Ecological Sustainability and Urban Green Space

 OSLO - Sustainable co-operative housing - landscape change and biodiversity


Sustainable development: what does it mean in this project?

Methods and results

What characterises the outdoor areas of Forsheimer in 1998?

Future development

Urban Density and Green Structure Case Studies

Ringkøbing -DK

Stocksbridge -UK

Oslo -Forsheimer -N

Poland- Green networks -PL

Tidaholm & Trollhatten -S

Social Impacts of sustainable Housing

Oslo - city centre -N

Helsinki - Espoo -SU

Political Instruments

Norway - N

Click a Topic

Sustainable co-operative housing society - an ongoing project in Oslo

Signe Nyhuus

Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo


Forsheimer is a co-operative housing society within the Norwegian USBL co-operative housing society (co-operative housing society for young people), situated in the north-eastern part of Oslo in the valley of Grorud. Consisting of 380 flats dispersed over 16 three storey blocks and 3 eight storey blocks, it was finished in 1970. It also includes a carpark. A combination of electricity and remote heating is used for heating the flats. All the blocks are built upon arable land, but the developed area is close to a fragment of hilly woodland on rocks with a thin layer of soil. Opposite there is an open abandoned meadow. A large portion of the surrounding land is owned by the co-operative housing society itself, so there is spare land to develop or to conserve as recreational area.

The majority of the tenants today are younger families with small children and the co-operative housing society also runs a youth or junior club in a shut down kindergarten. Many of the families living here are immigrants and a number of them do not speak, or speak poorly, Norwegian. Although the co-operative has few savings, at the same time it has very few debts.

The situation today is that both the covered car park and the outdoor areas are quite shabby. Several of the tenants also think that the facades of the blocks are grey and "sad". This has been the main reason behind the co-operative starting a project which will combine aesthetics with sustainable actions, providing an improved environment for the tenants.

 Return to Menu

Sustainable development: what does it mean in this project?

Some of the most important criteria included in the definition of "sustainable development" in this project have been to decrease the total amount of energy used, to try to close the loopholes as much as possible and to increase the biodiversity in the area.

An important aspect in connection with sustainable development is the principle of participation. This is also a central criterion in the Forsheimer project. It is approached in several ways. First of all, regular meetings of occupants are held and no decisions are made unless there is a two thirds majority among the occupants for a certain action. The co-operative also runs a local televition station and a newsletter which inform people on a regular basis. People can comment on different issues concerning the project both in the newsletter and on local TV. The interests of children are especially taken into account. Meetings have been held for children only and a group of four girls and four boys have been elected to follow the project more closely.

A survey was conducted in June 1997 to compile opinions on different issues among the tenants. It turned out that a majority of the people agreed on the positive qualities of the housing area, while their views differed more widely on the negative aspects. There was a common view that the positive qualities of Forsheimer were the rural surroundings, the quietness, the central position to both shops, communication and recreational areas and the large open spaces between the blocks. Negative aspects that were mentioned the most were the use of cars at night within the living area, poor quality playgrounds and as many as 13% were very unhappy with the large number of immigrants.

Improvements for the co-operative which were suggested most frequently by the occupants were as follows (many occupants made several suggestions, but without clear prioritisation):


67%, new balconies

62%, improve the outdoor area

62%, improve the children's playground

62%, reduce car use within the co-operative housing area

54%, build an assembly building

54%, new outdoor screened areas for drying clothes

23%, new areas for the separation of waste

23%, renewal of the facades


On the basis of these suggestions, the project leader sub-divided the project into three sub-projects:

 Scroll to see more

A. Architecture, outdoor room and vegetation

1.A. Architecture and outdoor spaces

2.A. Vegetation, ecology and maintenance

Renewal of the outdoor areas including vegetation, playgrounds, benches, and new screened areas for drying clothes are the most important features. Renewal of the coloured facades of the blocks and initiatives against car use within the housing area also belong in this sub-project.


B. Balconies and the use of energy

1.B. Balconies

2.B. Energy saving

This sub-project relates to the building of new balconies on the blocks and effective initiatives that could help to reduce energy usage.


C. Assembly building

Building a new assembly building and renewal of the covered car park are the main issues for this sub-project.


Professional consultants have been hired for each of the different sub-projects. The co-operative itself will finance most of the activities, but Statens Byggeskikkutvalg (the Official Committee for Traditional Building) will cover the cost of the climate and vegetation analyses, since this is a more theoretical kind of work, and background analysis for future actions.


