Tag Archives: Helsinki

This post (14.1.) is a slightly tweaked version of the text originally posted 4th January. It reflects on the holidays just gone and the place that digital devices and walking took therein.

I did quite a lot of reading, and that always makes me want to write. The reading also got me thinking about how digital or, perhaps more descriptively, computerised, technology mixes with bodily and other material. It got me reflecting about how the analogue (or biophysical) gets embedded in the digital. For analogue you could also read biophysical, for digital you could also read capital-intensive. But I’m trying to keep it simple.

Besides reading, one of my inspirations was a conversation I had about why and how so many can assume that the digital is immaterial.

Immaterial? Gadgets?

I am old-fashioned enough to consider the word ‘digital’ to refer to a gadget, a thing, a device or an infrastructure. It has less to do with anything virtual or immaterial, and more with quite solid things like digits, binary code, computing, even fingers. Insightful literature on the consequential materiality and geographic reality of what is peddled as immaterial (‘virtual’, ‘digital’, ‘in the cloud’, ‘placeless’, etc.) has been around for a couple of decades and more. See here, here and here and via many other links and connections besides.

The consumerism of Christmas was again full of gadgets, just as the news was still about COVID, climate crisis and biodiversity troubles. It made me even more astonished about how under-appreciated are the material costs of all that is computerised. Sure, Apple recently announced that it was joining the right-to-repair movement, which has been fighting against business-generated (planned, as in planned obsolescence) e-waste for years. Yet countless people in many walks of life still assume – or just don’t stop to think about the point – that a computer, a mobile phone, a downloaded song, streamed film, a click of a keyboard or word spoken to Siri (does she still exist?), etc. are virtual in the sense of ethereal. They seem to involve not much stuff, at least not very much of it. (“Oh no, that was the age of dirty industries, back in the bad old days…”)

Activists of many kinds (e.g. anyone worried about e-waste) know that this view is wrong. But perhaps the belief isn’t surprising either. The digital has been designed to enter our lives most explicitly via ‘user-friendly’ screens. The infrastructures responsbile for the rest of the experience are (as infrastructures are) black-boxed, designed to be unnoticed, hidden or seamlessly integrated into existing environments.

Sure, the box goes back a long way when it comes to celebrating Christmas [imagine here an image from the Simpsons, all sitting on the sofa watching telly together, perhaps with a Christmas tree in the background]. In the holiday season gadgets remain important as we indulge in ample televisual entertainments as well as social media.

Now in the twenty-first-century, it’s more ‘social’ media than ‘broadcast’ that grabs us, and draws us into the Information and Communications Networks that form a good chunk of the consequential environment of our everyday life. They aren’t either good or bad. They are. For instance, as Christmas changed according to the pandemic, our various digital devices of course helped us manage the altered holiday plans.

In our household we eventually put plan C into practice after considerable online time, messaging and telephoning, adjusting how we would place ourselves in this season of traditionally intense sociability, given the constraints generated by the pesky virus.

Fading tradition?

Plan A, going to the UK, stumbled on lack of booster vaccines and news of shambolic non-efforts in public health. Plan B, joining relatives in the countryside, stumbled on a reported exposure. So we joined friends in town at theirs and then walked to Hietaniemi cemetary to light candles for departed ones. It was just lovely. Similarly New Year’s Eve was downgraded from a party (eagerly anticipated by the pre-teens) to a dinner party (happily also enjoyed by the pre-teens). It was also just lovely.

Whether you reflect on it or not, a holiday is a very bodily thing. Between all this eating, we have also walked very much, both in central Helsinki (including Lauttasaari) and in Kirkkonummi’s Porkkalanniemi (a good tip for afternoon walks for anyone in these parts with access to a car, even a temporary/shared one). Since I prefer to live an appless, gadget-lite, life, I cannot report distances travelled or steps taken in numeric forms. This doesn’t mean I’m not keen on numbers or see them as informative. (See this interview with historian Lorraine Daston for a great read about that.)

One of my reasons for being extremely reluctant to use digital applications is that they that require me to give away data about me (and my body). Beyond that, although the world seems to want me to install and use apps at every turn, and even though my leaders and many colleagues wax lyrical about the benefits of digitalisation, I am highly sceptical of the idea that digitalisation (however defined) might solve any crisis. I am particularly shocked by how easily it is assumed that climate crisis will be fixed with gadgets that run on electricity.

Yet this naively optimistic line is much peddled, from the World Economic Forum to Finland’s political and business leaders. Along with it go old social-theory vocabularies that wax equally optimistically about the space-of-flows and about economics unmoored from its material aspects. Such thinking is associated in Finland with information-age-philosopher Pekka Himanen as well as Manuel Castells, and gets much traction in a country of technophiles.

Electronically mediated yet fully embodied

I’m not a technophile but if I am a Luddite, I’m a discriminating Neo-Luddite, not opposed to tech as some kneejerk reaction (as explained here by Jathan Sadowski). As our Christmas made clear, once again, the world wide web is great at keeping people ‘in the loop’ with others. The pandemic has made the point many times over. And yet, the web has also been peddling much trouble.

As someone with an occasional blogging habit, perhaps my preference for analogue things sits awkwardly with the easy way that social media does intrude on and add to my everyday life. The ‘virtuality’ afforded by the digital has undoubtedly helped keep me in mental health. It has mediated countless conversations with people I know, and delivered eye-opening news from ones I don’t, particularly since March 2020.

As the pandemic inspired novel pastimes, like baking, cooking, needlework and all manner of making, the web has penetrated like never before into homes and other spaces. It has guided material flows and transformations, and possibly our cognitive, affective and biophysical experiences too.

Undoubtedly, via the web I’ve found about where the ice rinks are maintained, and give my body some of the activity that it desires (life online is terrible for it). I can, indeed, use it for connecting with others, notably those who have interests aligned to mine, walking, for example.

All this takes me back, of course, to walking. On which note, dear reader, check out Urban Walks Hki on Instagram. Ahem!

