Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reconceptualization and revitalization

Everywhere I turn in Oslo, whether I walk down a (once) quiet side street or a noisy major thoroughfare, there is a building project underway. Some of them are quite extensive, involving roads that have been ripped up in order to install new water pipes. Others are renovation projects—store facades that need sprucing up, brick buildings that need sanding, or co-op apartment complexes that are adding balconies or new windows to individual apartments. Still others are major new construction projects—new apartment complexes being built (the Akerselva river is riddled with large new complexes--not a trend I like very much, because they will end up choking the life out of the river), new parking houses, new ‘super’ malls. It doesn’t matter what kind of project is involved. All of them are indicative of how wealthy this country has become. This country has so much money that its communities can design and build local neighborhood shopping centers, only to reconceptualize them eight or so years later, which involves extensive renovations to the existing structure. It’s all about ‘concept’ these days--finding the new concept that replaces the old. The turnaround time for concepts is very short now. A good case in point—the St. Hanshaugen shopping center that opened perhaps eight or nine years ago. When it opened, there was a good bakery, a bookstore, a flower store, a women’s clothes boutique, a liquor store, a Nille (like the Dollar store in the USA), a supermarket, a dry cleaning store, a home design store, a pharmacy, to name a few. What’s left of the original stores in the center? The supermarket and the dry cleaning store. We hardly get a chance to get to know a local shopping center, and poof, it’s gone or changed several years later, reconceptualized and replaced by a ‘new and better shopping center’ that will likely be replaced yet again in several years. This is the way it’s done now, and the locals have no say in the matter. I do know that I don’t like the constant change because it destroys the continuity that is necessary to build a loyal customer base in a city neighborhood. And it's the creation of small neighborhoods with their own stores, local cafés and restaurants that makes cities feel a bit less impersonal and overwhelming. The old center had bakery with a little café where the retired and elderly would sometimes meet for coffee and cake. I enjoyed seeing that—the locals gathering to sit and chat for a while as part of their daily routine.


The Kjellands Hus shopping center is the closest local shopping center to our co-op complex, and is no more than about two city blocks from the St. Hanshaugen shopping center. It started out (in 2006, if I recall correctly) with a supermarket, bookstore, a very large computer/electronics store, sports boutique, a flower store, and a couple of restaurants. The computer/electronics store closed about a year ago, and the space has been converted into three new stores—a liquor shop, a pharmacy, and a Nille. Guess where they moved from? The St. Hanshaugen shopping center. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I’m not sure which shopping center did better business or attracted more customers, but it seems to me that the St. Hanshaugen shopping center is on its way out, even though the changes are presented as a kind of revitalization. Time will tell.   

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