Svalbard’s Urban Imaginaries
Cities and buildings are materializations of imaginaries of place. The Arctic is urbanizing, and Svalbard can help us understand how this realization takes place, and some of the diverging forms urbanization takes when translated into built form by architects and planners. Urbanism in the Arctic has a brief history that reflects the colonialist realities of mid-twentieth-century urban planning, territorial modernization, and resource extraction that dominate the region. Svalbard has a unique history among the Arctic regions as a territory for various parallel projections of urbanism to the region by southern states with different urban planning cultures. Today we find contrasting urban design models in the Russian and Norwegian settlements in the archipelago. While the ‘frozen’ monumental design of abandoned Pyramiden celebrates the Soviet state ideology, Norwegian Longyearbyen case reveals an ad-hoc urban development of a company town to a Social Democratic welfare town. The urban and architectural iconographies of the two locations have historical layers that reflect evolving place imaginaries. Identifying these layers help conceptualize their reconfiguration towards urban futures encompassing, for instance, tourism. These evolving northern place imaginaries comprise complementary dimensions of what can be conceptualized as global Arctic urbanism.