 Return to Menu

Methods and results


The actual renewal work has not yet started but the vegetation analysis is almost finished. The results regarding the landscape changes and biodiversity within and around Forsheimer are presented below.

Air photos have been studied from 1946, 1956, 1977, 1990 and 1997 in order to document changes to the landscape around Forsheimer. The results will be shown to the tenants at one of their meetings. It is anticipated that this will increase the tenants' knowledge and understanding of the history of the landscape. This will hopefully also help the immigrants to a closer understanding of the place where they live. One immigrant stated in an informal discussion that "there is no smell from the vegetation here", which for her was more or less a "dead" landscape. Perhaps one has to learn how to smell the vegetation in order to get closer to the outdoor environment?

The results from the study of the air photos and the discussion of possible consequences for nature and environment are presented in Table 1.


 Scroll to see more

Table 1. Alteration of the landscape from 1946 to 1997 and possible consequences for nature and the environment in the Forsheimer housing co-operative in the city of Oslo.

Description of the different years and changes detected

Possible consequences for nature and the environment


In 1946 the area which Forsheimer is built upon is arable land. A wooded hill is connected to other areas of forest at the southern end. A brook forms a long, green corridor from the western part of the hill. No farms are located very close to the wooded hill. A small road leads to the hill and probably continues as the ancient road which is now documented within the forest. A mowed meadow can be seen within the wooded hill.


The situation is more or less the same as in 1946, but with one exception: A field has been developed with 20 family houses just north of the Forsheimer area.

The possibilities for cultivation in the area are reduced because of the development on the field. However, this is so limited that the negative consequences for agriculture and for plant and animal life are regarded as very small.


The co-operative housing society of Forsheimer is now developed on the north-eastern side of the wooded hill. Many other housing areas, schools and industries have also developed in the neighbourhood. There is no agricultural land left, brooks run in underground pipes and the mowed meadow within the wooded hill has started to overgrow. The link with the forest in the southern part is broken and the wooded hill close to Forsheimer is now an island in an ocean of developed land. Small fragments of the arable landscape are visible here and there. Heaps of stones from earlier clearings can be seen on the meadow.

Because the land is totally developed, the potential for agriculture is not longer present. The change is irreversible. The forest has become an isolated island which means that plants and animals have lost their "corridors" for spreading. In the long run this could mean a decline of the total biodiversity. However, this could be offset to a certain extent by intensive planting of herbs, bushes and trees. Also a rapid rise in concentration of the human population over a very short time will influence the vegetation in the forest segment. Signs of wear are visible. Heaps of stones from earlier clearings need restoration in order to become a visible element in the landscape.


The development has continued. The open space on the west side of the wooded hill is now a sports ground. Planted trees have grown taller, but still many of the open spaces within Forsheimer are characterised by open lawns.

Because of the developed vegetation, the landscape within and around Forsheimer seems less "destroyed" than in 1977. Insect and animal life have probably benefited from the more developed vegetation, at least compared with 1977. However, the changes since 1946 are irreversible as far as animal life is concerned. No obvious corridors of any length can be detected. The wear and tear of the forested hill has increased further.


The situation is almost the same as in 1990.

The wear and tear of the forest fragment continues. The Forsheimer project starts. Could it contribute to the Forsheimer landscape in a positive way?

Return to Menu

Scroll to see more

What characterises the outdoor areas of Forsheimer in 1998?


The outdoor areas of Forsheimer can be subdivided into three different characteristic areas:

1.Open spaces between the blocks within the housing area.

2.The forest fragment located south and west of the buildings.

3.Open meadow with fragments of a brook and fragments of an old road and a heap of stones from earlier clearings. The meadow is located east of the buildings.


A description of what has been determined so far in the project regarding the use of these areas, the vegetation cover and animal life, and recommendations for further development or maintenance, is given below.

 Scroll to see more

1.The open space within Forsheimer


The open space between the blocks within Forsheimer is used for playing, sunbathing, barbecues and as a meeting place for chatting. Some of the occupants also often drive their car into the area, both day and night. It is night time car use that most annoys the tenants.


