Air Date: Week of January 15, 1999
In an effort to revitalize city centers, reduce sprawl and encourage use of public transportation, Norway's government has banned construction outside city centers of any new shopping mall larger than 3,000 square meters. Host Laura Knoy talks with the country's Deputy Minister for the Environment, Jasper Simonsen.
KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. While politicians in the United States argue about the best way to limit suburban sprawl, Norwegians are doing something about it. Last week, by royal decree, Norway's government banned construction outside city centers of any new shopping mall larger than 3,000 square meters. Malls have been proliferating throughout Norway in recent years, in part because an increase in oil revenue has left many Norwegians with more disposable income. The country's Deputy Minister for the Environment, Jasper Simonsen, says most Norwegians agree the mall boom had to be halted to bring commerce back to city centers.
SIMONSEN: In some areas, big malls have reduced the shopping in the centers of the city by 30%. But I think it could have gone much further if we hadn't stopped it now.
KNOY: Mr. Simonsen, why this ban now? Why not 5 years ago or 10 years ago? Why now?
SIMONSEN: Yeah, we should probably have done it 5 years ago. But it takes some time to mature the population and to realize what situation you are in. And I think, well, it's now.
KNOY: (Laughs) How do local authorities feel about the national government saying you can't do this any more?
SIMONSEN: In fact, we made a proposition and we sent it around to all the local authorities. And among 450 local authorities in Norway it was only 7 who opposed it. So I think the local authorities think this is a good idea. But they couldn't take the first step. It had to be the national government who took it.
KNOY: One of the reasons businesses might have complained would be the higher cost of locating in a city center.
SIMONSEN: Yes, of course, but I think most of the business would agree that it's kind of equal ground, equal competition. Then if they have higher costs, then they can make their consumers pay for it. And all the time, when you make some regulations, some are better off and some are worse off. But we had to decide what's best for the totality, and I think we have found that.
KNOY: So you're saying that businesses concerned about the cost at least are all on an equal playing field. They're all going to have to pay higher costs to locate in the center city.
SIMONSEN: That's what I'm saying. And many businesses are already established in the city center, so they are of course very happy.
KNOY: Are there any loopholes in this new ban that you're concerned about?
SIMONSEN: Yeah, there will always be some loopholes. Therefore, we have said that this ban is only going to be in effect for 5 years, and that it should be after that replaced by good planning on the regional level. So we don't think a ban in itself is the perfect means, but it's necessary to get the planning started.
KNOY: Do you think that other European countries are looking at Norway's ban on malls and saying, "Hmm, that's a good idea"?
SIMONSEN: I know that in Sweden they look at the Norwegian example. But I also know that some other countries already have started to regulate their development of the shopping structure. I know that in Denmark they have strict rules, and I know that even in Margaret Thatcher's time in the United Kingdom, they had some regulations on whether they could build shopping malls outside the city. They had to find out whether there were alternative places inside the cities first.
KNOY: Jasper Simonsen is Norway's Deputy Minister for the Environment. Mr. Simonsen, thanks a lot for talking with us.
SIMONSEN: Thank you.
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