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Book chapter

Comfort and discomfort : Conflicting concerns in Arctic urban planning and design

Twentieth-century development policies in the Arctic played out differently across the region but often involved colonization, environmentally damaging resource extraction and urbanization of Indigenous peoples. These are uncomfortable dimensions of the history of development in the North. At the same time, urban planning and architectural design in the Arctic have, over the last century, been framed as a utopian pursuit of urban comfort in an inhospitable and premodern landscape. This chapter explores a set of persistent conflicts and contestations between public policy and unstated concerns and interests in the design of Arctic settlements: First, 20th-century architects and urbanists often worked to “soften the North” to attract outside experts and skilled workers instead of focusing on the concerns of the local community. Second, architects replicated southern designs and architectural idiosyncrasies across most of the Arctic rather than enabling and promoting Indigenous cultural expressions. Third, architects and planners generally insisted on compact urban forms for climate protection, identity and community building, while locals often preferred opening settlements toward nature and enhancing outdoor living and recreation. These historical contestations are still evident in the discourse on Arctic architecture and urban planning today and are supplemented with more recent controversies. Thus, the fourth contestation is that while decision-makers seek to politically exploit the new centrality of the Arctic to boost the larger cities in the region, smaller communities in the region are shrinking and ageing. Finally, and fifth, climate advocates seeking to protect ecosystems and communities, potentially reinforce neocolonialism by narratively framing the Arctic as being on the brink of a “state-change”.

Hemmersam, P. 2023. 'Comfort and discomfort : Conflicting concerns in Arctic urban planning and design'. In Leena Cho and Jull, Matthew (eds). Design and the Built Environment of the Arctic.Routledge