Friday, 8 June 2007

New York 2106





[via City of Sound's excellent coverage of the Postopolis event]

Great work by Terreform - a studio formed by Mitchell Joachim and Michael Sorkin, reimagining New York in 2106.

This proposal inverts the existing urban form of greater New York, the grid of streets becoming the site for building, and the current city blocks the zone for "greenfill".

"We propose transformation via a radical strategy: the reversal of figure and ground, of public and private property. We begin with citywide “greenfill,” the immediate transfer of half the aggregate of street space from the vehicular to the pedestrian and public realm. Later, the streets become building sites and, as new, highly autonomous, buildings grow in intersections and wind their way down streets and avenues and through vacant lots, the old, deteriorated, fabric will fade away to be replaced both by an abundance of productive green space and by a new labyrinth of irregular blocks, a paradise for people on foot. Fast movement will be accomplished underground in a superbly modernized subway and along the rivers and new cross-island channels. The city streets – extended in their length but reduced in their area – will support a marvelous technology we know to be just over the horizon, some fabulous and slow conveyance summoned with a whistle or collapsed into a pocket."


This radical inversion will theoretically allow New York to be become self-sufficient in it's vital necessities including food, energy and waste processing.

The plan proposes a radical greening of New York, with rivers/ canals bisecting Manhattan into 4 smaller islands.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Modern movements in Mass Transit



While the idea of a Car Free Helsinki might be a little ambitious, there seems to me to be a growing sense that we have let cars dominate our cities and town planning for too long, and that this acquiescence to the cult of the car should end.

Correspondent to any change in the level of cars on our roads must come innovation in public transport, or Mass Transit as the Americans like to call it.

A great slideshow in BusinessWeek magazine shows a selection of recent innovations in transport alternatives, from an automated metro for Dubai to Personal Rapid Transport at Heathrow, and the new Fastech 360 Shinkansen which are expected to travel at 360 kph.

Meanwhile, Good magazine unveils "Five innovations in urban transportation that you won’t find in America, yet". Most of the ideas presented there are as much about thinking laterally as any technological fix.

"Subways are expensive—in fact, an 11-mile, 21-station addition to Athens’s subway system, opened in 2000, cost more than $3.6 billion. As a result, subways are often limited to high-density areas in order to recover their costs; even then, most systems require a substantial subsidy."


(I took this quote to heart when thinking about the plan to create a new Metro line to the East of Helsinki, joining up the chain of islands. Bridges would be a much beeter idea).

Most of these ideas are a long way away from traditional transport policy. In NYC, Mayor Bloomberg famously said: "We like traffic, it means economic activity, it means people coming here."

Resisting the power of the automobile creates new design opportunities for urban areas. An article at Celsias.org, Designing Cities for People, Rather than Cars…, looks at the example of Bogata Columbia:

"In response to these conditions, we are seeing the emergence of a new urbanism. One of the most remarkable modern urban transformations has occurred in Bogotá, Colombia, where Enrique Peñalosa served as Mayor for three years, beginning in 1998. When he took office he did not ask how life could be improved for the 30 percent who owned cars; he wanted to know what could be done for the 70 percent–the majority–who did not own cars.

Peñalosa realized that a city that is a pleasant environment for children and the elderly would work for everyone. In just a few years, he transformed the quality of urban life with his vision of a city designed for people. Under his leadership, the city banned the parking of cars on sidewalks, created or renovated 1,200 parks, introduced a highly successful bus-based rapid transit system, built hundreds of kilometers of bicycle paths and pedestrian streets, reduced rush hour traffic by 40 percent, planted 100,000 trees, and involved local citizens directly in the improvement of their neighborhoods. In doing this, he created a sense of civic pride among the city’s 8 million residents, making the streets of Bogotá in strife-torn Colombia safer than those in Washington, D.C."


Perhaps by 2050 we'll look back and see the domination of our cities by private automobiles as a peculiar aberration, or will we still be in love with the car, and continue to let it dictate the shape of our urban future?

London 2071



"Perched between brooding mountains and surrounded by vineyards, the Portuguese town of Vila Real may seem a world away from the chaos of central London."


First noted on BldgBlog, a recent article in the Guardian looked at London in the year 2071 from a climate change point of view, and estimated that it's climate then would resemble that of Portugal now.

They warn that average temperatures across Britain will reach 3C higher than today, peaking at 5C higher in the south-east. Night will offer little respite.

