Geographic position

Tromsø shares a sea border with Lenvik in the southwest and land borders with Balsfjord in the south, Storfjord in the east and Karlsøy in the northeast. The city is located at latitude 69˚ N, which is just as far north as the northernmost points of Russia and Alaska.

The Arctic is a strategically important region on a local, national and international level. The increasing international interest in the Arctic is largely motivated by the rich natural resources and the fact that the climate in the Arctic influences the global climate and vice versa. Consequently, the dramatic climate changes in this region are of great significance to virtually every country in the world.

Tromsø relates to the current definitions of the Arctic, which covers a wider area than previously defined. Consequently, the Arctic is defined as the Arctic Ocean and the northernmost areas of land and sea on earth. This includes all areas north of the Arctic Circle in the entire circumpolar area.

However, some of Tromsø’s collaborators and partner cities are situated in subarctic zones. 

The people and their importance

The current population of Tromsø is approximately 76,000, all of whom have different stories about what it is like to live so far north. With an average age of just over 37, the municipality has a young population. The population is also extremely heterogeneous and includes representatives from more than 120 nationalities.

Arctic Capital deals with awareness, identity and positioning, but most of all about people and self-determination.

Creating an awareness of the Arctic among the inhabitants of Tromsø is a prerequisite for carrying such a designation. Awareness also entails the development of an overall identity, as well as a clearer and more targeted position when it comes to policy-making and management of the Arctic.

Although Tromsø is located at 69˚ N, the city has a relatively mild coastal climate compared to other places on the same latitude. This may be attributed to the powerful climatic impact of the Gulf Stream, which is believed to be the reason why the first people settled in and around Tromsø as far back as 11,000 years ago.

Even though the Gulf Stream contributes to making the climate somewhat milder, the weather conditions are often rough in comparison with regions further south. This means that people living in these areas have unique and often extensive knowledge of what it is like to live in Arctic regions. This knowledge, which has been accumulated over thousands of years, is often tacit knowledge, which should be identified and articulated.

And last, but not least, the people of the north should have a voice in the shaping of the Arctic future and secure a sustainable economic development of Arctic societies.

A glance at Tromsø’s history

In the book Tromsø: Porten til ishavet (Tromsø: The gateway to the Arctic Ocean), written by Ole P. Røvik and Magnus Rapp, Tromsø’s proximity to the Arctic Ocean is stated as an important starting point for polar expeditions and trapping expeditions. The book also states that the trapping activity reached its peak just after World War I, with around 100 Arctic vessels from Tromsø.

Tromsø Skipsverft (shipyard), now known as Tromsø Mekaniske AS, was established in Tromsø back in 1848. This laid the foundation for Tromsø’s major role for the maritime industry in modern times.

The infrastructure was upgraded in 1936 when Tromsø was connected to the national road network with the completion of the road to Balsfjord. Crossing the Tromsø Strait became easier when the Tromsø Bridge opened in 1960. This was followed in 1973 by the opening of the Sandnessund Bridge,linking Tromsø island with the adjacent Kvaløya island. The latter is Northern Norway’s longest road bridge. Tromsø Airport Langnes opened in 1964 following 26 years with a scheduled seaplane route from the harbour at ​​Skattøra.

As well as being closely linked to its geographical position, the history of Tromsø includes the city hosting important social functions, such as the seat of the bishop and the county governor. Other milestones in the city’s history include Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank, opening a branch here in 1835 and the publication of the city’s first newspaper Troms-Tidende in 1838.
Tromsø hosts Northern Norway’s oldest scientific institution – the Tromsø University Museum, which was established in 1872. This paved the way for other knowledge-based institutions, such as the Geophysical Institute (Weather forecasting service) in 1918 and the Northern Lights Observatory in 1922. 

The region’s largest employer is the University Hospital of Northern Norway (UNN). Approximately 4,500 of its 6,000 employees have their workplace in the city of Tromsø. The hospital’s roots stretch right back to the founding of the Senja and Tromsø Hospital by royal decree in 1851.