Walking – again

Since the start of the pandemic the streets around me in Helsinki have gone through their own transformations and variations, emptying out and coming back to life as the situation has developed. Walkers, in groups and in ones and twos, have been noticeable in Helsinki pretty much since the spring of 2020. Sometimes you see them, at some street corner or in front of some notable edifice, listening to a guide, all turning their gaze towards the same feature pointed out to them. Some are linked to bigger networks (like Kävelybuumi, in Finnish) and festivals.

Even the huddles of screen-starers periodically appearing in our neighbourhood (are they geocachers?) are part of this new walking boom. My phone has little to do with my walking. Still, mostly I have kept my phone with me, with its COVID-contact-tracing app scanning my surroundings with bluetooth technology. More recently I’ve taken to leaving the phone at home. There is obviously much walking than the kind that leaves traces online.

(As part of my upcoming research for the CONTOURS research project – of which more on this blog in the future – I am also practicing the use of a GoPro camera as a digital fieldwork aid, and so far have found it mostly enjoyable. What, exactly, the combination of walking bodies and recording machines will yield, is still to be worked out. I was going to uplad a snippet of me practicing, but I’d need to upgrade to a more expensive blog platform, so I will save that for later. Instead, here is a photo of the Koivukoski power station in Kajaani taken in November. It will feature in future research.)

Kajaani, November 2021

I keep coming back to the question of what is it with walking as a ‘method’. As I’ve written before, maybe it’s a method in search of a topic. That may be, but the evidence for ambulatory habits as an excellent way to learn about the world is overwhelming. Walking must have been key to the early days of the modern sciences, when counting bits of nature was very important – think of the painstaking and probably boring surveys of forests, grasslands, earth worms and what have you that animate natural history of all kinds. And then I think of the virus hunters of today, doing work described by National Geographic as swashbuckling, figuring out “the basic drivers of spillover—the complex relationship among human activity, environmental degradation, animal behaviour, and virus microbiology”. In walking today, I hope to bring to consciousness the sensorium created over billions of years as a geological base and now being reformatted by ‘digital’ and often capital-oriented imperatives. Ones, which as I noted above, I don’t even particularly like or think are beneficial.

More mundanely, walking is just a small but significant aspect of learning. Walking is what humans and many other creatures do anyway. Regardless of what one is learning about, walking and metaphors of wayfinding derived from it, are ubiquitous and helpful, as Tim Ingold reminds us (his book Lines available here, digitally).

And walking is what I’ve been doing with the Urban Walks Hki gang (more pics of the walk pictured below here). Their wonderful images and lively prose extend and deepen the walks. But the point for me has mostly been the fun, the collective imaginings as we wander and wonder.

Verkkosaari walk – October 2021. Photo by Alicia Ng.

We are all interested in global circuits of stuff as well as ideas and we walk to make connections. We walk to learn. Myself, I tend to focus on traces of infrastructures that are usually hidden. Those traces give us pretty good clues about the materiality of our brave new spaces of flows. The interesting thing for me is that although these networks and circuits support unremarkable everyday practices, it’s also pretty clear that they generate unintended side effects (thank you Ulrich Beck, the sociologist who might even help deal with COVID-19), and they require incredible amounts of matter as well as energy (trickier to conceptualize than matter, but still, as we know, a troublesome thing to be over-producing in our age).

Anthropocene mess as anthropogenic mass

So let me end these seasonal musings by also recommending this post, which shows in words and images the extent of anthropogenic mass on the planet, noting (like an earlier Nature article) that in 2020 the amount of human-made stuff exceeds all living biomass. A lot of it is concrete. In 1900 there was 2Gt of the stuff, by 2020 that figure had risen to 549Gt. (Numbers are good sometimes, so are visualisations). As intensified land-use meets changing Earth systems, designing for sustainability (something I am invested in) will require noticing and communicating much more perceptively about infrastructures, landscapes and the creatures that live with them.

So basically I’m suggesting – again – that walking merely starts us on our way to appreciating just how complex are the things we – all – need to appreciate. Walking together and alone, we really do get a grip (note the body-metaphor) on how spaces of flows are also spaces of viral transmission, violent material displacements (extractivism), genocidal prejudice not to mention unequal border procedures and lots and lots of other not-so-welcome phenomena.

But two good things. Walking remains cheap and doable. I no longer feel as lonely in my criticisms of digitalisation-hubris as was the case only a couple of years ago.


City life thrives on pamphlets and manifestos, like the 1970 classic, Kenen Helsinki? or Whose Helsinki, which arguably prevented wholesale demolition of many places Helsinkians still love.

We just got another pamphlet.

Kenen Kaupunki? Helsingin Kaupunkisuunnittelu ja kulttuuriympäristö törmäyskurssilla – Whose City? Helsinki urban planning and cultural heritage on a collision course (my translation) – was published this spring.

The authors are architectural experts, deeply unhappy with current planning in Helsinki. They view it as participation-washed as well as green-washed, and even more opaque and conflict-ridden than before. Worse still (perhaps), the environment it produces is not up to the standard that Finnish architecture has historically aspired to – and often achieved.

As we gear up to local elections on June 13th, people and the media really are interested. What the administration’s growth ambitions and the needs [sic] of foreign capital mean for life in future Helsinki are, it seems, finally news.

The book approaches current planning through fifteen controversial proposals in or close to the city centre. If these go ahead, the book suggests, they will smother and spoil the low-rise and breathable cityscape Helsinki now enjoys. The iconic South Harbour is a particular area of concern, the surroundings of our equally iconic main railway station another. The authors also point out that the city’s plans are often contrary either to the international principles of heritage preservation, for instance, we have signed up to or actually illegal.

Echoing the book, letters to editors and online commentary by citizens is overwhelmingly opposed to the city’s visions. People don’t like the scale and the bling. A prominent example concerns building over the open-air but covered bus terminus between the former main post office and the railways station: below a screenshot from the city’s online consultation.

It’s not just the buildings people oppose, it’s how they will block out the sky and slowly suffocate life at street level. The pamphlet is in fact refreshingly alert to the pedestrian experience of a place. This is a welcome feature in its architectural approach, it is after all, jointly published by Docomomo Finland, Icomos, the Building-Heritage SAFA (part of the Finnish Association of Architects) and the Architectural Society (thanks to Harri Hautajärvi for help with updating these names).

