The Segregation in Oslo, West vs East

Oslo is unique in Norway when it comes to social and economic segregation, according to the research carried out by sociologists Jørn Ljunggren and Patrick Lie Andersen. Along the traditional segregation WestEast, the most impressive result of the research viewed that even deeper segregation exists within the richest part of the city, where people with higher cultural resources (professors, editors, museum workers) live separate from the rich who are working in financial sector.

There is no need to say that the traditionally poor East of Oslo is inhabited by working class. The greater part of immigrant population of the city is also part of them. The first, and the very correct, thought that comes in mind is «Of course! Not everyone can afford a house or an apartment in Frogner, Ullern or Aker». But let’s think first what kind of influence does this segregation have on us, Oslo citizens.

If I live, to say, in Grønland, most likely my children will go to school in Grønland. While the first thing you, as a foreigner and immigrant, are literally forced to do when you arrive here, for your own sake, is to learn a language. Not every school in Oslo, unfortunately, has the economic possibility to offer its foreign students the Norwegian language course. Imagine the school progress and the possibilities for social interaction of my child. Sometimes, the young age favours adaptation, but in very many cases, especially when it concerns teenagers, seclusion would be the risk.

Tøyengata (Grønland/Tøyen) – The East End of Oslo

Now me. I have to find a job. It is not a secret that in Oslo many of job offers are never published and the job market, in its bigger part, relies on informal networks. Living segregated in one part of the city, reduces to minimum my possibilities of having any kind of social contact with people from another social class, and subsequently – the kind of job I might get. Moreover, according to economic theory of sorting and opportunity, families living in any type of community within any metropolitan area can transmit their own resources and work ethics to their children. Wide disparities in communities might cause the transmission to children of poverty and affluence.

The statistics show also that the life expectancy differs in different parts of Oslo. So, for example, a woman living in Ullern, Vestre Aker or Nordre Aker, might expect to live as long as Japanese women, that have the highest life expectancy in the world. Instead a life expectancy of a person living in Gamle Oslo, Grunnerløkka or Sagene would be the same as in some East-European countries, like Poland or Slovakia. Along with the factors like the education level or economic resources available, other factors that determine our life expectancy are the access to health services, recreational opportunities like parks and green areas, noise levels and other physical factors.

I might continue the list making reference to numerous researches on the topic, but I think already now we can return to the thought mentioned above. «I cannot afford a house in Frogner, Ullern or Aker!» So I am forced to live in Gamle Oslo. Forced by whom?

Marie Kriznik in her book Den delte byen (The divided city) blames system deficiency and failed policies in creating socio-economic division, asserting that the latter is the result of political will. The segregation is a complex phenomenon and is not caused by only one factor. But in particular in Oslo, where just 23% of housholds rent their dwellings, and the number of ethnic minorities that own their house is the highest in Europe, but where at the same time there is no special state policy not only to protect those who are most economically discriminated, but in general to regulate house market, the inevitable consequence is the heavy metropolitan segregation with all its collateral effects.

This said, I, living in Grønland, have serious doubts with regard to my child’s social interaction and social mobility prospectives, and even concerning his or her life expectancy. But looking at the examples of other European capitals, the social tensions and economic loss might be considered as certain in a long run.

Cover Foto by Tord-Baklund