No longer to skate and socialize, unburdened by dusk or dawn.
Hjartagarðurinn was developed out of a private abandoned lot through the dedication of volunteers, desperate to reclaim a barren site to complement the humanity of the area. The site, in the center of town just off main shopping street Laugavegur, had originally been earmarked for an unsought seven-storey shopping mall due to its prime commercial location and easy accessibility. However, the financial crisis in 2008 pulled the project to its knees. The resulting garden grew out of rubble and rubbish, sprung like a phoenix from the ashes and warmed those that gathered. The space was used as a forum for music, street art, and other creative forms in a typically Icelandic setting. Its location made it popular for families to spend time together in the day, and for people to gather to drink before going out at night. In the summer months, people could gather all hours to skate and socialize, unburdened by dusk or dawn. This was all changed when Reginn, a listed facilities management company established in 2009 by Icelandic bank Landsbankinn, acquired the property and began to renegotiate the future of the site. That future seems to envisage a hotel. This space, once described by Hjartagarðurinn pioneer Örn Tönsberg as ‘a sanctuary from the capitalist environment we live in’, now represents capitalism’s shrugging shoulders in the face of community dedication and interaction.
Nearby, the Icelandic people are divided over a newly introduced admission fee for local and foreign tourists to access the geyser geothermal area in Iceland’s ‘Golden Circle’. The amount remains undisclosed, but will apparently go towards improving the tourism infrastructure of the area. It is another project that shows a government willing to compromise with its citizens desires in order to generate revenue from the hugely profitable tourism industry. While allegedly setting aside the money for societal improvements, surely they must be asking themselves what the people would have preferred in the first place.
Being an immigrant, I’m in a position here that doesn’t give me much – if any – authority to speak about such issues, having had limited exposure to the garden pre-destruction. I also understand that from a foreign perspective the garden’s young age at demolition and small size render it incomparable to similar, more widely publicized cases like Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul. But after bathing in the unique identity of Reykjavik, where you only find ‘a chain’ around your bike (or not, as is more likely), I understand the privileged individuality the people are accustomed to, and deeply sympathize with the struggle to maintain such character and charm.
Words and image by Stuart Blackadder