The old pamphlet is now a precious antiquarian collector’s item.

The new pamphlet is available in not just neat print but also as handy pdf, in Finnish, as it should be, and I am certainly hoping it will have a similar impact to the 1970 publication.

The problems are neither unique nor new, but imaginations and hopes for good futures have been clawed back since 1970. The institutional structures for making good cities are simply wrong (some references as they relate to Helsinki can be found in a paper I co-wrote here). Any city now deemed successful has to cope with financialization and its costs on people and lively surroundings. As the documentary film Push showed so nicely, heavyweight lobbying and dominant financial practices push people out while pulling investors in. Democratic accountability and social fabric suffer, as does built heritage.

What’s strange is how long it took the public in Helsinki to notice that this is also happening here.

A slow waking up was prompted by the rather unhappy process of drawing up Helsinki’s City Plan or the 2016 development plan. This plan explicitly encourages finance-led construction: dense, high, efficient and efficiently built, remorselessly marketed, where the new squeezes out the old. The atmosphere will be less that of Helsinki’s low-rise cityscape, which suits our peculiar light conditions so well. What is in the pipeline also threatens the quiet elegance of the city centre and many suburbs, and in cramming formatted and over-designed novelties across the city, will weaken the quirky attractions Helsinki still nurtures. So much of this place-based good has already been replaced by bland sameness because this is what big investors and their accomplices want.

British architecture critic Jonathan Glancey reflected on the effects of this on Helsinki in wistful language back in 2015, in the book Cindy Kohtala and I edited. Helsinki, which Glancey had once experienced as a gem, had started losing its shine. Cheap global brands had displaced a dear local uniqueness. What, Glancey mused, was the point of coming to Helsinki at all.

If the public were unconcerned in 2015, things have changed. I was told that the first print run of Kenen Kaupunki? quickly sold out. I did get mine – eventually.

Caring for the neighbourhood and following planning is still hard work. The outpouring of property porn (as in a picture I’ve used before, flogging Kalasatama, below) and populist talk of housing shortage constantly narrows down public debate. Large and ever more complex development proposals are presented to council representatives as black boxes too complicated to be opened up (to use one councillor’s term). With these black boxes in hand, the construction sector and its friends, offer great futures but also make demands that, the pamphlet argues, go against any notion of the greater good. They allow our parks, protected cultural heritage, our streets and squares to be turned into construction sites while private interests usually trample over public value.

Harri Hautajärvi, one of the editors, does a great job of linking the troubles in our city to global patterns, calling out as he does so, the falseness of any claims to save the planet with “efficient” construction. The other editors, Timo Tuomi and Juhana Heikonen, write chapters detailing just how, exactly, the tensions between short-termism and historical values affect planning in Helsinki today. Now that Helsinki is recognized as an excellent place to invest, telling this story is more important than ever. Indeed, a great strength of the pamphlet is that it zooms out to comparative situations from other places and other times.

The fact is that cities everywhere have to worry about how “form follows finance”. Most municipalities probably struggle against economic imaginaries that make it impossible or difficult to support the social good, like publicly financed homes or inspiring school buildings. And, as the book notes, the anarchy of markets has never been known to solve housing crisis. Of course, when we look back into history, as Maria Kaika and Korinna Thielen argued (in 2006), we do find that of course architecture has long glorified power, individual companies, for example. Think in Helsinki of the corporate headquarters like the telephone company, HPY, or the insurance company, Pohjola. But now, what gets built in your town now simply glorifies big-companies-in-general, the point being to extract rent from businesses that are passing through more than putting down roots.

Helsinki’s administration, and even its Green Party representatives, do not actually deny the main criticisms made in the pamphlet, appealing simply to the TINA-doctrine (there-is-no-alternative) or stereotyping opponents as backward. It is indeed city strategy to “to enable private interests access to those places they want” (our outgoing mayor Jan Vapaavuori, who is about to start working for an international property developer, as quoted on p. 18).

It’s a complicated thing, running a city. Talking about its planning in an era of grave Earth Systems imbalances and other novel vulnerabilities, one can’t ignore the nonhumans that are also part of the complex kaleidoscope of social relations and urban metabolisms. (Which point gives me the excuse to nod towards Helsinki’s Sustainability Science Days last week, where we enjoyed a viewing of Matthew Gandy’s wonderful documentary, Natura Urbana, about Berlin and its politically generated ecology).

By concentrating on built form, the Kenen Kaupunki? pamphlet turns a messy reality into a compelling and important story. It also opens up the terrain for wider and deeper treatment of the issues, and for different approaches.

Understandably its authority lies largely in the writers’ and publishers’ professional status and appeals to international treaties on cultural heritage and interpretations of planning law and policy. Hence the many references to how decision making has run roughshod over cultural heritage values, policy on historic buildings (weak as it is in Finland), and so on. Several chapters are about the histories of the old, largely 19th century, buildings still here for us to enjoy, low-rise, wooden and appreciated not just by the connoisseur but by all of us who live here.

The expert-lay divide matters here, because the city’s built form, which is overseen by the planning system and architects, is everybody’s world. No wonder they can tend towards the arrogant, their work concerns nothing less than the environment in which we Helsinkians dwell. Bearing this in mind, the rather social angle in the pamphlet is a welcome exception in Finnish architectural discourse, I would say. It also addresses another Helsinki blind-spot, the way our troubles are connected to world-wide issues.

For it is the case that people around the world, in many social movements, are spending inordinate energies simply preserving what they love and need, in the global North (a shrinking German town, say) as much as the South (as environmental defenders, say). Heritage is shared and extends beyond individual stories, and so gives meaning to place and to life. It grounds shared future horizons. Writing about heritage as a current issue, the pamphlet has already encouraged a lively local debate.