Each 1C of warming takes an extra hour to dissipate, so the south could feel as warm at midnight on summer evenings as it does at 7pm today. Summer rain on the south coast could be down to just half current levels, well over 40% down across the rest of England and about 30% down in Scotland. Winter rainfall in scattered eastern parts could peak at more than 30% above current levels, and is likely to fall in heavy bursts.


With this reduced rainfall levels, England would have to pipe water in, perhaps down from Scotland.

A map by scientists from the International Centre for Research on the Environment and Development in Nogent-sur-Marne, France, and the University of Bremen, created a map, replotting the position of 12 European capitals based on their projected climate futures. Whilst Oslo and Stockholm are both predicted to have Spanish climates, the prediction for Helsinki is more that of a mid-European city like Prague.

As BldgBlog points out, the architecture of northern cities like Helsinki will have to change gradually as it acclimatises to the new temperature and rainfall patterns.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

London 2066








When you start looking, you find urban visions of the future everywhere. Here's a drawing of London 2066, as envisioned by Zaha Hadid for Vogue magazine in 1991.

Inspirational stuff.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Real Time Rome









First exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Real Time Rome from MIT's SENSEable City Lab is an attempt to map the city via it's network of mobile devices, including phones, buses and taxis, in an attempt to understand urban dynamic, perhaps with a view to unlocking new ways to view cities and plan future development.

"In today's world, wireless mobile communications devices are creating new dimensions of interconnectedness between people, places, and urban infrastructure. This ubiquitous connectivity within the urban population can be observed and interpreted in real-time, through aggregate records collected from communication networks. Real-time visualizations expose the dynamics of the contemporary city as urban systems coalesce: traces of information and communication networks, movement patterns of people and transportation systems, spatial and social usage of streets and neighborhoods. Observing the real-time city becomes a means to understanding the present and anticipating the future of urban environments. In the visualizations of Real Time Rome we synthesize data from various real-time networks to understand patterns of daily life in Rome. We interpolate the aggregate mobility of people according to their mobile phone usage and visualize it synchronously with the flux of public transit, pedestrians, and vehicular traffic. By overlaying mobility information on geographic and socio-economic references of Rome we unveil the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements. These real-time maps help us understand how neighborhoods are used in the course of a day, how the distribution of buses and taxis correlates with densities of people, how goods and services are distributed in the city, or how different social groups, such as tourists and residents, inhabit the city. With the resulting visualizations users can interpret and react to the shifting urban environment. Real Time Rome respects individual privacy and only uses aggregate data already collected by communication service providers; also, it is hoped that the exhibit will stimulate dialogue on access and responsible use of such data."



More from a PDF:
"From an individual’s perspective: what would be the best and most crowded place to drink an aperitivo in Rome? And what would be the fastest way to reach it by car, taxi or bus? From a general planning perspective: how do cars and pedestrians merge in the city? Where and when are urban resources squandered in traffic jams? How do tourists inhabit the urban realm? What is the pulse of the city and how is it affected by special events, such as the World Cup victory celebrations? The Real Time Rome project synthesizes data from communications and transportation networks into visualizations that help us decipher patterns of daily life in Rome. With aggregate information from mobile phones, made available through the innovative Lochness platform by Telecom Italia, the project interpolates the combined activity of people and presents it synchronously with the flux of public transportation and taxis. By overlaying mobility information on the geographic references of a city, Real Time Rome unveils the relationships between fixed and fluid urban elements."


Generally when it comes to visualising infrastructure we look at transport networks: road, rail, canals etc, but neglect these invisible networks of information systems, the dynamic urbanism of data flows. As more of our lives are mediated to virtual domains, a true understanding of a city must also take into account the data infrastructure and non-physical communication structures as well. Helsinki is well placed to present a virtual datacity intertwined with the physical site of roads and walls.

Monday, 16 April 2007

Car free Helsinki




Could Helsinki be the first major city besides Venice to forbid personal automotive transport? While small scale car-free zones exist such as in Copenhagen, and many European cities (with Gent perhaps the most extensive car-free area), many of these decisions are based on practical considerations within medieval streetplans.

Helsinki already has a small car-free area on the island fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Too often, being car-free is seen as a Luddite, retrograde step, with visions of Amish buggywhips. But Helsinki could show how it might be a progressive, technologically forward step to forgo personal automotive transport in favour of cycling, walking, mass transit. Developments in communications technology are already profoundly affecting modes of working, refiguring the role of a central business district, and lessening the transport strain of a twice-daily rush hour.

