in a changing world.

State secretary Paul Chaffey from the Norwegian Ministry of Local Development and Modernisation – co-hosting the event – opened the conference by pointing out that local knowledge is the corner stone to all development. We need to know ourselves to develop. He also called for increased dialogue between the rural and urban areas for future sustainable development in the Nordics and elsewhere, referring to the theme of the conference.

Nordic cities are often ranked as the greenest in the world and Oslo has just been named European Green Capital for 2019. The city furthermore has an ambition to develop a car free city core by that same year, pointed out Secretary to Deputy Mayor Hanna Marcussen, Rasmus Reinvang in the next presentation.

Historian Laura Kolbe from University of Helsinki reminded the 150 person strong audience that we should however not forget tradition in our endeavor to develop. She also pointed out that future urban development will be in small and medium sized cities mainly, mirroring the focus of one of the Nordic Council of Ministers’ working groups hosting the conference. There are three thematic groups under the Council of Ministers for regional development and one of them aims over the next three years to study specifically the role of the small and medium sized city in the Nordics.

The next speaker, Monica von Schmalensee from White Architects, in fact lamented aspects of the development of the small and medium sized cities in the Nordic countries and called for reclaiming the city centers to create more vibrant public spaces with what she termed “democratic architecture”.

Nordregio Director Kjell Nilsson and Senior Research Fellow Luciane Aguiar Borges went on to present the project Nordic Sustainable Cities, part of the Nordic Prime Ministers’ initiative “Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges”. Nordregio has produced a whiter paper describing a number of tools and practices prevalent in Nordic city planning, which will in its turn form the basis of an export and inspiration effort aimed at the Chinese, Indian and American markets.

Finally, researcher Anna Hult from KTH in Stockholm questioned the whole concept of the Nordic Sustainable City, criticizing the tendency to export climate emissions to other parts of the world by outsourcing production, while ignoring the very high level of consumption in the Nordic countries – a tendency in fact addressed in a recent publication from the Nordic Council of Ministers looking at Bumps on the Road towards achieving the 2030 SDGs.

This was countered by Paulius Kulikauskas from UN HABITAT, who saw the Nordics as pioneers in a global context, but still called for diplomacy when spreading the word in a very disparate global community.