Vegetation and landscape

The open space between the blocks differs very much in content and quality of vegetation. Around the 3 eight storey blocks there are some solitary trees, but very few bushes and herbs. However, around some of the three storey blocks tenants have done quite a lot of landscaping with the use of planted vegetation. Small "rooms" have been created for barbecues and outdoor meals by the use of different species of bushes and a lot of different herbs have been planted, even some spice herbs. Because this has been done entirely as a private initiative, the differences between the blocks are pronounced.

176 different species have been recorded within the housing area of Forsheimer. This includes both wild native plants, weeds, planted trees and bushes, herbs and perennials. Around half of the herbs are sterile plants that offers no nectar or pollen to the local insect life.


Future development

The area within Forsheimer has great potential for further development. Such development would represent a contrast to the spontaneous vegetation and the natural landscape of the wooded hill and the sloping meadow containing the remains of old human tracks. A mix of introduced and exotic species with native species should be ideal. Some of the area which is well cared for and already landscaped should be left alone. The poorer parts of Forsheimer should be concentrated on instead. This is a challenge because without the participation of the occupants, it is impossible to maintain the area. In addition, the outdoor plan should take into consideration the recommendations relating to the climatic analysis which has already been carried out.

Within the co-operative area, there is a south-north aligned slope. Today this is open (lawn), but with bushes and some trees it would create a corridor in the Forsheimer landscape. More birds could then be attracted to the area.


 Scroll to see more

2.The forest fragment


The area bears signs of use by people. Four different constructions of huts have been found, one of them even with some furniture inside. A stable of chairs with a carpet on top has been found on top of the hill. These are probably put there by people using this as a meeting place during the summer. The many paths reflect heavily use, probably also by people walking their dogs. The ancient road running through the hill is a short cut used by many people in the area. Other findings are a car battery, frying pan, a pram, an ironing board and a number of empty beer bottles. Four different bonfire sites have also been found. It indicates use of the area by a range of people: the homeless, possibly criminals, children and elderly people. It also indicates that the wood is regarded as a sort of "waste container" within a landscape of residential areas, shops and roads.


Vegetation and landscape

The hill is covered by spruce and pine trees. Pines dominate on the top of the hill, while spruce is found on the hillsides and towards the edges. Mostly deciduous trees are found on the edge to the west. Towards the south and east the hills are steep, with clear borders towards the cultivated housing areas. There are two abandoned meadows, one within the forest, surrounded by aspen which will very soon overgrow the meadow if nothing is being done, and one on the northern edge of the wood.

So far 124 species of plants have been registered, including the meadows.


Future development.

The wooded hill itself should not be maintained in any way, but the meadows should be mowed once a year and the waste removed at once. This will help to keep the aspen from overtaking the area and it will make the soil poorer, with the result that flowering plants will be even more numerous. The meadows represent a different biotop than the forest and besides contributing to the biodiversity they represent a different nature experience for people using the area.



3.The open meadow


Apart from the paths through the meadow which are used as short cuts, the meadow itself is little used during summer time. However, children talk about using it during the winter time, as the area is perfect for skiing and sledding.


Vegetation and landscape

The meadow is situated on a hillside east of the buildings. It is abandoned and it is not being mowed. There is a heap of stones from an earlier clearing and there is a large goat willow in the middle of the meadow. Also there is a fragment of an old road surrounded by large trees. At the bottom of the hill, there is a fragment of a brook covered by moist vegetation.

The total number of plant species found so far, including the fragments described above, is 111 species.

Return to Menu

 Scroll to see more

Future development

The meadow should be mowed in order to keep it open and the waste should be removed at once. After some years the meadow will then be even more abundant with flowering plants than it already is. The heap of stones should be retained to make it a more visible element in the landscape. The fragments of the old road should also be restored and kept open for the same reasons.


Forsheimer as part of the regional green structure


Today the Forsheimer area is almost the only green element of some size in the middle of the valley. Therefore, it has a coherent function in connecting the eastern and northern woodlands of Oslo. I observed a roe-deer in the forest fragment, but it is not known whether it is lives there or whether it moves about within the greater landscape. If it moves about, it means that there must still be some pathways to move along. However, this must be difficult because the T-bane (tube) is on one side of the valley. This is fenced in. On the other side of the valley is the railway track from central Oslo heading north, which is also fenced in. These two barriers, together with at least one road with very heavy traffic, make it difficult to understand how both people and animals are able to move from one side of the valley to the other. Nevertheless, as long as Forsheimer still remains in the middle, it would seem that there are still some options for development left.

To view other papers return to menus at Top of Page