Reducing the dominance of the car offers up two exciting possibilities for the development of Helsinki in 2050. Firstly, it would allow the arterial routes to become multi-functional zones, combining transport links, linear parks and high-density housing. Secondly, it could help prevent sprawl and suburbanization, and increase the housing density in the centres. Shrinking the city becomes a positive step.

If this sounds like New Urbanism, don't be alarmed. Unfortunately, most car-free concepts, such as carfree.com are suspiciously regressive. I'm not proposing an ersatz, cosy Leon Krier-esque townscape, nor the banal, venal pedestrianisation that bedevils the UK's car-free areas. We can explore new typologies of streetscape, intertwined combinations of transport, housing, commercial space and parkland. Streetscape would no longer be defined by a building line separated by 12-20m for a two-lane blacktop.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Tokyo Fibercity 2050







Issue 63 of JA magazine projects possible pathways of development for Tokyo, Created by Prof. Ohno Hidetosh and his laboratory at the Univesity of Tokyo, it aims to create a new planning paradigm that will address environmental problems and demographic changes. The idea of the 'Fibercity' is adopted, describing structures that extend in a linear fashion such as transportation and communication networks - basically referring to speed and movement. This challenges the harmonious atomic model of traditional Western planning by recognising that mobility is now the central characteristic of conurbations and proposing exchange and interaction rather than production as the basis for structure.

The 'Fibercity' concept extends into four urban design strategies, Green Finger, Green Web, Green Partition and Urban Wrinkes, each of which project an attempt to change Tokyo by manipulating spatial fibres. The journal describes and illustrates these strategies in detail, as well as showing various historic, contemporary and projected aspects of Tokyo.

While as a sprawling metropolis Tokyo has a different set of circumstances, many of the design strategies could also be applied to Helsinki. Aspects of these design strategies echo Alexander's Pattern Language - eg number 3 City Country Fingers.

The Fibercity web site describes a Fiber as follows:

"A Fiber can be understood as an organizing grain or thread, in terms of city form it is a linear space."

"Fibers are spaces with velocity."

"Each of four urban strategies for the realization of the fiber city, namely Urban Wrinkle, Green Web, Green Partition and Green Finger is a strategy for altering the character of the city through careful manipulation of existing linear elements, or fibers. It should be noted however that these strategies are not only aimed towards a single purpose, but rather address several interrelated objectives, including: the reactivation of the city, disaster mitigation, amendment of transportation policy, and the enrichment of green space."

"Fiber City is flexible like fabric, made up of many textures, and upon inspection consists of repeating analagous patterns of different scales that have a fractal character."

Friday, 23 March 2007

City as Playground



A generation of children are growing up totally disconnected from their environment. A great article at BoingBoing highlights some new initiatives to "reclaim the idea of outdoor play for kids".

The article links to a piece by Richard Louv called "No Child Left Inside", an evocative clarion call to greater engagement with outdoor activity.

"To some extent, the movement is fueled by organizational or economic self-interest. But something deeper is going on here. With its nearly universal appeal, this issue seems to hint at a more atavistic motivation. It may have something to do with what Harvard professor E. O. Wilson calls the biophilia hypothesis, which is that human beings are innately attracted to nature: biologically, we are all still hunters and gatherers, and there is something in us, which we do not fully understand, that needs an occasional immersion in nature. We do know that when people talk about the disconnect between children and nature—if they are old enough to remember a time when outdoor play was the norm—they almost always tell stories about their own childhoods: this tree house or fort, that special woods or ditch or creek or meadow. They recall those “places of initiation,” in the words of naturalist Bob Pyle, where they may have first sensed with awe and wonder the largeness of the world seen and unseen. When people share these stories, their cultural, political, and religious walls come tumbling down."

As the BoingBoing piece continues, in Germany there are 'Waldkindergarten,' kindergartens based in the woods where the kids spend all day.

At a slightly more prosaic level Pott Row First School, in Norfolk, England, is giving every child waterproof clothing and aims to have half it's lessons outside.

The facts are that children play far less outside than ever before, despite evidence that there is no greater 'stranger danger' now than ever before, though dangers from road traffic are certainly a valid factor. Will children disconnected from their external environment grow up to be adults with no sense of place and belonging?

