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Toyen, Oslo

From individuals on the street, such as sidewalk vendors, to comprehensive, selfsufficient ethnic enclaves, migrants have throughout history changed the socioeconomic character of cities around the world. The increasingly rapid pace of these flows of humanity requires new methods for capturing and analyzing data. This visually enhanced autoethnographic section synthesizes ways of looking at migrants in Oslo's Toyen neighborhood. Ironically, the route taken in Oslo was not planned with immigrants in mind, as demographic data did not suggest a district visually dominated by immigrants. In these places, migrants and their practices can be interpreted as visible expressions of cultural and class changes that are expressed in primarily commercial vernacular landscapes. Their mundane spatial practices make social agency visible as they change the meanings of places by changing their appearances and, thereby challenge the previously accepted definitions of those “contested spaces” (Sassen 2001; Metcalf 1996).

Immigrant communities and their informal economies are common examples of this place-claiming process and there are many ways by which they can be studied. The size and complexity of most European cities makes visual approaches appropriate as the visual signs of migrant collective identity are multilayered. They also often provoke ambivalent or conflicted meanings. Layers of meaning are ascribed by both the viewer and the viewed, and are applied to the spaces where migrants live, work, or simply pass through. The ways that quotidian urban pedestrians visually encounter immigrants can effect estimations of their social and economic attributes. Camarota (2000) noted because close, face to face, encounters with migrants often occur in local economic exchanges, the public sees them as entrepreneurial. A critic of liberal American immigration policies, Camarota (2000) complained about the almost mythic stories of immigrants revitalizing neighborhoods with their exceptional enterprise. According to him, “The immigrant restaurant owner who greets customers is much more likely to be remembered than are the immigrant cooks and dishwashers, whom the patron never sees.” And, “Most Americans have much more personal contact in their daily lives with self-employed immigrant street vendors or kiosk operators than with immigrant farm labors or construction workers”. Based on my research, I believe the same can be said for the interethnic contacts of most Europeans.

The separation, indeed segregation, of immigrant enclaves as well different physical characteristics and dress, may also account for the misestimating migrant populations in Europe. Herda (2010) warned that this can negatively impact intergroup relations. Using the 2002 European Social Survey, he tested a framework that viewed majority group innumeracy as the consequence of “cognitive mistakes” and “emotional responses.” In his analyses across 21 countries, he found media exposure, socio-economic status, and independent associations with cognitive and emotional factors to be key predictors. Semyonov et al. (2012) noted the over-concentration of ethnic and racial minorities in distinct ethnic neighborhoods in Paris and Oslo. Their analysis of the 2003 European Social Survey showed that Europeans' prefer to reside in neighborhoods without ethnic minorities. This preference is highest among socioeconomically weak and vulnerable populations, conservative populations, and those living in areas without ethnic minorities. The preference to live away from ethnic minorities also increases with the relative size of the non-European ethnic population.

Oslo is one of the five Norwegian municipalities with the highest proportion (23 %) of immigrants (Statistics Norway 2012). Despite government efforts to prevent them, segregated migrant enclaves developed from the early 1970s until 1996 (Blom 1999). Immigrants first concentrated in the inner city, and after being dispersed, a period of new concentration ensued. Today Western and non-Western immigrants live in different parts of the city and the degree of concentration varies according to foreign national background. To Blom (1999), Oslo's immigrant areas were not “ghettos”, arguing that economic resources, and to a lesser degree their own cultures, explained their locations. Toyen has long been a poor and working class area known for its social problems but in recent years its migration-induced multicultural atmosphere and rising Oslo housing costs have given it a split, even trendy, personality.

In the summer of 2010, I photographed along a 1-km slightly uphill path from the Groenland subway station on my way to the Munch Museum through what Lynch (1960) would call a “district as it is a relatively large identifiable” (p. 46 ff.) part of Oslo. In the process, I “discovered” the immigrant enclave. The 2.5 h walk began at midday on a Saturday. The journey was highlighted by several of what Lynch termed as “nodes”, i.e. “focuses or strategic points of concentrated activities”. The initial subway station was the first node as the central train and bus station for the city was located close to my hotel. As in so many other European transportation nodes, an ethnically diverse collection of passengers, peddlers, shoppers, buskers, and beggars lined the route to the station as well as peopling the spaces in and around the station itself. My fellow subway passengers also visually (and aurally) displayed the diversity that I was to find when I exited onto the street at the Groenland subway station.

At this node, I found a relatively modern mixed commercial and residential district, with a lively variety of more and less upscale shops as well as a busy fruit and vegetable market. A short distance away was the third node, a large flea market under an overpass that anchored the Toyenbekken Street shopping strip. At the flea market was a diverse crowd with an over-representation of migrants, including highly animated black Africans, and South and East Asians buying and selling in the space. Beyond the visual ethnic diversity, I overheard Polish and other non-Scandinavian languages being spoken. As noted by Krase and Hum (2007) contemporary immigrants not only form new enclaves but also create multi-ethnic, multi-racial neighborhoods.

As a weekend excursion, one could see many family groups, men and women in traditional South Asian styles of dress, and women in head coverings of various types, The vernacular landscape along the commercial streets featured many South Asian jewelry shops whose display windows were filled with gold ornaments for women. In addition there were sari and fabric shops such as the “Asian Cloth House” and many ethnically defined barbershops such as one with a Lebanese Cedar sign. As one might expect in a Muslim area, there were numerous halal markets, some of which were defined nationally such as a “Pakistani” grocery. Other ethnically meaningful semiotics were the “Bollywood” video store, and ubiquitous telephone and communications shops with flags such as those of Morocco, Iraq, Iran, India, Latvia, Lithuanian, and Somalia on display. Other local offerings that one might interpret as reflecting the ethnic composition of the neighborhood were Asian sweets shops, bakeries, and non-Norwegian ethnic restaurants for both locals and visitors such as the de rigueur “Oslo Kebab” and the “Lahore Dera Tandoori.” As to business and professional services there were the “Milan” marriage bureau with a sign in both Urdu and Norwegian and, outside an office building were indications of the offices of the “Islam Union” and “Salaam.” Similarly, one could note names on apartment buzzers such as “Khan” and “Zuzag”. At one corner were a group of black Africans drivers, Somalis I believe, who were chatting near a row of Taxis. In the window of a street level office I spotted books on Islam, and scattered along the route were a number of posters in Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Norwegian, and English announcing ethnic events, religious events, and speakers. The most interesting of the frequent signs was one inviting everyone, in English, to the “Annual Conference and Community Iftar Dinner to celebrate Pakistani Independence Day.”

The district featured two large mosques and associated towering minarets visible from the street. In a park near one of the mosques (this one decorated with graffiti) adjacent to a Muslim community center, were a small number of young African children chaperoned by a young girl in hijab. At the edge of the same park was someone who I assumed was a grandfather, in traditional South Asian dress (white kurta, black waist coat, and churidar pyjamas) playing with his granddaughter. Once one leaves the shop-lined commercial strip, the Toyen District becomes less visibly an immigrant area, except for a few ethnically defined barbershops, as one moves up the hill toward the Munch Museum. At that point only the visual appearance of people on the street provide more and less obvious clues to their ethnic background (Figs. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

Fig. 4 Flea market. Oslo, © Jerry Krase 2010. (Source: Flea, and other informal, markets in European cities seem to be the most visually inclusive public spaces)

Fig. 5 Local mosque and minaret. Oslo, © Jerry Krase 2010. (Source: The “intrusion” of minarets into the local airspaces of many American and European cities have generated considerable opposition as they visually compete especially with towers of Christian churches)

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