The thing is, the city (of Helsinki) is an experience. But this is not the brief encounter you can sell to a tourist, nor is it the nicely formatted spatial configurations created by today’s huge urban development projects. Like any city worth the visit – for tourist or other – Helsinki is above all made up of people who are committed to being here rather than somewhere else.

What is so great about the pamphlet is how it is inspiring people to share diverse ways of knowing and breathing life into the city. These are out there in letters to and copy in newspapers, online discussions and countless exchanges people are having in their daily encounters. It’s also the case that Helsinki is becoming big enough and its people perhaps self-confident enough, that there is room for many Helsinkis (as we put it with Cindy and the contributors to our book back in 2015). Different people and different publics make visible different aspects of Helsinki.

I’m hoping to see more stories of people valuing Helsinki simply because it is our home, whether ancestral (which in Helsinki means about three generations) or recent. These stories aren’t opposed to those of architectural historians, but they are different. Importantly, they are not the stories of the “demands” made by large-scale development companies or retail conglomerates. When city leaders cosying up to big money talk about supply and demand, they are talking about the need for big companies to make profits and please their shareholders. Meanwhile we Helsinkians need accessible and affordable places to live, but we also need beautiful and meaningful surroundings, to support everyday life and to nurture our physical, social and mental health. We need places like the Lapinlahti former asylum (above), frequently discussed on this blog and one of the cases in the pamphlet.

Delightfully, the complex development situation with Lappari, as I call it, was also a topic taken up in a panel debate in anticipation of those elections. In that discussion the debate did not, I’m pleased to report, get flattened into the lazy binary – for versus against – that the city and too many developers tend towards.

Thank you to the creators! Kenen Kaupunki? helps us non-experts be bolder about our demands for good living in our cherished city and for everyone to start debating with more depth and breadth.

Pretty much on a daily basis I consider writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper. On e-scooters. I am saddened frankly, at how quickly they have transformed the rules on sharing space.

Just as I was beginning to believe that the selfish car-based road usage typical for Helsinki might be on its way out, e-scooters put wheels back to work for #individuals-in-a-hurry.

Many years ago (2005), I wrote about the scarily large vehicles that were then beginning to clog up many streets around me, then known as 4-by-4s (‘citymaasturi’ in my mother tongue). Even back then I was inspired by George Monbiot (who wrote about them again last year). SUVs, or Sports Utility Vehicles, are now normal. Heavier, more dangerous to other road users, and gluttonous devourers of materials and fuel (as the IEA has told us), choosing one must seem natural to some, despite these anti-social impacts.

My complaint is that whether parked or on the go, these high and mighty successes of marketing block road space and mental space that could be open to more public spirited uses. SUVs don’t just take up large amounts of parking space. They are very BIG, and even seem to block out the light.

So I had to go and see the exhibition at Espoo’s EMMA by Elmgreen & Dragset titled 2020, which takes a new look at cars and storing them. I was not disappointed.

EMMA’s gallery space works brilliantly as a spoof car park. An essay on the website spells out more. It includes the important point that “[m]ore than most other design objects, cars can reveal a lot about the power structures in our society.”

The exhibition is open until 17.01.2021.

EMMA is in a repurposed printing press – beautiful concrete and permanently unwashed windows. It is perfect for visiting in the dark season, even in pandemic times.

Closing on the same day, 17.1.2021 at Helsinki’s HAM is another thought-provoking show. The visual artist Terike Haapoja and the writer and playwright Laura Gustafsson have put together an ensemble of three works under the umbrella, Museum of Becoming.

It’s composed of a video, Becoming, an installation of the imaginary Museum of Nonhumanity and a curated collection of works owned by the City of Helsinki, under the title Remnants.

I bought the publication called Bud Book: Manual for Earthly Living, which accompanies the video. It’s available in English and Finnish. I recommend it warmly.

“Footprints are weighty, gluttonous, profligate”, writes Radhika Subramaniam, commenting on walking in a piece that I am – obviously – going to have to revisit later.

As at EMMA, the HAM exhibition points to an atmosphere, perhaps a world, seeking lightness and open space. Both exhibitions come from awareness of things not wanted. With my preoccupation with space taken up by cars that seem to keep growing, the ‘Mini’ below, for instance, both struck me as also concerned with questions about how to make conceptual space. Room for the imagination in this cluttered situation we are in.

Another strand for me to follow up – with my #colleex preoccupations – is something put into words in the book by Satu Herrala, who, among other things, is doing a doctorate at Aalto. She asks, “What is the minimal structure necessary so as not to fill space with everything we already know, but where we could and would dare to trust and try things out”.

Had I not been so slow about writing this, I could have put in a good word for another exhibition still, the Post-fossil show that ended last month at HIAP in Suomenlinna.

But there we have it. My life was quite cluttered enough, so I didn’t write about it. There is, however, a blog, maintained by HIAP, together with the Mustarinda artist network from Kainuu, here.

Besides, the take is quite different from the HAM and EMMA shows, so just as well to save it up for another day – or not.

Kirjamme on saanut mukavasti huomiota.

Toimittajat Riikka Porttila ja Vesa Marttinen ottivat arkkitehtuurikriitikko Tarja Nurmen ja minut lämpimästi vastaan eilen aamulla – ensikokemus radion suorasta lähetyksestä oli siis mukavai.

Radio Suomen Ylen aikaisen 28.10.2015 puheosat löytyvät täältä,

Arkadia book talkJa illalla kirjasta keskusteltiin fantastiseksi kulttuuri-instituutioksi muotoutuneessa Arkadia International Bookshop:issa. Luimme aluksi osia kirjasta ja keskustelimme. Cindy Kohtala (kuvassa oikealla) on kirjoittanuti kirjaan mm. luvun yhdessä ystävänsä Andrew Patersonin kanssa Töölönlahden värikkäistä vaiheista. Arkkitehti Pia Ilosen (kuvassa vasemmalla) kertoma tarina Lasipalatsista on yksi kirjan sydäntälämmittävimimstä luvuista.

Keskustelut jatkukoon!