"Yes, there are risks outside our homes. But there are also risks in raising children under virtual protective house arrest: threats to their independent judgment and value of place, to their ability to feel awe and wonder, to their sense of stewardship for the Earth—and, most immediately, threats to their psychological and physical health."

But the concept of city as playground can be extended beyond children and into adulthood. Skateboarders and free runners ('parkour' - examples here and here), for example, view and engage with the city in a totally different way than that devised by architects and urbanists.

We can overlay opportunities for fun and exploration over the urban and natural fabric of the city. PacManhattan for instance, treats city blocks as part of a grid for a virtual reality game, using Wi-Fi and cellphones to spatialise the video game. Other augmented reality games, or so called alternate reality games such as Perplexcity overlap and combine fictional narratives with real world places. Nokia have dabbled in the ARG market with the imaginativly titled Nokia Game

The brief for the Greater Helsinki Vision is very concerned with environemntal issues, and makes great claims to Helsinki's natural beauty. Any visions we have for Helsinki must balance landscape with townscape. We should explore new typologies of both the urban fabric and built form that seek to break down these artificial distinctions.

Let us break the artificial, temerous divide between rural and urban, real and virtual, and regard it all as landscape, a playground.

Team Helsinki

Thursday, 22 March 2007

SWOT: Business & the Economy

Strengths

  • Metropolitan area centre of Finnish economic activity.
  • Rapid economic growth has put Finland in a strong economic position. 15 richest countries in the world.
  • Strong innovation based economy.
  • One of the world’s most competitive economies.
  • Lowest inflation rate in Europe.
  • Belief in the power of social capital and cooperation is a major competitive advantage.
  • One of the world’s most advanced countries in terms of exploiting the potential of IT.
  • Continued investment from public and private sector in R&D.
  • Cooperation between universities and private sector R&D.
  • Continued investment in education and training.
  • World leader in mobile communications technology.

Weaknesses

  • Remote location and small population have historically been economic challenges.
  • High rate of unemployment.
  • High consumer prices

Opportunities

  • Technological advances removing barriers to international trade.
  • A global example that a commitment to social equality need not disadvantage a country’s economic performance.
  • Projected growth of biotechnology sector centred on Viikki.

Threats

  • Increasing inequality in levels of personal income.
  • Dominance of the communication sector leaves economy vulnerable to downturn.
  • House price volatility has damaging affect on wider economy.
  • Aging population a challenge for continued income growth.

SWOT: Transport

Strengths

  • Clean and efficient public transport system with international reputation.
  • Good park and ride system.
  • Low ticket prices on public transport.
  • Expanding commuter rail and metro system.
  • Public transport system increasingly running with environmentally sound vehicles.
  • Extensive cycle network.
  • Metropolitan area has good international transport links for passengers and cargo.
  • Good rail links through Russia to China and the Pacific Coast.

Weaknesses

  • Energy consumption per capita on transport twice that of European average.
  • Low population density makes average journeys longer.
  • Public transport weak in cross city directions resulting in increased traffic congestion.
  • Rush hour congestion in suburbs.
  • Sea lanes freeze in winter.

Opportunities

  • Intensified urban structure would make public transport provision easier to provide.
  • Opportunity to be a worldwide leader in the implementation of sustainable public transport.
  • Bridge link to Tallinn would make overland link to the heart of Europe and symbolically link Helsinki to Europe.

Threats

  • Population growth leading to increased congestion and vehicle emissions.
  • Underinvestment in public transport.

SWOT: Housing

Strengths

  • Relatively low number of areas with concentrations of poverty.
  • High quality, inclusive public sector housing with strong international reputation.
  • Public sector housing in physically good repair.
  • Public sector housing policy promotes social equality.
  • HITAS system provides affordable housing for middle income earners.

Weaknesses

  • Lack of joined up regional housing policy resulting in a shortage of available land for new public housing.
  • Shortage of sites for new housing puts upward pressure on house prices.
  • Disincentives for municipalities to provide sites for new housing.
  • Urban sprawl.

Opportunities

  • Decline in perception of public housing in relatively early stages.
  • Opportunity to be at the forefront of innovations in housing design that responds to changing social and environmental priorities.
  • Low population density provides opportunity for growth on intensified existing urban sites.
  • Potential trade off between local income tax and property tax to stabilize house prices.

