In this latest edition of Urbanist Abroad, we cut straight to contributor James Bligh’s editorial coverage from Oslo — it’s topical, it’s timely and, unlike most Instagram diaries, it’s got data. Enjoy….

Oslo is going through an affordability crisis, so much so that their National Museum of Architecture is running an exhibit on the subject. Within the museum I felt like I was reliving my visit of last year’s “The Vienna Model” exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver, which decried the same subject at home.

Unlike Vancouver’s version of the exhibit, Oslo’s included what the curators considered bad examples of recent housing projects constructed within their own city, inclusive of the name of the responsible developer and the architect! What follows is a transcript taken from the exhibit’s opening panel. Does this sound familiar?

“The exhibition also looks alternative projects and models for residential developments in other cities, including Vienna and Copenhagen. Like Oslo, both Vienna and Copenhagen have experienced rapid growth in recent years. Vienna has retained the social housing profile it developed during the “Rotes Vienna” period (1918-34), when 65,000 municipal residential units were built to overcome the housing shortage after World War I. Most of those apartments were in large, imposing estates that included a range of communal facilities, such as the Karl Marx-Hof (1927-30). Even today, around 60% of Vienna’s residents live in subsidized or municipal housing.”

“In Copenhagen, the housing market is dominated by the owner-occupier model, with many new homes being added in the city’s most expensive areas. The result is rising prices, densification and a steady increase in building height. Many ordinary people cannot afford to live in these upmarket areas. Copenhagen is now therefore requiring that 25% of the space devoted to new housing is developed as ‘communal housing’, i.e. rental accommodation through housing cooperatives.”

I can’t help myself but start with more images from the exhibit, which is titled “House Viewing” – presumably in reference to the museum’s seemingly desperate search for an affordable model of housing to replicate…

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Oslo: From the exhibit: "The rent [in Vienna] can be as low as 10 Euros per square meter per month. The city buys and develops properties and stipulates the standards that have to be met with regard to quality, cost, and environmental and social sustainability before sites can be built on or sold to municipal, non-profit, or private developers. This ensures both housing quality and affordable prices. Also in Copenhagen, land is owned and developed by the municipality. This helps to keep down the price of suitable building land for developers. Denmark also has a long history of rental through so-called "public housing companies". These are legally independent entities that construct homes and offer them for rent at affordable rates. To get such a home, one has to put one's name on a waiting list. In Copenhagen 25% of all new homes must be provided by "public housing companies", i.e. housing rented out according to the wait-list principle at affordable rates." From James: "In the first image, note the difference in how many people own their home in Austria and Denmark versus Norway. The second image describes a recent 10-year change in house prices for several countries, including Denmark and Norway. Norway appears to have an affordability crisis that is correlated with too much (relative) ownership and construction of market dwellings – an issue that Vancouver is also grappling with."

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Urbanist Abroad @j.bligh's Backpacking – Oslo: "Before moving on to comments about Oslo beyond affordability, one note about the Norwegian town of Hammerfest that we passed by on the ferry. A ferry crewmember described the issue of "gas refugees" in the town, caused by the recent construction of a massive LNG facility adjacent to Hammerfest. According to the crewmember, locals (the "refugees") have suffered from a large increase in rent following the introduction of the plant – a result of the higher wages earned by the LNG workers. The company pays property tax to Hammerfest, which was so destitute before the plant's arrival that they "couldn't afford air conditioning in the town hall." The crewmember lamented that beforehand the economy was so poor that people were leaving the town, and now (with the LNG) the economy is so good that people are leaving the town anyway because they cannot afford to stay. Pictured: said LNG facility with Hammerfest in the distance."

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