The race to save Arctic cities

In Russia, buildings are sagging and crumbling. In Greenland, a wildfire broke out last year. And in Alaska, entire villages may be relocated because the land upon which they’re built is no longer trustworthy.

All across the North, the very ground is changing, and the buildings and roads built upon the thawing permafrost are shifting and cracking.

In Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory Nunavut, a good home is hard to find. An efficiency apartment runs around $2,000 a month, while a two-bedroom house will cost about $3,500. These New York prices are shocking in a small, remote town of about 7,500 people. And there still aren’t enough homes for everyone.

Iqaluit expanded rapidly when Nunavut became an official Canadian territory in 1999. Canada’s largest territory is home to many Inuit communities; about 90 percent of the province’s residents are indigenous. The government is a major employer in Iqaluit, alongside more traditional activities like fishing, hunting, and carving. Iqaluit’s new status as a capital brought a surge of new public-sector workers — along with an accompanying rise in construction of government buildings and houses.

Many residents have their housing subsidized either by their employer or by the government, if they are low-income. So prices are unlikely to come down.

At the same time, Iqaluit — like its circumpolar neighbors — faces a housing crisis of a different sort. The houses are sinking into the warming earth.

The only men’s homeless shelter in Iqaluit is perpetually overcrowded. Men share rooms with several bunk beds pressed close together.

When I met him in late 2016, Charlie Papatsie had been living at the shelter for about two years. He had lost his last home when he was fired from his job, which had provided housing. He was fired, Papatsie said, because of a drinking problem. After that, he found himself on the icy streets of Iqaluit.

Papatsie was trying to pull his life together. He was working at a construction company as a warehouse manager and still trying to get government-assisted housing.

“I’m on the list,” he said. But he had no idea when he might have his own home again. “I’ve been on the list going on five years now,” he added, shaking his head.

Housing in Iqaluit has been tough to find for years. And climate change is making everything more complicated, destabilizing the housing market across the Arctic.

“Housing, as you’ve probably seen, is extremely expensive out here. People can barely afford a home,” said Colleen Healey, the climate change program manager for the government of Nunavut. “It’s even worse if your home has a half-life now — because the permafrost under your house is thawing.”

Temperatures in the Arctic continue to soar at double the rate for the rest of the world. At the same time, precipitation patterns are also changing all over the planet; in the Arctic, that means more erratic snowfall. These changes are affecting the very basis of the Arctic: the land.

It’s difficult to build new houses on thawing permafrost, and many existing houses have huge …read more

Source:: The Week – World


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