Threats

  • Emerging ghettos in the east of the city.
  • Private sector housing prone to price instability. Boom and bust.
  • Increased social issues in public sector housing (vandalism and crime) may result in those who can moving out leaving this as a housing of last resort.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Soft City

Quoting from this article about Amsterdam;

According to the French urbanist Lefebvre ‘the right of the city signifies the right of citizens and city dwellers, (...), to appear on all the networks and circuits of communication, information and exchange.’ We need to re-imagine what a real Creative City would look like. Let the first condition be that it’s software runs on programming that is ‘open source’.

This article and further ones on Amsterdam in Mute are worth reading for all of us. Amsterdam is a good example for us (as is Barcelona) because it is self consciously pursuing these policies which are in effect unspoken policies in Helsinki at the moment, and it is important that we don't fall into the 'branding' of Helsinki like Amsterdam in its IAmsterdam pr seems to be doing. There are though ideas behind this that are really useful in the last few posts over here. What does a Helsinki Operating system mean for transport, infrastructure and nature and the inhabitants of Helsinki? How do we enable the people to get more out of their operating system and reinvigorate the physical and social tissue of the city.

open source

Kosmograd opened the discussion of the potential for the city to manifest as an operating system. Currently a city runs a number of applications- transport, telecom, security, social customs, etc. in multiple ways. The example of the travel guide was offered as a means of explaining how to use a city to the new visitor.

Kosmograd:

What strikes me about this paradigm is that while uniformity and standardisation might be good for computer operating systems, it's not such as good thing for cities. We want our cities to be unique, to have their own identity, however confusing non-residents might find it. And yet architecturally cities are becoming more and more blandly similar, and increasingly the typologies suggested by urban masterplanning exercises are about overlaying the same identikit forms over the underlying terrain.
Given that Helsinki is the birthplace of Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system (originally conceived as a portable OS), might we be able to apply a different approach to urban masterplanning to the operating system of Helsinki? The philosophic cornerstones of Linux: interoperability, portability and community might serve as a good set of guiding principles for any mid-21st century city.
Along the these lines, Kazyz Varnelis had a recent post regarding the open source city. What is a city to be in the world of network culture? He cites a recent talk given by Rob Kitchen on "Code/Space". Kitchen observes that the spaces of everyday life are increasingly coded by software. So beyond your daily interaction with your computer, so many other means of life are increasingly run by software - elevators, cars, streets, communicaton and entertainment networks, and on and on. Kitchen and Martin Dodge have written a paper "Code and the Transduction of Space" which explores this condition.

Varnelis asks:
But what is code? And why should architects care?
The historic example here is Lawrence Lessig's famous line - Code is Law. Throughout Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace he also invokes the field of architecture. This is no accident. Lessig’s goal, in resorting to an architectural framework, is to underscore the constructed nature of both built environments and cyberspace, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, environments are increasingly the product of code. Architecture, code, and law are increasingly melding into one.
For architects, the consequences are clear. Regardless of what the "Make it New" crowd wants, building codes, design review guidelines, historic preservation ordinances, protective covenants, together with the demands of the financial and real estate markets are creating a condition in which a building is virtually pre-determined before an architect ever sees it (if he or she ever does). Architects frequently lament this condition, but what if instead we agree with Kitchen and Dodge that code is a fundamental constituent of our culture. What then?
Well, to start, we realize that if these spaces are increasingly given by code, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, they are also coded, active spaces. In other words, the old idea of the space invested with meaning is now replaced by a performative space with a certain capacity for producing situations.
This is a very big sea change. One example of a big break (as kosmograd cites) is Christopher Alexander's idea of design patterns. Design patterns suggests that architecture can be made up of endless combinations of existing solutions therefore debunking the dead end of the "new".
Software engineers are already well on their way with this idea.

One other great new example is Architecture for Humanity's Open Architecture Network.Hundreds of projects have been uploaded and thousands have registered. It's a great mission so perhaps the open source is happening as we speak.


sources: Kazys Varnelis

Thursday, 15 March 2007

urban planning and the design of fear


Not so long ago, architects were obsessed with the notion that globalism, the Internet and sophisticated new building technologies were opening the way for a more fluid, transparent landscape in which walls would simply begin to melt away...Things didn’t turn out that way. -NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF


So begins a recent piece in the NY Times regarding a trend in city planning that is looking more medeival at every turn. The article centers on fear as a design factor that is increasingly looking permanent in major cities such as New York and even London. Call it the 'green zone' effect. Fence building around the globe is booming along borders but urban fences are beginning to sprout or simply remain permanent even though they have been intended as temporary for one reason or another. We have historic examples such as Wall Street or Thom Mayne’s Caltrans District 7 headquarters building in Los Angeles but new occurances are evident in Miami, London, Jerusalem and infamously now with New York's "Freedom Tower". The "Freedom Tower", far from being a symbol of enlightenment is a windowless fortified concrete base decorated in prismatic glass panels. It is a monument to paranoia. Not what the original designers had in mind. All of this can perhaps be written off as an American post-911 phenomena.