The book appears to be receiving some interest. Live radio in the morning at YLE with architecture critic Tarja Nurmi who has a chapter in the book (links above as you will have worked out if you read Finnish) and a book reading in the evening at Arkadia International Bookshop where Ian Bourgeot gave us a warm welcome.

May the conversation continue!

On August 29th, as usual on late-summer weekends, there were loads of things going on in Helsinki. The two events I attended required or allowed me to slow down and pay attention.

There was the twentieth anniversary party of the environmental organisation Dodo, which has left such a strong imprint on green thought in Finland. Prior to the music and dancing guests could take a walking tour from the Teurastamo or abattoir district, Helsinki’s answer to global food fashions, through many far less attention-grabbing spaces. But more on that below.

Before joining the Dodo event, I visited the opening of a Nordic environmental art exhibition on the theme of Human Era curated by Laru Art. It was in Lauttasaari, a neighbourhood that was built on an island in western Helsinki, and which is now undergoing rapid “regeneration” or transformation from an industrial to residential area. It also has a remarkable south-facing shoreline that is protected, with areas of tiny rented summer cottages as well.

The concept of Human Era or Anthropocene is in fashion, but to tackle it through art in the landscape, particularly where the city meets the sea, is an inspired move. The artists in the show explained their works in speech, but many of the works spoke clearly themselves – not least this one!

Mainio Päivä Laru Art 2015(“Superlative day understand the beauty of clouds out here under the open sky” – a twist on fridge magnet poetry)

Art helps us think the unthinkable, perhaps, or state unpalatable truths.

Political and commercial institutions seem oblivious to fact that an environmentally damaged and socially chaotic future is already here for most people. This makes the work of inspiring imaginations, making connections and eliciting emotions, in short, the work of artists, extraordinarily important. The exhibition is still in place, until 4th October 2015.

The activists of Dodo were also inspiring imaginations with their 20th-anniversary celebrations. Volunteers with experience of Dodo’s type of hands-on environmentalism had worked together with professional performers and put on a show that was a walk that made us pay attention.

They made the city a stage where all the senses would get used. And my thanks to Tuomas Aro whose b&w photos, interspersed with my snapshots below, will give you a bit of a sense of the occasion.

In the newly developed housing up the hill from Teurastamo, we stopped to think about Dodo’s great hero, urban designer Jan Gehl, and his still valid but unlearned lessons on making cities more human. Why, when the street is not meant as a thoroughfare anyway, has it been designed to be so car-friendly and family-unfriendly? By making us act out better uses for the space we’d been led to, the organisers, many of whom have professional knowledge of planning or urban policy, got us to imagine a range of possibilities. Soon residents joined in, and much civic behaviour ensued.

Dodo kavely 1We found a plot of land that will soon be a park and so switched from criticising the city authorities to recognising their good work. We watched some theatre and soaked in the smells and colours of a guerrilla garden that the city is also allowing to continue. It’s tucked away in its peace so I won’t share its co-ordinates online. I know that people who work it feel it to be one of the best things in their lives at present.

Dodo Krepsko teatteriaSome of us got wet washing the windows of the OP bank headquarters almost completed on a busy road, and wondered about the feel of architecture and parking when one is a human being. We learned also about the damage that the construction of the state-of-the art financial complex wrought on neighbouring houses built almost a century ago, many of which still contain tiled stoves to heat them. In may of Helsinki’s old flats, such pretty and practical stoves add substantially to character and price.

Dodo washing OP windowsWe found more park, more hidden treasure, some industrial area, urban rap, history lessons and simply more city than we, or at least I, had known before.

Dodo PasilassaWe ended up, of course, at Pasila’s Turntable for speeches and fun and dancing. We feasted on veggie stuff, something sustainable that Dodo has helped popularise in Finland.

DodoburgersAnd used that self-powered speaker-system of course.

Dodo kavely voimalaitosA point to make? That environmentalism is not just one thing. And a second one: we live in an urban age, environmentalism has to be about the city.

Thirdly: thanks to all responsible.

[*Solastalgia – the distress caused by environmental change]

Solastalgia, as I briefly mentioned earlier,  is caused above all by mega-scale devastation, for instance of the kind that happens when old (or current) industrial production facilities overspill their bounds. As we’ve been reading, yellow sludge in Colorado destroys life forms but it also breaks hearts and makes it harder to live. Arriving decades after industry has left, this is poison that’s not just escaped the spatial confines that were supposed to keep things in order, it’s messed with linear time too. It’s brought past troubles into the present.

But it wasn’t toxic sludge I wanted to blog about, but Helsinki’s seemingly irrational planning regime. That too, can cause a kind of solastalgia. Importantly, the damage is not done yet and the activists are still busy getting the message across that something uniquely precious is about to be squandered, an island of 82 hectares within Helsinki’s city limits on which wildlife and villa life flourish: NO CONCRETE JUNGLE IN VARTIOSAARI!

Ei betoniviidakkoa

The prospect of turning Vartiosaari into a sleepy suburb for 7 000 future residents leaves me lost for words. So, instead of them, a series of pictures taken today, Vartiosaari Day. Thank you to all those whose activity made today possible.

Waiting to be picked up from Reposalmentie

Waiting to be picked up from Reposalmentie where most of us arrived by bus or bicycle – only about 7km from the city centre

Picnic company is unimpressed by the proposed plans

Picnic company is unimpressed by the proposed plans

Many others still waiting to be shuttled to the island

Activists hung up information about the city's plans

Activists hung up information about the city’s plans

The old stalls - barn dance and nibbles and goat-petting

The old stalls – barn dance and nibbles and goat-petting

A day and a place for taking photographs

A day and a place for taking photographs


That “Sibelian” view

Ancient beacon hill

Ancient beacon hill



Photographing and talking, incredulous

Photographing and talking, incredulous

Lots of places to go on this not uninhabited island

Lots of places to go on this not uninhabited island

The biggest oak tree I've seen in Finland - they didn't cut down the forests around villas like they did everywhere else in Finland

The biggest oak tree I’ve seen in Finland – they didn’t cut down the forests around villas like they did everywhere else in Finland

Happy visitors waiting to be ferried back to the mainland by volunteers

Happy visitors waiting to be ferried back to the mainland by volunteers

More Vartiosaari information in Finnish here and and here facebook-based friends of the island here and a slightly out of date text in English by artists keen to prevent the madness from going further here. I will be there again next week to talk about nature, culture and our times.

