Two fires and two landscapes - a tale of two cities

  • Michael Jones Department of Geography, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Keywords: Trondheim, Edinburgh, fires, planning, document analysis, interviews


In December 2002, fires ravaged parts of the historic city centres of Trondheim, Norway, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Six years later, the fire site in Trondheim had been redeveloped while a gaping hole remained in Edinburgh. In 2003, the events surrounding the fires, the affected historical landscapes, and the planning and redevelopment processes were studied. Through guided field visits and qualitative interviews with planners, architects and representatives of interest organizations, expectations concerning possible outcomes from redevelopment were gauged. The present article aims to assess the results of these studies in the light of the actual outcomes.

            Preconditions governing building development include physical factors such as availability of vacant land and institutional factors such as property ownership and planning regulations. Catastrophic fires can result in occupied land becoming unexpectedly vacant. This gives developers, architects and planners scope to shape the new urban landscape on the fire site by implementing ideas that accord with prevailing planning ideologies. Present planning is characterized by tension between dialogic ideals of communicative planning theory and neo-liberal realities of new public management.

            Debates in the two cities after the fires illustrated tension between expectations related to the desire to save or re-create features reflecting the historical landscape or to create something new. Cooperation among the site owners allowed rapid redevelopment in Trondheim, whereas lack of a common front among owners contributed to delay in redeveloping the Edinburgh site. Complexities of land tenure appear also to have caused delay in Edinburgh. In both cities the planning process showed more features of new public management than communicative planning theory, although the Edinburgh case indicates that new public management cannot always guarantee rapid and efficient redevelopment. In addition to the architect’s role, development and commercial interests appear to have the greatest influence on the final outcome in both cities.

Research Papers
Nov 11, 2010
How to Cite
Jones, M. (2010). Two fires and two landscapes - a tale of two cities. Fennia - International Journal of Geography, 188(1), 123–136. Retrieved from