The Reykjavík Grapevine, “Iceland’s Own Paris Commune: The House At Vatnsstígur 4”

If you walk up Laugavegur on a summer day, as you pass the gate that blocks downtown car traffic, you might notice that the cars are detoured down the impossibly small side street of Vatnsstígur. Amongst the few buildings on this one-block lane is a boarded-up house, the steps to its front door missing, the facade liberally decorated with half-assed graffiti. This is Vatnsstígur 4. You might not know it to look at it, but this house was ground zero in a bold anarchist experiment in Reykjavík nearly ten years ago, launched in the wake of the financial crisis. While it was ultimately unsuccessful, lasting only about a week, it brought the right to shelter to the forefront of the ongoing discussion about what needed changing in Iceland.

Ye Olden Reykjavík

Vatnsstígur 4 is a very old house, built in 1901. It fell on hard times in the 21st century, and stood abandoned for many years. Bergdís Bjarnadóttir, who did her BA thesis on empty houses in Reykjavík in 2014, was able to find Reykjavík City Hall minutes about what to do with the property going back to at least 2006.

Abandoned houses in Reykjavík are, more often than not, used by people who do not have anywhere else to sleep, or kids looking for someplace to party away from the prying eyes of adults. All that changed in April 2009.

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