P.S. Searching online I just found this well-informed and oh-so-beautifully written letter to the planning committee who discussed Vartiosaari in May this year. Well, well worth a read.

AvoinnaLähistölle paperikauppaa, että lapset pääsisivät hipelöimään ja vaikka ostamaan kivoja juttuja, ja minun kaltaiset ihmiset saisivat kynät ja musteet ja painavat tulostuspaperipinot helposti kotiin.

Pankkikonttorin, missä virkailijat ehtisivät hymyillä ja palvella. Pelkkä konttorikin olisi kiva.

Kemikalion. Muistatteko? Ettei kaikkea täytyisi Stokkalta noutaa.

Kirjakaupan. Eipäs. Kirjakauppoja, sellaisia asiantuntevia, joiden kautta voisi tilata haluamansa, kun ei pienen kaupan hyllyille kuitenkaan eksy kaikkia niitä teoksia, mitä juuri minä toivon.

Kauppa, josta saisi alusvaatteet ja sukat. Ettei kaikkea täytyisi Stokkalta noutaa.

Sellainen ruokakauppa olisi kiva, joka ei kuuluisi S- eikä K-ketjuihin eikä kuitenkaan olisi pullollaan pääasiassa luksustuotteita. Sellainen kauppa, joka kehittäisi valikoimansa rohkeasti oman linjansa mukaisesti, kuitenkin vuorovaikutuksessa lojaalien asiakkaiden kanssa. Sellainen, joka pitäisi yllä käyttökelpoista ja ainakin osittain kotimaista ruoan tuotantoa tukevaa valikoimaa.

Kotikaupunkia, jonka rantoja, metsiä ja hienoimpia rakennettuja ympäristöjä ei jatkuvasti kansainvälisen pääoman ja poliittisten muotien kuvitellut tarpeet uhkaisi.

Close by a newsagent and paper shop, so kids could go and rummage through their fun stuff, and people like me could get pens and inks and heavy stacks of printing paper.

A local bank branch, where the staff have time for service with a smile. Actually, just a branch would be nice.

A “kemikalio” – for toiletries and stuff. So you don’t need to get everything from Stokkers.

A bookshop. No. Bookshops, ones with expertise, and through which you could order the books you want.

A shop to buy underwear and socks. So you don’t need to get everything from Stokkers.

It would be nice to have a shop that wasn’t part of either the S or K corporate families. One with its own style and selections, that has a good rapport with customers, and that carries a substantial range of local products but that isn’t primarily a purveyor of luxury items.

A hometown whose waterfronts, forests and finest built environments weren’t under constant threat from the imagined requirements of global capital and the political fashions it supports.

AsistiaP. S.

Below are some pertinent links to set out context that inspired my thoughts above, namely the way global trends in designing cities impacts on semi-peripheral places like Helsinki. For this city, let’s be honest, has insufficient resources to resist the lure of international planning trends combined with repeated flattery (in Finnish).

To be exact, I refer, of course, to the determined efforts of the New York-based Guggenheim Foundation to leave its mark on Helsinki.

An enthusiastic view point here,

Another, more cosmopolitan-sounding view

Another, this one closer in tone to much of what a Finnish-reader might have access to,

And a possibly interesting perspective here, from the PR firm behind the achievement of getting the project back on the political agenda. In fact, over the past week, the Guggenheim has dominated it,

Today I am going to be helping to guide a bunch of Helsinki-lovers along a few familiar routes of my native city, not straying more than a thousand metres or so from where I was born.

It’s part of an international celebration of the work and legacy of urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs. And it’s thanks to the collective and ongoing enthusiasm of Finland’s dodos that some walks are going ahead here. It’s not going to be the cloudless day it was yesterday, but I think it’ll be a good day for a walk. Just like it so often is in these parts.

We will be meeting at 1.30 on the southern edge of the Meilahti hospital campus at the Children’s Castle hospital. We will walk along the leafy seaside edge of Taka (or Rear) Töölö (“architecturally highly valued”) and wend our way via Helsinki’s favourite beach, a historic “pavilion” and a seaside cemetary to another hospital in Kamppi, Maria. There we’ll pick up the end of the Baana cycle-route (the ex-railway) and end up at Jätkäsaari’s Huutokonttori, a show-site of 21st century construction surrounded by plenty of building site. A café and other facilities will be open until 17.00.

Reittimme lähtee Meilahdesta ja jatkuu kulttuurihistoriallisesti ja rakennustaiteellisesti arvokkaan Taka-Töölön länsipuolitse pitkin Taivallahden rantaa. Käydään Hietaniemen uimarannalla ja hautausmaalla, poiketaan Marian Sairaalalla, nähdään Baana ja päädytään Jätkäsaaren infokeskukseen eli Huutokonttorille.

Meilahti (eli kaupunginosa numero 15), Taka-Töölö (14), Etu-Töölö (13), Kamppi (04), Länsisatama (20). Matkan varrella mm.:

* Lastenlinna (Elsi Borgin, Otto Flodinin ja Olavi Sortan suunnittelema). Rappauksen taidonnäyte – Yrjö Kyllösen työtä.

Puistoa ja muuta mukavaa.

Soutustadion ja Merimelojat sekä erilaisia ravitsemuspalveluja.

Mattolaituri, maitokauppa, venesatama. Hesperian Esplanadin länsipää.

Suomen Ympäristökeskus, entinen Yleisradion toimitalo, 1968.

* Taivallahden Kasarmit 1945-5, Martta Markikainen (myöh. Ypyä) ja Märtha Lilius-Tallroth. Helsingin ensimmäisiä funkkisrakennuksia. Esimerkki “puolustusministeriön 1930-luvun alun pyrkimyksistä optimaalisesti mitoitettuun, tarkoituksenmukaiseen, kestävään ja hygieeniseen arkkitehtuuriin”. Puolustusvoimat muutti pois 2000. “Tyhjillään olo on rapauttanut rakennuksen kunnon nopeasti”. (H:ki. Asemakaavan muutosselostus 2013).