However, as Ouroussoff observes:

Like their 13th- to 15th-century counterparts, contemporary architects are being enlisted to create not only major civic landmarks but lines of civic defense, with aesthetically pleasing features like elegantly sculpted barriers around public plazas or decorative cladding for bulky protective concrete walls.
These tendencies could be easily adopted throughout the globe as urban centers face new challenges related to new immigration populations, energy resources, and developments in global technology and trade.

As noted on this blog, "the number of foreigners living in Finland has quadrupled over the past fifteen years. This is partly to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of borders, Finland joining the EU, and the internationalization of Finnish companies and Finnish society". As Helsinki's population begins to expand and incorporate more and more people it will need to make efforts to not only prevent a wide income disparity - which it has had success with - but allow for urban design that promotes growth through incorporation and participation of traditional citizens as well as new citizens. Interaction of diverse communities is the key. Separation only serves fear.


image: Freedom Tower design, NYC

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

The City as Operating System



(image from MetroModeler)

An interesting post by Khoi Vinh at Subtraction talks at the usability of cities, and got me thinking of cities not as applications, as Vinh suggests, but as Operating Systems, each running a number of different applications (eg transport, telecommunications, policing, social customs etc) in different ways.

Guidebooks and travel guides function as the 'misssing manuals' of cities, explaining to beginning users, ie tourists and visitors, how to use the Operating System for a particular city.

What strikes me about this paradigm is that while uniformity and standardisation might be good for computer operating systems, it's not such as good thing for cities. We want our cities to be unique, to have their own identity, however confusing non-residents might find it. And yet architecturally cities are becoming more and more blandly similar, and increasingly the typologies suggested by urban masterplanning exercises are about overlaying the same identikit forms over the underlying terrain.

Given that Helsinki is the birthplace of Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system (originally conceived as a portable OS), might we be able to apply a different approach to urban masterplanning to the operating system of Helsinki? The philosophic cornerstones of Linux: interoperability, portability and community might serve as a good set of guiding principles for any mid-21st century city.

I clicked with excitement to a news story that in Korea a city is about to be selected to become Linux City, but the mundane, prosaic reality is that rather than a city built upon the principles of Linux as an open-source operating system, it will merely be "required to install open-source software as a main operating system of their infrastructures, a job which the ministry will support with funds and technologies."

This is a missed opportunity. Imagine a truly open-source city, open to anyone to 'program' the design, development and infra-structure of the city? Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language and SimCity can be our new guidebooks to a user-generated urban morphology.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

On Culture

"Culture is who we are, the sum of our beliefs, attitudes and habits. (…) Cultures create artefacts – things people make or have made that have meaning for them. These punctuate the city, typically monuments to past leaders or heroes in the main square or in front of a government building. Religious monuments have pride of place, especially those representing the dominant religion. In most modern cities the artefact might equally be a Henry Moore or Alexander Calder sculpture sited in front of downtown office towers, symbolizing the wealth and power of corporate capital. The meanings of artefacts change over time as new interpretations of history evolve.

Cultures need economic, political, religious and social institutions to provide and enforce regular, predictable patterns of behaviour so that the culture is reinforced and replicated. (…) Cultures pattern how we behave and relate. This becomes the social structure – how we behave in crowds, make eye contact, how much personal space we need or whether we queue for a bus or just go for it.

Our culture shapes how we create and make our places, from the physical level – from the design of street furniture to icon buildings – to how we feel about ourselves and the place. So the scope possibilities, style and tenor of social and economic development in a city is culturally determined. If as a culture we are more closed-minded or strongly hierarchical and focus on traditional values, it can make our culture inflexible and might make adjusting to major transformation more difficult. (…)

By contrast, if our traditions value tolerance and openness, those adjustments to the new world may be easier. Those places that share ideas and have the capacity to absorb bring differences together more effectively. This does not mean their culture is subsumed – identity is still shaped by where you came from. There is, however, sufficient mutual influence and counter-influence, coalescing and mixing over time to create a special fused and dynamic identity, not one hardened into an ossified shell.

