Dear Ross Chapin, I was fortunate to receive your book “Pocket Neighbourhoods” before my holidays. Writing this I find myself at a cabin up in the mountains. What I notice is that the cabins here repeat the same suburban patterns as what is common in most Norwegian residential areas, just at a larger scale, with their cabins even more isolated and more cut off from any kind of community than their homes.

The suburbs spreads across the Norwegian mountain landscape like an invasive species nobody knows how to get rid off

Nikos Salingaros summarizes the suburban typology with five short points:

  • People buy into the utopian dream
  • But suburban sprawl represents a toxic disconnectedness
  • Isolated houses without community
  • Great deception: “suburbia celebrates nature” – no, it violates nature
  • Replaces nature with dead typologies

The sad fact is that Norwegians are brainwashed with these suburban typologies, repeating the same flawed patterns all over the country, from the city to the country towns to remote mountain areas.

Before I continue to my errand I will tell that your book is absolutely fantastic and a great inspiration. I start my days here on the balcony with a cup of coffee and your book on the table, partly enjoying the view of the lake and the mountains, partly reading your book. What is most beautiful, your book or the mountains, I can’t tell.

Chapin’s book might be even more beautiful than the Norwegian mountains

Unfortunately, I’ve bad news to bring. I grew up close to Skreia, a small country town close to Lake Mjøsa. As it’s situated somewhat away from everything, it has remained some of its old charm, and the Lena River is crossing straight through.

Skreia with the Totenåsen Hills

Here the bureaucrats of Østre Toten municipality have found a long forgotten plan in a drawer with a fully regulated suburban dwelling area above Skreia, dating back to 1974. It’s regulated for 39 houses with about 1000 square meters of land for each house. The politicians are overwhelmed with enthusiasm, and the major tells that they would never have been allowed to do this today. They behave like they have found a long forgotten treasure. They decided to sell the area for the symbolic amount of 5 million Norwegian kroner to Østre Toten Real Estate Company, which is owned by the municipality, to develop it into a well documented failure, what the urban writer Nathan Lewis correctly has named Suburban Hell.

The area in question is situated in the forest above Skreia, with an exceptional view to the Totenåsen Hills, Lake Mjøsa and pleasant agricultural land.

The problem is that this is exactly the same area as where I a long time dreamed about making an ecovillage full of pocket neighbourhoods, just like the world’s first real ecovillage, David Holmgren’s Chrystal Waters Ecovillage in Australia. They did so from inspiration of the Alexandrine pattern 37, HOUSE CLUSTER. Today the permaculture founder Holmgren is working hard to transform the failure of suburbia into pocket neighbourhoods, probably with inspiration from your book. And he’s doing so with a remarkable success.

Here, above the old buildings in the middle of the picture, in the forest above Skreia, my dream is to build an ecovillage full of pocket neighborhoods, while my politician’s dream is to repeat the suburban typology of the early 1970ties

James Howard Kunstler has named suburbia as the worst waste of recourses in the history of humankind. Now, my politicians, the bureaucrats and developers want to waste this gem, rather than making it into a real community with people living in true relationship with one another and the beautiful nature of the place. With your book you’ve surely shown that we now have the knowledge to make it a success.

They knew about my dreams, I’ve wrote about them in the local newspaper. But for them I’m just an outsider, a lonely wolf with strange opinions.

But you, an awarded architect from the USA, they will listen to. In your last email you told me I could write to you if I had something on my heart. I surely have.

I hope you can tell them what a terrible mistake they’re about to do, crowning Skreia with just another Suburban Hell. Rather than rejoice they’ve re-found this forgotten area now to be destroyed by suburban typologies, they should celebrate that this extraordinary place has NOT been sacrificed to Suburban Hell. Please make them understand this!

In addition a real estate company has thrown its eyes upon the now abandoned industrial area along the Kvernum Waterfalls in the Lenaelva River, where Skreia was born. Kvernum means water mills in plural, so here were several mills for making grain and cutting lumber. My forefathers carried the family name Fossemøllen, which directly translated means the mill by the waterfalls. Maybe the name was taken from one of the mills along this waterfalls?

Skreia was born by the Kvernum Waterfalls

This area must NOT be developed into sterile dwellings, but become a part of the ecovillage for small scale peer-to-peer production.

The sawmill at Kvernum is now closed, and a real estate company wants to fill this historical area with modernist drywall apartments. Here has been small scale industry for centuries, I think a better idea is to regain the area for peer-to-peer production and connect it with the ecovillage.

But this is rather a task for Michel Bauwens, who is promoting peer-to-peer production. Your expertise is on peer-to-peer living.

I don’t know if or how you want to respond? If you want to write an article, I’ll post it here at the p2p-blog and translate it for Kulturverk.com and my local newspaper, in addition to sending it to the politicians, bureaucrats and developers of Østre Toten municipality.

3 Comments A Lost Opportunity for Skreia (A letter to Ross Chapin)

  1. Bembo Davies

    Øyvind:
    I am not quite clear about your degree of helplessness as reflected in this post. You claim to be both an outsider and a Fossmøllere. I sounds to be a quite a fight, but perhaps there is some leverage to throw into the the lømmebygda mix from other traditional rural Norwegian building complex practices.

    If you want to sell the idea of deep sustainability: why not interrogate the plans as soon as possible with minor details that challenge the core suburban plot thoughts that the local council will embrace. Somewhere close to the stream there needs to be plans for a collective ale-house- brewery (you can translate it as well as I can); if these weren’t prevalent in Toten then import the idea from Hardanger. How close this should be to the obligatorisk samfunnshus ( obligatory community hall) is another question. Most important of all is that according to your proposed model – no housing plans should ever again be ratified unless they include a kårhus (small cabin for the elderly/granny flat). This original Norwegian building custom was ingenious and should be reintroduced as an essential part of the communal vision as it both promotes family cohesion, and relieves pressure on child-care and elderly care models long into the future.

    Bembo Davies;
    The unMonastery
    Bergen

  2. Øyvind HolmstadØyvind Holmstad

    Thanks for advices Davies!

    “Kårhus” are for farms, in a pocket village the two stars Alexandrine pattern 40; Old People Everywhere**, would be a better solution: http://www.iwritewordsgood.com/apl/patterns/apl040.htm

    For children you need Adventure Playgrounds: http://www.iwritewordsgood.com/apl/patterns/apl073.htm

    Yes, a common brewery would be excellent! Did you listen to the podcast at Levevei.no recently, about micro breweries: http://www.levevei.no/2015/10/episode-120-mikrobrygging-meditasjon-og-tilstedevaerelse-i-livet/

    Soon next year I hope to write a post called “The Anxiety for the Pocket Village” or “Angsten for lommelandsbyen”, in Norwegian. I hope this can change the mind of the politician, so that we can cooperate about a detailed plan for Norway’s first “lommelandsby” or pocket village.

    They didn’t listen to me about the new big box though: http://www.verdidebatt.no/debatt/cat1/subcat1037/thread11619766/#post_11619766

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