A question of priorities

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NEWS COMMENTARY: It was ironic to note on Wednesday that while Oslo’s mayor and sports bureaucrats were launching ticket sales for their multi-billion-kroner investment in a skiing championship, a much-used public staircase just next to their stylish new pavilion is crumbling and partially cordoned off. The contrast offers a clear illustration of political priorities.

The City of Oslo came up with billions to attract the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (Ski-VM), but has allowed the public staircase adjacent to Ski-VM's pavilion to fall into a dangerous state of disrepair. PHOTO: Views and News

The broad, outdoor public staircase that runs down from the statue of Norway’s revered King Haakon VII, and right outside the front door of the Foreign Ministry, has been an eyesore for months, if not years. The important, heavily used stairs have long been in a state of disrepair but haven’t been fixed, even though the site is among Oslo’s prime locations and arguably should be a showcase instead of an embarrassment.

The disrepair of the stairs became so acute earlier this year that the city agency in charge of them, Friluftsetaten, felt forced to post warning signs and cordon most of them off. Anne Grete Nyrud of Friluftsetaten told Views and News that the agency wanted to “avoid that someone might fall and hurt themselves.”

She explained that the stairs are a “special construction” of light materials because they’re built over NSB’s train station in the heart of town. There have been some earlier attempts to repair them, she said, but with mixed results.

It’s believed that salting during last winter’s heavy snows made the situation worse, leading to their partial closure. But why can’t they be repaired now? “We don’t have the money,” Nyrud said, but added that Friluftsetaten has reported the need for funds for improvements.

There was no word on what the improvements might cost, but it’s likely a lot less than the nearly NOK 2 billion invested in the new Holmenkollen Ski Jump and millions more in Oslo’s hosting of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships (Ski-VM). The pavilion built at the top of the stairs was pushed through the city’s regulatory process, attracted private funding and built in record time, while the stairs themselves have languished for years and the outlook for their repair is uncertain.

At a time when neglect of public infrastructure in Norway has been much in the news, it’s alarming that politicians and bureaucrats will spend billions on a sports event but fail to address urgent repair needs for even such a prominent public thoroughfare.

It’s all a matter of priorities. And the stairs have lost out, at least so far.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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