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The land of cabins:

Norwegians spending more time at cabins

While most Norwegians live in cities, there are indications that they are spending more and more of their leisure time in the countryside. A growing number are seeking out cabin life, either in the mountains or near the sea.

Bilde av påskefjellet med strålende sol, skiturister og fjellhytter If all Oslo residents with access to a cabin were to go there for their Easter holiday, the city's population would drop by 40 per cent (Photo: Shutterstock)

- Half of all Norwegians have access to a cabin, states Senior Researcher at Agder Research Winfried Ellingsen, who calls this a distinctly Norwegian phenomenon.

- We spend more time at our holiday homes than any other nationality outside the Nordic region. We make use of our cabins all year round and, possibly, most of all during special holidays like the Easter break.

A contrast to urban living

According to Dr Ellingsen, Norwegians are spending more time in rural areas than ever before despite the clear trend toward greater permanent settlement in urban centres. Much of this can be explained by an increase in leisure time, enhanced overall prosperity and, not least, to widespread ownership of cabins and country houses.


Bilde av Winfried Ellingsen med en steinvegg som bakgrunn Senior Researcher Winfried Ellingsen of Agder Research (Photo: Agderforskning) As head of a three-year research project funded under the Programme on Democracy and Governance in Regional Context (DEMOSREG) at the Research Council of Norway, Dr Ellingsen has analysed the situation in 200 rural municipalities and carried out case studies in four municipalities renowned as prime cabins locations: Bykle, Kragerø, Lesja and Frosta.

Dr Ellingsen is trying to put to rest a number of myths.

- To me, it doesn’t make sense to define recent decades as characterised by uninterrupted centralisation, which is the impression you could get based on residency data from the national population registry, he says.

Estimates from the study show that if all residents of Oslo spent Easter at their cabins , the population of Oslo would be reduced by just under 40 per cent (over 200 000 residents). Conversely, population figures for the municipality of Trysil would rise by 230 per cent, from approximately 7 000 to close to 23 000.

- Many other municipalities in the outlying districts would also see their figures multiplied if cabins lodgers were included in their population tally. This is most pronounced for the approximate 21 municipalities where holiday dwellings actually outnumber permanent residences.

An important political contribution

Dr Ellingsen considers the project to be an important contribution to policy discussions.

- We are more mobile than we think. We are making use of the entire country when we go to our cabins. But many national politicians still cling to the myth of the unilateral centralisation of Norway.

According to Dr Ellingsen, studying the use of urban versus rural areas provides greater insight into the mobility and relocation patterns of the Norwegian population.

- Municipalities that, according to the national population registry, are virtually depopulated or perhaps only sparsely populated during the darkest periods of winter are teeming with people from Easter and throughout the summer half of the year. Perhaps government funding towards municipalities should be adjusted somewhat for the size of the seasonal population? Dr Ellingsen points out.

The first statistics on cabins in Norway

The research group has compiled Norway’s first complete body of statistics on cabins. Included among this information is data on cabin ownership and the registered addresses of owners.

- This is a tool that gives local politicians a unique opportunity to see where cabin owners actually come from. I recently noted that local politicians in Bykle municipality arranged municipal council meetings in Kristiansand. One reason for this could be that most of the cabin owners in Bykle are officially registered as living in Kristiansand. This gives cabin owners a chance to become involved in local politics where their holiday home is located.

Dr Ellingsen has studied the level of involvement among cabin owners in municipal affairs. At present, few municipalities employ measures to facilitate the participation of seasonal residents in policy development.

- People’s interest in the municipality where their cabins are located varies. But the opportunity to be heard is dependent on a municipality’s willingness to allow seasonal residents to take part in the local policy design via activities such as consultative review processes, meetings and the inclusion of neighbourhood associations.

Cabin residents add substantial value to municipalities by paying taxes, creating jobs and providing additional revenue for local businesses. They also contribute to the development of local infrastructure.

- While most people would like to exert some influence, this more often concerns issues affecting them directly. A few examples include not having to drive far to dispose of waste or the availability of boat docking near shops. Very few people make any effort to learn about local policies or to study up on land-use plans, he points out.

Municipal challenges

Municipalities that introduce property taxes face a potential dilemma in that a basic taxation principle is that taxes cannot be levied on persons who have no say in the matter.

At the same time, the seasonal population fluctuations pose a challenge to the ability of these municipalities to provide adequate health and care services. Municipalities are required by law to provide medical care to permanent and temporary inhabitants, including those residing in cabins.

- In particular, the Coordination Reform – a comprehensive national health care reform – will transfer a number of costly health services over to the municipal level. These services will also need to be available to temporary residents. New resources and work methods are called for, Dr Ellingsen concludes.

Facts about the project:
The researcher project "Conceptions of centre and periphery and and the transforming power of mobility" was headed by Senior Researcher Winfried Ellingsen of Agder Research, a social science research institute, in the period 2007-2010. The project received funding under the Programme on Democracy and Governance in Regional Context (DEMOSREG) at the Research Council of Norway. The project has studied the way in which leisure-time mobility colours the conception of the centre and the periphery and the significance this mobility has for rural municipalities.

 Facts about the DEMOSREG-programme:
The Research Council’s Programme on Democracy and Governance in Regional Context (DEMOSREG) is designed to promote greater insight into local and regional consequences of national and international development trends. Special importance is attached to research of relevance to policy-making and governance.

(Translation: Glenn Wells/Carol B. Eckmann)

Written by:
Ingunn Haraldsen

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