Streets, stones, and Greenland

Karl Benediktsson, April 27, 2018

It is spring at last. Leaves are appearing on the trees of Reykjavík, and the winter slush has disappeared from the streets. But as often before, the asphalt is a rather sorry sight in many places. The potholes wait patiently for their victims.

And the voters wait for municipal elections. Traffic planning and infrastructure maintenance is yet again being pushed as a major issue in the elections. The oft-mentioned 'City Line', a collaborative project that all municipalities in the Capital Area are backing, is on the drawing board. Yet, some parties are trying to stir up some antagonism towards the project. It is even suggested – seriously it seems – that building up an effective public transport system is a vanity project and a waste of money. A better policy would be to do even more to support the use of private cars, with more multi-level intersections and simply better maintenance of the streets.

In general, I find this argument not very solid at all – except perhaps for the last bit: There is no doubt that in many places the state of our streets is quite miserable. Insufficient maintenance may be the cause to a significant extent, although the users themselves have to shoulder some of the blame: the extensive and often unnecessary use of studded tyres does not help. Part of the situation can in fact simply be attributed to the material used for surfacing the streets. Our basalt is simply a lousy rock to use for asphalting. So bad even that some rock is imported for those stretches that are most heavily trafficked.

This made me think of our magnificent next-door neighbour, Greenland. There is some serious rock in that country! This is mostly solid Precambrian rock, in other words well aged, and similar to the rocks generally found in Scandinavia. In fact these regions were joined before Iceland came up between them, with its volcanic brashness and hopeless basalt.

Frá Qaqortoq.

Greenlanders are now undertaking some big projects. Whole mountains are being blasted away to make room for airports. This is extremely difficult in a country where level ground is almost non-existent, and some people have questioned the economic feasibility of the new airports, but that is a different story. One of these megaprojects is in progress close to the town of Qaqortoq, the largest centre in the south of Greenland, where the old Norse colony of Eystribyggð was once. Would it not be possible to do some business here, for the benefit of both nations? How about Icelanders sending a ship over to Eystribyggð every spring to get some decent rock for our streets?