Helsinki at a historic juncture
Helsinki has entered the biggest construction boom in the city’s history, following the move of former freight port operations away from central city sites to a new harbour in Vuosaari in eastern Helsinki. The move has vacated large areas for redevelopment to include housing, services and commerce.
The new development will create compact city sections. The development is carried out on the “mixed-use principle” – jobs are mixed with many types of housing for different income groups, to avoid segregation along income lines and long commutes. Helsinki seeks to strengthen the city’s concentrations of excellence in arts and sciences by creating specialized districts, such as Viikki built around the University of Helsinki’s biosciences departments and Finland’s largest biosciences concentration.
City planning plays a crucial role as Helsinki redefines its future.
City according to plan
City planning has traditionally been a strong force in the development of Helsinki. As early as 1810, one year after Finland was annexed to the Russian Empire as an autonomous Grand Duchy and two years before Helsinki was made the capital of Finland, work got underway from scratch to prepare a plan for Helsinki. The work was headed by Johan Albrecht Ehrenström (1762-1847), who drew up a plan with straight, wide streets placed on a geometric grid. Today, Helsinki stands out against its European peers, many of which have grown from trading places with medieval-style plans characterized by narrow and winding alleys. The main buildings during the early years of the capital were designed by Berlin architect Carl Ludwig Engel (1778-1840). The result was Helsinki’s Neo-Classical city centre.
In 1918, just after the Finnish independence, world-famous Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen produced a master plan for Greater Helsinki, with a vision for a capital city of an independent nation. Reflections of this plan can still be seen in today’s Helsinki. Later another world-famous Finnish architect, modernist Alvar Aalto drew a master plan for the city centre. Many other significant architects have planned Helsinki.
City planning today
Since 1964, city planning in Helsinki has been the responsibility of Helsinki City Planning Department. The department’s tasks are the structural and architectural development of Helsinki and include master planning and town planning. The department’s responsibilities also include transportation and traffic planning. The staff numbers close to 300, one-third of whom are architects and another third engineers.
The Helsinki master plan is a general plan for organizing traffic and land use, which covers the entire city and controls town planning. The master plan is revised at approximately every ten years. Town planning is a continuous process because of the constant changes that take place in society.
A large number of city planning projects are underway at the City Planning Department at any time. The department posts the responsible architects and teams on its web pages (list in Finnish).
Helsinki has a strong tradition of planning and architectural competitions. For example, a planning competition named Greater Helsinki Vision 2050 was organized in 2006-07 to help draft the Helsinki region’s future in land use, housing and traffic to 2050. To envision how to develop Helsinki’s South Harbour, the City organized an open international ideas competition in 2011. With an international design competition for Kruunusillat (Crown Bridges), the City seeks a high-quality solution for a major bridge in a demanding environment in terms of landscape and cultural-historical perspectives.
Most of the major public buildings in Helsinki are results of architectural competitions. For example, the City develops a new Central Library, envisioned to be a library of the future, with an open international competition.
City planning in service of the public
Helsinki city planning is an interactive process with the general public. Every citizen has an opportunity to obtain information on current plans and express opinions on the plans.
Every year the Helsinki City Planning Department publishes a city planning review, a complete report on all planning projects in the city, and distributes it to all Helsinki households. The review is in Finnish and Swedish with an English summary.
The department runs the city-planning meeting place Laituri in a former bus terminal building in downtown Helsinki, which hosts exhibitions, distributes information and organizes meetings and events on the planning and development of Helsinki.