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
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
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
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
-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
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
-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
-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
The City Council of Oslo, State Ministries, The Local Adm. of Old Oslo
The City Council of Oslo
Tel: +47 22861600
The Ministry of Environment , P.B.8013 Dep, 0030 Oslo, Norway
May Sommerfelt, NBI
P.O.Box 123 Blindern
Tel: +47 22965500
May Sommerfelt @BYGGFORSK.NO
The Local Administration of Old Oslo, Heimdalsgata 14 b, 0561 Oslo,
Per Gregersen, Project Manager, MGO
Tel: +47 22082606
The Ministry of Local Government and Labour
Astrid Stein, Gamlebyen beboerforening