Category: AmCham News
Ekeberg is unique – a natural forest in a major capital city, continuously inhabited since the glaciers last receded some 10,000 years ago. Owned by the people of Oslo since being purchased in 1889, it is a much-loved sport and recreation area, a natural “playground” for Oslo’s youth and adults, including such sporting events as the annual Norway Cup – a youth soccer event attracting nearly 1200 teams coming from all over the world each summer.
Edvard Munch was inspired to paint the world-famous “Scream” painting here and remnants from the Bronze and Iron Age are rampant. One can almost feel the presence of the Viking when looking out over the Oslo Fjord from many of the vantage points on Ekeberg.
Both Sides Now
Those opposed to the proposed Sculpture Park argue that the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of visitors will forever change this historical and fragile ecosystem. Proponents of the plan say that everything has been well-planned and analyzed – and that the positive factors far outweigh any negative.
The plan includes a cable car shuttle system capable of transporting 1 million visitors a year from the center city harbor area of “Bjørvika” (location of the famous Oslo Opera House) to the heart of the natural forest. The Sculpture Park itself will include up to 80 statues including some rumored to be up to 9 meters tall – although this is a matter of conjecture as the debate continues and the city fathers move toward the goal of final approval in August.
Oslo’s Growth Model
The seeds of the Sculpture Park project began some years ago when a local, influential real estate developer approached the city of Oslo with an idea for the park. Christian Ringnes is a charismatic businessman and well-known great-grandson of Ellef Ringnes, who together with his brother Amund started the Rignes Brewery in the 19th century. The brewery has long since been sold to the Danish, but Christian Ringnes has been active since the mid 1980’s in real-estate development in this city where growth is king.
Based on a pre-project study that was approved by the City Council in May, there are now concrete plans in place that will guide development that includes cable care terminals, a service building, major expansion of toilet facilities, a man-made lake, large areas of asphalt surfaces to function as parking lots, kiosks, a café and souvenir sales ready to greet the visitors from the city below.
Thorough City Planning
City planners emphasize that all quality assurances are in place to keep this major development under control – to protect the archaeological areas, burial mounds as well as to improved trails and walkways – including marked trails leading down to the Viking City of Oslo (Oslo Gamlebyen) in the valley below.
The challenge to the City of Oslo is to make the Sculpture Park and the wide range of changes to Ekeberg in a way that honors its origin and the history of this unique natural forest area that has been so cherished by many for hundreds – even thousands – of years.
Who is Getting the Gift?
Those organizations and political figures opposed are fearful not only for the ecosystem, but express caution in putting public land in the hands of the private sector. Opponents says that not only are such changes not possible without imminent disruption – they say that what has been described as a “gift to the city” from Christian Ringnes is actually a shrewd business arrangement designed to give control of 255 acres in the middle of the cities last town forest – at a profit for Ringnes. In the middle of this acreage is the Ekeberg Restaurant – which Ringnes already owns.
Those opposing the project express caution in any plans that would affect the fragile natural forest at Ekeberg. The mountain area was home to early dwellers during the Bronze and Iron Ages – shown by many rock carving and etchings from these societies that have long faded into the past. Environmental groups cite the endangered species living on the mountain and argue that the encroaching expansion of the city will pose an irreversible threat to the delicate balance.
Call for a Public Vote
There has also been an increasing call for a public vote on the decision – to let the citizens of Oslo decide whether historic and public property should be handed over simply based on a decision by city government. The argument is that as Ekeberg is the “people’s town forest” – purchased for use by Oslo’s citizens in 1889 – the people who “own” Ekeberg should have a direct say in the final decision.
Still, it looks like the final decision may be going in favor of the city expansionists. Once the City Council recommended approval in May, sites were set on the goal of final approval in August by the city’s top leadership led by Mayor Fabian Stang. According to the City Council, all steps will be taken – guaranteed – that any changes and additions will be made in harmony with nature on Ekeberg and maintain a green profile in all phases of construction and development
An International Perspective
It is interesting to observe this process from an international perspective. Norway is governed by a Social Democracy where the government has traditionally made decisions on behalf of the people. Will the Sculpture Park in Oslo be decided by the government – or is there is a new spirit of “grassroot democracy” emerging where the citizens of Oslo have a say as to whether this public natural forest will be entrusted to the private sector?
Whether or not such a public vote is still possible in this “11th hour” before the scheduled final decision in August may be doubtful. However, irregardless of the final decision concerning the Sculpture Park at Ekeberg, the city of Oslo must honor the traditions, history and the fragile “Voice of Nature” in this natural forest, even as the sound of construction, cables cars and one million visitors a year threaten to change it forever as the capital city of Oslo continues to grow.
Source: Norway Communicates
Published: September 17, 2019