Greenland capital boasts deep-water port, hydro-electric dam and much more

Is Nuuk what Iqaluit wishes to be?


In the tiny fishing settlement of Kapisillit, Greenland, which is 75 kilometres from Nuuk and inhabited by only about 100 people, you find paved streets with street lamps, and a small harbour.

And inside the local store, you can buy frozen reindeer and whale, as well as freshly baked bread, or a sticky Danish pastry, still warm from the oven.

These are just a few striking examples of how life is different across the Davis Strait.

In Nuuk, Greenland's capital of about 15,000, the first noticeable difference from Iqaluit is the amount of paved roads – some 110 km, if you include parking lots.

Danish city planners apparently have an asphalt fetish. Even the ditches are reinforced with concrete.

When you consider that Nuuk, population 15,000, has more than 2,500 cars, that works out to just 40 metres of paved road per vehicle.

Buses also run regularly in Nuuk, and carry some 1.5 million riders annually.

And that's just the beginning. Take a glance at Iqaluit's wish list, and most of the items are already found in Nuuk, Greenland.

Nuuk has a deep-water sea port, a hydro-electric dam, a cultural centre, and a museum that holds Inuit artifacts re-claimed from other countries.

How did they get all this stuff? By and large, Denmark paid for it.

Mind you, Nuuk enjoys year-round ice-free waters, thanks to warm waters brought up Greenland's west coast by the Gulf Stream. That means Nuuk's port supports a healthy fishing industry, and receives cargo year-round, rather than the annual summer-only sealift used in Canada's Arctic.

Construction is easier, too. There's not much permafrost near Nuuk, just bedrock, which provides a sturdy foundation to build on.

Nuuk has two Thai food restaurants, one that's likely as good as anywhere in the world. Lonely Danish men are known to seek wives in Thailand, and several later decided to make Greenland their home.

In striking contrast to Iqaluit, there's almost no litter on the streets of Nuuk. Residents are expected to keep their yards tidy – if they don't, a city crew will clean up for them, and leave a bill.

Sports are popular. Nuuk has a nine-hole golf course, a swimming pool that's won accolades from the International Olympic Committee, an indoor soccer field, an outdoor skating rink that becomes a summer skate park, a t-bar that runs up one nearby hill for downhill skiers, and street lamps that stretch out into the tundra, providing light for cross-country skiers during the winter.

Yet many problems familiar to Nunavummiut remain. The housing shortage in Nuuk is perhaps more acute than in Iqaluit – Nuuk residents wait up to 13 years to receive social housing, and stories are told of parents putting their small children on the waiting list so they might receive a unit when they're old enough to move out.

Public housing is provided in massive, Soviet-style apartment blocks that were built in the 1960s, and are crumbling today. These buildings are slowly being torn down, because renovations are believed to cost more than building new units. Yet some of the new units will only be available to residents able to pay more money.

Just as Nunavut residents complain that Iqaluit enjoys the best services and infrastructure in the territory, so Greenlanders outside the capital feel ignored. And when they move to the big city, Nuuk's housing shortage only worsens.

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