between people and the physical environment they live in have radically
been changed in the 19th and 20th centuries by industrialisation and
urbanisation, together forming a process referred to as modernisation.
Generalizing it could be said that modernisation has created distance
where there used to be immediacy. In other words, in the process of
modernisation peoples’ social and spatial conceptions and experiences
change. As a result of the distance created between materials, persons
and places a differentiation takes place. New concepts, or at least
new meanings to old concepts, appear. Nature is one such concept.
Planning could be claimed to be another. Through differentiation from
the immediacy of using the natural resources around one, the concept
of nature as something separate of human existence appears ).
As the immediacy of small communities changes into larger societies
the practice of planning is needed to scour off chaos ). As cities
grow and urban culture takes shape, new ways of understanding one’s
environment emerge: nature in the meaning of land as a source of livelihood
(countryside) becomes replaced for the urban dweller by parks and
gardens providing other kinds of ‘ health and happiness’
than direct ‘livelihood’. These replacements of countryside
represent the closest contact to ‘nature’ for a ‘urbanised’
person besides the use of natural resources that are engineered to
reach each and every house. Nature and culture intertwine into a new
kind of whole.
Iceland became a nearly treeless country very quickly after the Settlement
in the 9th century, and the following millennia created a culture
of appreciation for wide, open spaces. During the 20th century, however,
a turn in ideals as well as practices has at least partly swept the
country and Iceland currently has large-scale re-forestration plans
and abounds in city and nature parks. Iceland became industrialised
and urbanised rather late, more or less as an aftermath of the Second
World War. Prior to this private gardens and some public parks had
emerged in Reykjavík and the other major towns, but nature
parks and outdoor recreation ideals only emerged from the 1950s onward.
In the 1960s great amounts of people moved from the countryside into
the city and large suburban areas were created to house them.
From many varying
sources the idea of the view – a landscape viewed through a
window of an apartment or of a car – surfaces as a central contemporary
Icelandic/ Reyjavíkian relation to nature. This is seen to
be in relation with the traditional Icelandic open (treeless) landscape.
Against this most of the green planning policies goes out to plant
trees on roadsides, park edges etc in order to provide shelter from
the strong winds. The shelter from wind is particularly needed in
order to make such ‘nature’ practices as gardening and
barbequing possible. As a result a very special type of urban landscape
– rather monotonous grass lawns surrounded by thick ‘scarves’
of fir-trees – have been created all over Reykjavík.
The grass lawns can be seen as the product of there not having been
enough interest in the early days of Reykjavík’s planning
to address such ‘superficial’ issues as landscaping. On
the other hand these lawns can be seen as having a relation to the
open ‘traditional’ Icelandic landscapes outside of the
city as well as having become an urban tradition in their own right
by decennia of Reyjavíkians experiencing their urban nature
as such. Thus I would like to claim that besides the idea of the view
another typical Reykjavíkian nature type is the ‘green
desert’ of the grass lawns.
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