I recently returned from a trip to Árneshreppur, a small community on the northern coast of Iceland, which recently became the central point in a heated debate that has erupted over a proposed hydropower plant, Hvalárvirkjun. I spoke to people who supported the project, and those who opposed it. On whatever else they disagreed on, there was one point on which they came together: the national government — or specifically, Reykjavík — has forgotten them.
To be honest, you can’t really blame people in the countryside for feeling as though they’ve been overlooked. Whether you’re talking about road conditions off the national highway, internet connections or stability of electrical power, the infrastructure in the more far-flung parts of the country leaves a lot to be desired.
Grapevine reporters often travel into the countryside. No matter where we go, our interactions with the locals in all four corners of Iceland is relatively the same: people are welcoming, hospitable, and most of all, very eager to talk about what makes their region special. And rightly so, as many of these regions are home to the very sites of natural wonder that draw tourists to Iceland in the first place.
It’s that final point that raises questions for me. Tourism is inarguably Iceland’s strongest revenue stream right now. Many, if not most, people who visit Iceland are going to head out into the countryside at some point to see the sites that drew them here. Would it not behoove the national government to put more money into improving the infrastructures of these towns and villages?
If you travel through the backroads of the Icelandic countryside, you are likely to see many an abandoned farmstead: empty houses next to empty barns. We pretend the exodus from the rural to the urban was something that happened 50 years ago; not something that is still happening today. “Iceland” goes beyond the capital region. The government would do well to remember that, and put that into action, for the survival of the country as a whole.
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