* Hietarannan paviljonki – 1930 Gunnar Taucher

Hietaniemen hautausmaa, perustettu 1829.

Kulkutauteihin alunperin erikoistunut Marian Sairaala – tällä paikalla vuodesta 1873 – tällä nimellä vuodesta 1894.

Baana, avattu 2012.

Huutokonttori, Tyynenmerenkatu 1, ja rakennustyömaata.

Ja facebook linkin kautta näkyy, miten joku siellä Janeswalk-organisaatiossa on lähtenyt markkinoimaan kävelyämme:

Helsingin Kaupunkisuunnittelulautakunta kokoontuu ylihuomenna päättämään – taas kerran – Pasilan läpi aiotusta uudesta suurväylästä, Veturitiestä.

Vaikka Helsinki muiden “menestyskaupunkien” tavoin hehkuttaa ympäristöystävällisyyttään, tässä ollaan nyt rakentamassa sellaista asfalttikenttää keskelle tulevaa asuinaluetta, että luulisi menneensä aikakoneessa 60-luvulle.

Veturitie KSV 4.2013Veturitie tämän näköisenä on käytännössä läpikulkuväylä. Näin isolla tiellä ajetaan lujaa, mikä tekee sitten mahdottomaksi mitkään yritykset toteuttaa ihmisen mittaista kaupunkia.

Näitä päätöksiä sekä Pasilan katuverkosta että tulevan keskustakorttelin suunnittelulähtökohdista on jo tehty kaikessa hiljaisuudessa useiden vuosien ajan. Jaksaako kukaan oikeasti niitä enää seurata? Taitavat uskoa järkyttyneet helsinkiläiset vihreätkin, ettei mitään ole tehtävissä.

Jotkut toki jaksavat pohtia parempaakin.

Pasilan vanhoilla veturitalleilla uutta urbaania elämää jo usean vuoden ajan tuottaneet Kääntöpöytä-kaupunkiviljelyprojektin aktiivit ovat visioineet mainion vaihtoehdon liikennekurjuudelle täällä.

Muuallakin Helsingissä ollaan heräämässä siihen, että kaupunkeja tehdään, ja että tätäkin kaupunkia voidaan tehdä hyvin tai sitten huonosti. Omasta mielestäni tähän mennessä Helsinkiä on pääasiassa tehty aika hyvin – on kansainvälisesti kehuttua umpikorttelikeskustaa upeine jugend-luomuksineen, on puistoa, kaupunkimetsää ja rantaa. Julkinen liikenne on ihan OK, kunhan sen ei anneta rapistua. Ja meillä on myös toimivaa ja rakastettua modernia lähiötä. Paikallisaktiivit ja jotkut suunnittelijatkin ovat alkaneet tajuta niidenkin arvon. Ja saattaahan noista uudemmista alueista – Arabianrannasta vaikka – vielä ehkä saada ihan kunnollisia asuinalueita, joilla on vahva identiteetti ja joissa on hyDoc Lounge 4.4.2013vä elää.

Tällaisista asioista keskusteltiin ihastuttavan moniäänisesti torstaina Doc Loungen järjestämän elokuvaillan päätteeksi. Ensin nähtiin mainio The Human Scale. Sitten puhuttiin kaupungin järjettömyydestä.

Mukana keskustelussa olivat Elon dokumentaarisen elokuvan proffa Susanna Helke, yhdyskuntasuunnittelun proffa Kimmo Lapintie, We Love Helsingin toiminnanjohtaja Timo Santala ja allekirjoittanut, antropologian tohtori, dosentti Eeva Berglund.

Antropologi on myös ohjaajakin, Andreas Dalsgaard. Sen osasi leffasta melkein arvata. Elokuvan näkökulma kun on ihmisen (antroposin).

Yksi elokuvan pääviesteistä on, että kaupunki, joka on suunniteltu autoille eikä ihmisille on tietenkin hyvä autoille ja huono ihmisille.

Pääasiallinen elokuvan sankari on silti tanskalainen Jan Gehl, arkkitehti joka on vuosikymmenet levittänyt tätä sanomaa. Yksityiskohdista ja erilaisista konteksteista voi hyvin edelleen väitellä, mutta Gehlin perusoppia on vaikea kiistää: ihminen viihtyy parhaiten ihmisille suunnitellussa ympäristössä, ja kaupunki, joka näillä periaatteilla suunnitellaan myös kukoistaa.

Niinpä herää kysymys Helsingin liikennesuunnittelijoille: miksi he eivät ole tätä oppia sisäistäneet? Vai onko ylimitoitetun tien kiiruhtamisen taustalla sittenkin jokin finansseihin liittyvä fantasia?

Ville Ylönen, Diplomityö: Hietarannan vanhan pukusuojarakennuksen korjaus- ja muutossuunnitelma kyätaloksi, Aalto Yliopisto 2012

Ville Ylönen, Diplomityö: Hietarannan vanhan pukusuojarakennuksen korjaus- ja muutossuunnitelma kyätaloksi, Aalto Yliopisto 2012

torstaina 10.1.2013

Hietsun vanhan paviljongin purkupäätös olisi käsittämätön

Eeva Berglund

Kau­pun­gin­hal­li­tus jät­ti maa­nan­tai­na 7. tam­mi­kuu­ta Hie­ta­ran­nan kiis­ta­ka­pu­lak­si nous­seen pui­sen pa­vil­jon­gin tu­le­vai­suu­den vii­kok­si pöy­däl­le. Ra­ken­nus, jo­ka on ilah­dut­ta­nut ja pal­vel­lut hel­sin­ki­läi­siä jo vuo­des­ta 1930, saa­te­taan pur­kaa.

Mar­ja Sa­lo­maan kir­joi­tus (HS Kau­pun­ki 8. 1.) ab­sur­din ti­lan­teen taus­tois­ta oli su­rul­li­nen ja kä­sit­tä­mä­tön ta­ri­na laa­jem­mas­ta­kin Hel­sin­kiä vai­vaa­vas­ta on­gel­mas­ta.

