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Finding your city

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Trondheim through the eyes of a planner-flaneur

Mrudhula Koshy is an urban planner, designer, and flaneur who’s currently an Assistant Professor at NTNU. She dives into her discovery of her own personal Trondheim and how others might do the same.

Photo: Jéleena Rai

Being an urban planner, I have been trained to look at cities and raise questions in a certain way. Is the city walkable and bikeable? Is it well-connected with affordable public transport? Is it safe for women and children? What is the quality of parks, playgrounds, and green spaces? Are there cosy cafés, libraries, and farmer’s markets, touch points that are a pure delight for a flaneur?

All of these aspects and more together contribute to urban vitality, that fuzzy unquantifiable concept that helps you to identify and perceive the city, and nudges you into reflecting if this is the city that you would like to live and thrive in.

I am a nomad, part choice, part circumstance, Norway being my fifth country and Trondheim my tenth city of residence. I arrived in Trondheim on a late August night in 2018. At that point, I still considered an August night as chilly, and four years hence would assimilate enough to think of August nights as ‘mildly pleasant’. Having lived here for almost 5 years, Trondheim seems to me a city defined by ‘opportunities’.

Thousands of internationals move here for study or work, often accompanied by their partners and children. Others who move here love the idea of living in a Nordic city, with close access to nature and plenty of opportunities for skiing, hiking, and winter sports. A mingling of different expat and local groups creates synergies and knock-on effects throughout the city in exciting ways…

…but that may not be immediately evident to a newcomer. It can therefore feel isolating if you do not know where to start.

Photo: Jéleena Rai

So, if you did not come to Trondheim for the qualities of the city, how can it come alive for you? How to find the parts of the city that excites you? How to find the opportunities that are not immediately visible? How to approach the city for the first time?

Being a city girl, I always like being in close proximity to the city centre. It gives me the feeling of having options for things to do and places to explore by walking and biking. So that’s what I did. I walked, biked, and hiked, exploring the nooks and crannies of the dispersed, sparsely populated student city with Norway’s biggest technical university. In the suburbs, there were many trampolines, fewer children jumping on them. There were multiple city centres that were beautiful and had immense potential for urban vitality, yet appeared to be disconnected from each other, and aspirational, well-meaning bike paths that didn’t carry you all the way through.

Surrounded by nature and with little nature within the city, Trondheim then often felt to me like a city forever under construction. Small, medium, and large ambitions populated the city with every resident in Trondheim having an opinion of why the buildings, roads and parks should not be a certain way.

Through these initial fragmented impressions, one thing remained: Trondheim is not a static city.

The city seems to be continuously evolving to accommodate new influxes of people and new interests. There are several intriguing things to discover and diverse events catering to different cultural groups. Once you set foot in the city centre, all the museums are within walking distance. So are the libraries, shopping streets, co-working spaces, farmer’s markets, restaurants, cafés, and bars. This easy access often makes for an eventful after-work evening or weekend when it is possible to explore multiple options during a single outing.

Finding a city that works for you can seem a bit daunting in the beginning. However, it’s important to keep in mind that a city has the potential to be fully malleable; wherein you adjust to the city but the city also adjusts to your whims and fancies. This means meeting a city halfway, pushing for understanding parts of its identity that syncs with your tastes. For me, this discovery came through walking and giving myself the time to understand the city, and wait for the city to reveal itself to me.

Being a city that appears to be fast-changing in the last few years, I believe it is important that Trondheim equally acknowledges the interests of different groups. Those who love the outdoors and winter sports, as well as those who value urban vitality and hangouts within the city.

Photos: Mia Hjertø

Trondheim makes the former explicitly visible in many ways, encouraging newcomers to discover them. But the latter is less visible in spite of the sheer number of events that happen on an everyday basis in various parts of the city.

Urban vitality is driven by the presence of ‘third places’, physical gathering spaces that are considered integral for fostering new (informal) relationships, a sense of community, new ideas, enjoyment, and relaxation.

Trondheim has many of these places, but they may feel like a well-kept secret to new residents as they tend to have a different architectural language than you might expect, because of the cultural preferences for subtlety and understatedness. Some prominent examples include Bøker and Bylab at Elgeseter Gate, Litteraturhuset and Mangfoldhuset at Kongens Gate, and Folkebibliotek at Buran. Spaces that are open to you as soon as you know about them!

This patient and curious exploration has made me realise it is important to be open to changing your preferences. Your understanding of what urban vitality means and how this could be different in different cities depends on notions of community, weather conditions, and architectural and cultural expectations. My advice to newcomers is therefore: keep looking and be flexible, the city has plenty of alluring secrets!

This article originally appeared in The List Spring Magazine 2023.


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