Norwegian and Soviet Suburbs

Similarities and differences between Norwegian and Soviet City planning

Actually Valeriy Beloyar, long before I wrote this story I watched with great interest this youtube video: How did planners design Soviet cities?

I actually commented on the story back then as I could see similarities with the Norwegian city planning. So with your comment in reverse, we are sort of full circle 😀

By the way, the basic principles of organizing suburbs in Norway have a lot in common with the principles of residential neighborhoods that were built in great numbers in the USSR in the 1940s and 1950s (I now live in one of these neighborhoods).

Yes, from what I could read in the comments to that video of people who grew up in these Soviet super blocks they had a lot in common. But I am curious what urban planning has turned into in modern Russia? Are any of the ideas of the past still relevant? Is Russia copying urban planning practices from other countries? If so which ones?

However, in your article, unfortunately, you did not say anything about the supply of resources to the described neighborhoods. It would be extremely interesting to learn about the organization of their heating, electricity, water supply, sewerage, etc.

I am not sure if there is all that much to say about it. I think these things are done pretty much like they would have been done in any other western country. Ok, there are some differences I can observe e.g. when comparing with my life in the US. The communal, collectivist and green thinking is definitely more present in Norway. For instance my current heating is from a garbage incinerator facility not far away from my neighborhood. A lot of Nordic countries use district heathing. But Norway is not a great example of this. Due to cheap hydro power this is less developed here than in Finland, Sweden and Denmark. In Denmark e.g. I think there are a lot of local biomass plants which generate heating for houses in the local area. Sweden has way more garbage incinerators than us which generate a lot of their house heathing.

It is also interesting how, with such a distributed development, manufactured goods stores, clinics and other service facilities for the population are available.

If I understand the Soviet system correctly it was planned in really detail how much was needed for each super block of all sorts of facilities. I think in Nordic countries things simply are not planned at the detail level and scale that one saw in the USSR. It is a bit more organic and much less centralized. I think this is a key difference from the Soviet model and Nordic model. Soviet socialism was very centralized and top down. The Scandinavian approach was very bottom up. Things like housing cooperatives which in a way pioneered a lot of this stuff happened initially outside of government. All sorts of labour movement and socialist organizations existed outside of government setting up their own things, whether that was health insurance or housing cooperatives.

E.g. one of the builders of these kinds of neighborhoods in Oslo is OBOS which started as this kind of idealistic housing cooperatives founded by socialists. They are not government owned or controlled even though laws have been setup to benefit them in various ways. Hence unlike the Soviet Union, here there are lots of these different organizations that got setup by different people independently and which where never under any kind of centralized control. How things worked could vary quite a lot between cities.

But I would say that in general one has tried to have more stores, schools, clinics etc locally available than what seems like the case in the US. There is more of that kind of “greater good” kind of thinking.

However over the last years there has also been the scourge of this “New Public Management” thinking where public sector stuff is run like corporations. This has led to a lot of centralization of hospitals and clinics, pharmacies etc. Thus we have less stuff locally accessible today than before with respect to say police, post office, pharmacy and hospital/clinics. Schools and pre-schools are fortunately still local.

Personally I would love to see us go more back to a more active local planning where one tries to make functioning local communities. We definitely experience some heavy Americanization here. In my home town people are driving ever more, and the strip malls and big box stores are growing ever larger. It is not a good development.

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