Cities growing fast present several structural and service issues including housing, transport, energy and allocating green space. The best answer to tackle these issues is planning ahead, taking into account environment preservation and what the local population wants for their neighborhoods.
A group of young urbanist, Urban Helsinki, decided to take the challenge and drafted their plan by working on surveys completed by the inhabitants of the Finnish capital.
Founded during a pre-Christmas dinner in 2013 by 7 young urbanists, Urban Helsinki’s first goal was to elaborate an alternative plan for the city. They thought the current planning should be relevant to the needs of the city’s inhabitants.
Their project would have to be a proposition to the fast rise of housing prices in the inner city which was the logical outcome of an increasing unsatisfied demand facing a lack of supply. Their proposition was simple: make the city more diverse, build denser, but build smart (e.g. avoid environmental destruction unless it’s absolutely necessary), and let people participate.
By analysing a survey done by the city, Urban Helsinki was able to draft a plan that would be close to the inhabitants’ expectations. In addition to this, the group collected ideas through online forums and through a workshop aiming at the young and urban generation. In a second phase, after the publication of their first draft, the collective gathered feedback of the public and they are still working on it to make small modification on the plan and be the most obedient possible to the people’s demand.
By thinking this way, the group realized the great potential of their plan:
We took the density and urban form of the current inner city as the general goal for all new neighborhoods we’d suggest and quickly learned that we could easily fit twice the amount of people the City Planning Department’s draft plan would while leaving the city’s current green spaces practically untouched – Timo Hämäläinen, from Urban Helsinki in an interview by Rashiq Fataar in Future Cape Town.
In the interview mentioned above, Timo Hämäläinen cites five interesting key components to a good planning for Helsinki:
- Understanding urban communities and lifestyles to create the cities that suit them;
- Districts need to be sufficiently large (100,000 people) to have a sufficient customer-base for a reasonable selection of services;
- Mixing uses is obligatory for prosperous cities;
- Walking and cycling must always be prioritized. And a transportation system with a maximum distance of 500m from most apartments and jobs to a rail transit stop is lucrative enough that people will use it;
- The current norms and regulations guiding city building and construction need to be re-evaluated for the development of urban neighborhoods. Currently it would be illegal to build anything comparable to the inner city.
Their project quickly got a lot of public attention and they were contacted by official planners and decision makers, especially when their website was launched in 2014 at the same time as a series of proposition.
We got invited to speak to the directors of the department and the entire master planning division while only drafting our plan. I don’t believe that would have been possible had we been mere citizens interested in urban planning. During these discussions we received comments and advice from the City Planning Department.
The results of the discussions between Urban Helsinki, official urban planners, and the inhabitants of the Finnish capital, are yet to be seen in the development of the city but it’s the first time a dialogue of that kind takes place in Finland.