Arctic Profile: Running Tromso – the successes and the challenges

The sun goes down on the port in Tromso, Norway in 2016. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
The sun goes down on the port in Tromso, Norway in 2016. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Arctic Profiles is an occasional Eye on the Arctic series where we check in with different Arctic regions to take the temperature of the current political, business or social climate.

In this instalment, we’ve turned our attention to the Arctic Norwegian city of Tromso and check in with the mayor to hear about the best and worst parts of running this small Arctic city.

Q&A : Running Tromso - the challenges & the opportunities

Name: Jarle Aarbakke

Title: Mayor of Tromso

Eye on the Arctic: What are the three main municipal issues facing Tromso from City Hall’s point of view?

Jarle Aarbakke:  We’re a city that is growing. For the last 40 years the number of inhabitants has doubled. Now we have 73,000 people coming from 146 different nations. The growth of the city like that creates problems and opportunities. A general one, like in the rest of the western world, there’s an ever increasing number of people that need health care, both in their homes and in nursing homes. Here, it’s  the responsibly  of the community and with our growth it’s an increasing challenge. We also have a growing number of children which is also a concern in the city because City Hall is responsible for taking care of kindergarten and elementary schools. It’s a challenge to continue providing high quality services when the population is growing so quickly, but this  is also an opportunity because this it’s obviously much better to have these kinds of problems than being a city in decline.

Tromso's City Hall. Does Tromso's rapid development hold any lessons for Canada's Arctic regions? (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Tromso’s City Hall. Does Tromso’s rapid development hold any lessons for Canada’s Arctic regions? (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

What’s the number one issue/complaint/concern the citizens of Tromso bring up with you when they meet you in person?

That we’ve had to raise one of the taxes  here in order to deal with the challenges I just mentioned, health care and good schools. Some of our citizens are frustrated with that and here in northern Norway, we are known to speak our minds, so they let me know about that.

What’s going well in Tromso?  What major issue/challenge has the city overcome in recent years, and how did they do it?

Tourism. I’m going to sounds like a tourism machine, but it’s the truth. You can go whale-watching here. You can do sledding. Within the city centre here you have a concert hall, caffe lattes, the northern lights.

When you travel abroad, or in southern Norway, what`s the biggest misconception people have about the city?

Some wonder if we have electricity. Things like that. People think of Tromso as a very remote city in the Arctic: deep frozen and so on. But in the summer, we have up to 30 degrees plus. One other misconception is that we live off fishing, but we also have oil and gas, a lot of activities based on high competence, people who develop natural resources. So we’re small. High in the Arctic. But you can still do pretty much anything here.

The above Q&A has been edited and condensed

And just why are so many people coming to Tromso .... ?!?!?!
Tromso mayor Jarle Aarbakke tells Eye on the Arctic just why the city is experiencing a boom and how Norway’s northern strategy has contributed to it.

Does Canada have something to learn from the Tromso experience?

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  The environmental and social impacts of Arctic tourism, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Increased tourism from Asia gives Finnish Lapland boost, Yle News

Greenland: Blog – Greenland pioneers Arctic tourism & mining, Cryopolitics

Norway:  Russia boosts tourism on Svalbard, Norway, Barents Observer

Russia: Currency drama has little impact on tourism in Barents region, Barents Observer

United States: Alaska cultural tourism comes with challenges, Alaska Dispatch News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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