Kun me­neil­lään ole­va val­ta­va muu­tos mai­ni­taan juh­la­pu­heis­sa, muis­te­taan ai­na sa­noa, et­tä hel­sin­ki­läi­nen ra­ken­net­tu ym­pä­ris­tö on ul­ko­mai­ta myö­ten ar­vos­tet­tua. Ai­ka­kau­teen kuu­luu myös se, et­tä hel­sin­ki­läi­siä ke­ho­te­taan oma-aloit­tei­suu­teen myös kau­pun­kin­sa pa­ran­ta­mi­ses­sa. Sa­maan ai­kaan kui­ten­kin vä­lin­pi­tä­mä­tön suun­nit­te­lu uh­kaa pi­la­ta Hel­sin­gin kau­neu­den ja viih­ty­vyy­den.

Yli­ol­kai­nen asen­ne asuk­kai­ta koh­taan ma­sen­taa ja vaa­ran­taa ra­ken­ta­vat­kin aloit­teet.

Asu­kas­jär­jes­töt ovat usein pyr­ki­neet vuo­ro­pu­he­luun kau­pun­gin kans­sa, ja usei­ta vaih­to­eh­toi­sia ja kun­nian­hi­moi­sia­kin suun­ni­tel­mia on tee­tet­ty. Muu­ta­ma nä­ke­mä­ni on tar­jon­nut mie­les­tä­ni vi­ras­to­jen ja suur­ten ra­ken­nus­fir­mo­jen mas­sa­tuo­tan­toa oleel­li­ses­ti hie­nos­tu­neem­pia ja mie­len­kiin­toi­sem­pia rat­kai­su­ja. Nii­tä voi­si ot­taa va­ka­vas­ti useam­min­kin.

Pait­si et­tä ta­paus Hie­ta­ran­ta osoit­taa kau­pun­gin vä­lin­pi­tä­mät­tö­myyt­tä kult­tuu­ri­his­to­riaam­me koh­taan, se koet­te­lee myös oi­keu­den­ta­jua.

Mar­ras­kuun lo­pus­sa­han il­moi­tet­tiin, et­tä kiin­teis­tö­vi­ras­to myi­si Gun­nar Tauc­he­rin suun­nit­te­le­man mie­len­kiin­toi­sen puu­ra­ken­nuk­sen kau­pun­ki­ak­tii­veil­le kun­nos­tet­ta­vak­si. Se oli hie­no pää­tös, an­sait­tu luot­ta­muk­sen osoi­tus ja kii­tos sii­tä suu­res­ta ja ar­vok­kaas­ta työs­tä, jo­ta oma-aloit­tei­set ih­mi­set ovat vuo­sien mit­taan ra­ken­nuk­sen pe­las­ta­mi­sek­si teh­neet.

Sa­lo­maan mu­kaan hal­lin­nos­sa ei tä­tä ole juu­ri­kaan osat­tu ar­vos­taa. Mut­ta kun kau­nis ra­ken­nus on jä­tet­ty rap­peu­tu­maan, myyn­ti­pää­tök­sen hä­ti­köi­ty pe­ru­mi­nen on kä­sit­tä­mä­tön­tä juu­ri nyt, kun in­no­va­tii­vi­nen rat­kai­su­kin oli­si nä­kö­pii­ris­sä.

Pur­kua on pe­rus­tel­tu muun muas­sa sil­lä, et­tä alueell­la oli­si on­gel­mal­lis­ta pyö­rit­tää kah­ta kah­vi­laa. Tii­vis­ty­väs­sä kau­pun­gis­sa lie­nee ti­laa useam­mal­le yrit­tä­jäl­le näin hie­nol­la pai­kal­la.

Toi­nen pe­rus­te­lu löy­tyy apu­lais­kau­pun­gin­joh­ta­ja Han­nu Pent­ti­län al­le­kir­joit­ta­mas­ta esi­tyk­ses­tä kau­pun­gin­hal­li­tuk­sel­le. Sen mu­kaan ra­ken­nus on huo­no­kun­toi­nen ja ym­pä­ris­töään “ny­kyi­sel­lään kiis­tat­ta ru­men­ta­va”, niin­pä “ti­lan­tees­sa, jos­sa ei ole edel­ly­tyk­siä luo­tet­ta­vas­ti ar­vioi­da sen säi­lyt­tä­mi­sen ja no­pean kun­nos­ta­mi­sen rea­lis­ti­sia mah­dol­li­suuk­sia” se on pu­ret­ta­va. Täl­lai­set väit­teet tun­tu­vat se­kä pa­hoil­ta et­tä asian­tun­te­mat­to­mil­ta.

Mi­tä pi­kais­ta pur­kua ha­lua­vat pel­kää­vät? Va­paa­eh­toi­set ovat sin­nik­kyy­ten­sä osoit­ta­neet ja heil­lä on re­surs­se­ja teh­dä uraa­uur­ta­vaa työ­tä yh­tei­sek­si hy­väk­si. Laa­dit­ta­koon kaup­pa- ja vuok­ra­kir­jat si­ten, et­tei kau­pun­gil­le tu­le yli­mää­räi­siä kus­tan­nuk­sia. Jo myyn­nil­lä kau­pun­ki sääs­te­täi­si ar­vioi­dut yli 90 000 eu­roa pur­ku­kus­tan­nuk­sis­sa.

Oli­si kä­sit­tä­mä­tön­tä, jos kau­pun­ki ei voi­si tar­jo­ta pa­vil­jon­gin puo­lus­ta­jil­le edes mah­dol­li­suut­ta.

Ee­va Berg­lund
Etu-Töö­lö, Hel­sin­ki

En ihan muista, miksi laitoin Etu-Töölö, tai miksi käytin usein-sanaa ja se johdannaisia niin paljon, mutta kiva nähdä lehdessä.

Myös Hufvudstadstbladet on julkaissut aiheesta eilen: