A critical look at the Norwegian cabin dream

  • "The forces that drive the development of the Norwegian holiday home phenomenon are so strong that it is naïve to think that local government planners will be able to cope with the environmental impacts," says Rasmus Steffansen
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The Norwegian cabin market is not sustainable. “It cannot continue like this,” says Rasmus Steffansen in his doctoral thesis. He sharply criticises the current Norwegian cabin dream and believes a national cabin plan should be drawn up to limit the development.

A critical look at the Norwegian cabin dream

Modern life is diverse, complex and demanding. Cabin life is meant to be simple.  Somewhere to escape to.  A place to get away from everyday life to experience nature and a slower pace of life. An opportunity for reflection and finding oneself in simple surroundings.

"A trip to the cabin" is deeply rooted in Norwegian culture. For many people who buy a cabin, it is an important confirmation of their cultural identity.  Many people dream of the simple, uncomplicated cabin life where they can escape from everyday hustle and bustle. 

From a pile of planks to a palace

It's just that things are different now.  The Norwegian cabin is no longer primitive. The pile of planks that grandfather carried up into the mountains and nailed together to make a hut has been expanded, insulated, and upgraded. And today's new cabin villages are more reminiscent of modern residential areas than simple cabins. The cabins are larger, more expensive, more comfortable and more modern. The standard is so high that the cabin of today is more like a second house than a simple hut.

However, although Norwegian cabins are increasing in price, size, carbon footprint and operating costs, the cabin dream of Norwegian culture remains the same: A simple place with a low standard where we are completely alone with our thoughts. So we do not quite realise that society is using ever more land, building materials and money to create ever more cabins, so that ever more people can relax.

Today's cabin village is no longer genuine and truly Norwegian

Here Norwegians are fooling themselves, argues Rasmus Steffansen, who recently defended his doctoral thesis at NMBU. Not only is he critical of the Norwegian trend towards holiday homes, he is actually Danish. And he believes that we have lost control of our own cabin dream, and entrusted it to private builders who want to make money out of it.

In his thesis he writes about how the modernisation of Norwegian cabins has led to a kind of "Disneylandification" of the Norwegian cabin dream. A higher material standard of living, increased comfort and more services in the vicinity mean that the Norwegian cabin villages lose their unique character and become part of a grey homogeneous mass. Cabin villages are becoming more similar and the different areas have lost their unique features.

"The modern cabin represents a break with the genuine typical Norwegian who built his own cabin far away in pristine nature. This increased modernisation pulls at the strong roots that are said to be an important part of Norwegian culture. Today's cabin village is no longer genuine and truly Norwegian

This development began with the first cabin village planning legislation in the 1960s. The idea was that local authorities could use legislation to protect nature and the environment from harmful impacts. But this legislation also led to demands for higher building standards. So the Norwegian cabin identity and the tale of the cabin dream was handed over to builders and architects. They altered the Norwegian cabin dream to make it easier to make money from it. Most people have lost control of their cabin dream.

The Norwegian cabin paradox: The cabin loan that increases people’s need for a cabin

The doctoral thesis shows that as many as four out of ten people take out a loan when they buy a cabin. The figure rises to six out of ten for people who buy cabins on the open market rather than inheriting them.  Rasmus Steffansen looked more closely at what motivated this group to take out loans and buy a cabin. The most usual response was that people wanted a place for themselves, where they could relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Such loans mean that many families have to work hard to pay the financial commitments involved in owning a cabin.  The loan must be repaid and the increased material standard of living of cabins, such as electricity, a television, a dishwasher and year-round heating, means that many families become even more dependent on two jobs. Everyday stress increases, leading to a greater need to go to the cabin to get away from it all. Rasmus Steffansen calls this "the Norwegian cabin paradox": To get a place to escape from a hectic life, you take up a loan that makes your life more hectic and you have to make more money. In that way, it becomes even more important to have a place to relax, he writes.

Climate change challenges are a call for action

He believes the Norwegian cabin development has too high environmental and climate costs due to excessive use of materials, cars and electricity and interference with nature. It is time for a more critical look at the Norwegian cabin dream.

In his thesis he points out how we are destroying our own dream. For example, 18 000 cabins in Norway are below one metre above sea level and are at risk if sea levels increase. And many people who have a cabin to enjoy the snow may find that the snow disappears or that the skiing season becomes shorter and worse.

He believes that now is the time to take steps to control this development. And he does not think that local authorities will be able to do it themselves.

"The forces that drive the development of the Norwegian holiday home phenomenon are so strong that it is naïve to think that local government planners will be able to cope with the environmental impacts" he writes.

He therefore proposes a nationally controlled process of re-planning of new cabin villages with limits on their material standard. He also recommends looking into different forms of ownership.

 

See also the article on nrk.no:”Building cabins is one of the biggest threats to  Norwegian nature”, where one of the sources is conservation biologist Anne Sverdrup Thygeson.

 

 

Published 15. August 2019 - 15:33 - Updated 15. August 2019 - 15:33