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Sunday, 18 July 2010
Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, has about 15,000 inhabitants. By British standards that's a small town, but in Greenlandic terms, it's a metropolis.
This is a prime example of the folly of overlaying one's own assumptions onto a very different world. I assumed it would be a sweet little town, maybe with a few extra administrative buildings for its capital function - and instead, what I found was recognisably a city, albeit on a smaller scale.
Nuuk (originally called Godthåb) was essentially created by Danish missionaries, and a statue of Hans Egede - the man who brought Christianity to Greenland - dominates the older part of the city.
Later Danish colonists were instrumental in the growth of the city, encouraging (sometimes forcibly) the inuit populations of nearby settlements to move into the new tower blocks in town. Some of these older blocks are due to be pulled down shortly - but so far as I can tell, new building is also following in a similar style. And in contrast to the primarily outdoors life we observed in the other towns we visited, in Nuuk everything was locked away behind closed doors.
As Greenland moves from a subsistence economy into the modern age, more and more people are abandoning the smaller settlements and moving into the towns to find work. You can hardly blame them when life as a subsistence hunter has historically involved regular periods of starvation, and a life expectancy for men which hovers around 66 years even now.
Thanks to this population expansion, Nuuk has filled the little peninsula on which it was established. The building of suburbs is progressing at such a rate that the local hiking map, published in 2005, is so far out of date as to be virtually useless. It may be a small city but it is, unmistakably, a city.
Does anyone know of a smaller place that still has a "big city" feel?