Policy foundation

The work involving Tromsø as the Arctic capital is incorporated in regional and municipal policy documents including:

·         The social element of the municipal master plan (KST 123/15)
·         International strategy 2015-2020 (158/15)
·         NOK 2 million towards development of Tromsø as the Arctic capital (KST 99/16)
·         Strategy for outdoor areas in downtown Tromsø (SPUTS (KST 105/16))
·         Planning strategy 2016-2019 (KST 125/16)
·         Financial plan 2017-2020 (KST 272/16)
·         Implementation strategy for the Strategic economic development plan 2014-2020
·         Event strategy for the Municipality of Tromsø (303/17)
·         Municipal sector plan for culture 2017 – 2020 (KST 252/17)
·         The Urban Arctic-project of the Regional government

The Norwegian government’s website states that the “Arctic is Norway’s most important area of interest for foreign policy” and that the government “aims to turn Northern Norway into one of the country’s most sustainable and creative regions”. Norway’s Arctic Strategy 2017 states that the government believes that there is a potential for better coordination and profiling of knowledge environments/expertise in ocean and Arctic issues. To further strengthen the cooperation concerning the development of the north, the government has established the Regional High North Forum. This will serve as a framework for systematic dialogue between the government, the three northernmost county municipalities and the Sami Parliament of Norway at the political level.

Tromsø – the international centre for Arctic-related issues

Tromsø’s position as the Arctic capital received a major boost in 2013 when the permanent Arctic Council Secretariat was established in the city. This is the only cooperative body that promotes cooperation among all the eight countries with sovereignty over lands within the Arctic – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark (Faroe Islands and Greenland), Russia, Sweden and USA. Moreover, six international indigenous people’s organisations have been granted Permanent Participants status in the Arctic Council. Consequently, by establishing the Arctic Council in Tromsø, it was emphasized that the city’s institutions and industry/business represent a centre of knowledge in the Arctic.
Two years later, in 2015, the Secretariat of the Arctic Economic Council was also established in Tromsø. This institution facilitates Arctic business-to-business activities and economic development in the Arctic.

In 2018, Tromsø’s position was further strengthened when the Centre for the Ocean and the Arctic was officially opened at the Fram Centre – High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment. This establishment has strengthened the knowledge about blue economy and sustainable use and conservation of the oceans.
The year 1968 is also extremely important in the history of Tromsø. With the establishment of what is now UiT The Arctic University of Norway, the city got a vibrant educational institution. The university has continued to grow ever since. Today, UiT has a central role in research, education, innovation and dissemination. It contributes to increased knowledge-based development regionally, nationally and internationally, including within relevant Arctic-related issues, such as about the law of the sea, nature, living conditions, health, indigenous people, sustainable social development and remote sensing of maritime conditions in the Arctic.

What’s next for Tromsø as the Arctic capital?

The current priority is securing commitment for the Arctic capital concept. This process involves internal actors at the Municipality of Tromsø and the municipality’s partners being involved in creating the content that will shape the Arctic capital. Moreover, the Arctic expertise of knowledge environments, business and industry and the local inhabitants will be mapped.

The number of companies and organisations involved in Arctic-related issues within research and industry/business in Tromsø far outnumbers those mentioned on this page. Consequently, for the Municipality of Tromsø to be able to contribute to increased knowledge in the Arctic, it is essential that these are all included and given the opportunity to influence the development of Tromsø as the main centre for Arctic-related issues. Arctic Capital wishes to facilitate this.

One important task for the project is to facilitate a dialogue for Arctic Mayors as the voice of local governments from the Arctic region in the framework of Arctic Mayors’ Forum. The forum will meet in Tromsø at the end of January 2019 in connection with the Arctic Frontiers conference. The goal is to create a platform for identifying and communication common interests from democratic elected representatives in the Arctic.

If you have any ideas or wish to become involved, please contact:

Arctic Capital is organised as a project that will run until the end of 2022. The project is currently managed by Project Manager Kirsti Methi.