These views about how life is managed do not happen by accident – they are a response to history and circumstance. If the culture esteems hard work and the taking of responsibility, the outcome will be different than if it assumes others will take decisions for you. If a culture has an ethos that assumes no one is to be trusted, collaboration and partnership is hard to achieve and bureaucracy likely to be extensive; by contrast, where trust is high, regulation tends to have a lighter touch. (…)

Cities are places where varied publics can come together to co-create a civic realm – a precondition for a confident civic society to uphold rules and justice. This is where citizenship is more important than the ethnic group, clan, tribe, religion, party or cadre allegiance. Cultures and societies that place such an emphasis on citizenship are likely to be more resilient, flexible and ultimately prosperous than those that are divided along lines of ‘blood’ or traditional allegiances.

What we call the culture of a place, whether a village, a city, a region or a country, is the residue of what has stood the test of time. It is what is left and deemed important after the ebb and flow of argument, the fickleness of fashion and negotiation about what is valuable has passed. Culture is the response to circumstance, location, history and landscape. (…) All this leaves people in a specific place with intangible things like views and opinions about their world and the worlds outside; passions about certain things and rituals; the role and importance of higher beings and the spirit; moral codes and ethical positions about what is right and wrong; value judgements about what we think is good, beautiful and desirable or ugly and bad; and attitudes about how we approach problems, conduct our affairs, organize ourselves and manage business.

The values of a culture leave tangible marks: the buildings respond to weather and wealth and the spirit of the times; their quality, design, style or grandeur reflects the values and foibles of the powerful; how good the buildings of the poor depends largely on how well they are empowered; places of power, ritual and worship reflect the role of politics and religion; places for culture like museums, libraries, theatres or galleries from more reverential times demand obedience through their appearance – they seem to say ‘come to our hallowed ground’ – whereas more modern and democratic buildings invite and entice, they are more transparent in style. This is reflected in the materials used, perhaps granite in one and glass in another.

The industrial landscaper too shapes and is shaped by culture. The best factories of the industrial age project the pride of manufacture and production, the worst the exploitation of their workers. Grime and filth live often side by side with the raw beauty of gleaming machinery. Culture spreads its tentacles into every crevice of our lives: how we shop and the look of shops markets and retail; how we spend leisure time and how the parks, boulevards and places of refuge are set out; how we move around and whether we prefer public or private transport; and, most importantly, how and where we give birth to our children and how we bury our dead. (…)

Appreciating culture is even more crucial in periods of dramatic transformation, because it is then that the culture needs to absorb, digest and adjust. Culture, when acknowledged, gives strength in moving forward, even if it’s culture itself that has to change. It then becomes a backbone that can create the resilience that makes change and transformation easier."

Charles Landry, The Art of City-Making p.245-249

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Society & Culture (First Draft)


Finnish society is based on egalitarian principles of humanism, tolerance, justice and equality. The wage and taxation structure and a strong welfare state have kept the gap between high and low income earners relatively narrow. At the same time Finland has maintained its position as one of the most competitive economies in the world. However, with continued population growth, an aging population, increased immigration and more spatial segregation, the structure of society faces change over the coming decades.

Helsinki was one of the fastest growing European urban centres through the 1990s and the population is expected to increase by a further 50% over the next 50 years, requiring 70 million square metres of additional residential development to meet increased demand. More people living in the same area will lead to an intensified urban structure and a change in the way that individuals interact and live their daily lives.

Before 1970, Helsinki was clearly divided into working, middle and upper class areas. Social mixing policies in the 70s and 80s greatly reduced spatial inequality, as can be seen in Ruoholahti. Today, in a European context, levels of inequality are low. However, in recent years spatial segregation has begun to increase. Following the recession in the early 1990s the ICT industries, centred in Eastern Espoo and Western Helsinki, recovered quickly and have been growing at an increasing rate whereas, faced with increased competition from abroad, many traditional industries to the east of the city have continued to decline. This has resulted in the beginning of an educational divide between the eastern and western sides of the city, manifest in growing disparities between levels of income and employment. If socio-economic trends continue those dependant on social support would tend to be concentrated in areas to the east and north of the city, with attendant social problems. Espoo, Kauniainen and some other parts of the region would become progressively wealthier and more entrenched enclaves for the well off, especially high paid workers from the IT sector.

As the baby boomers grow to retirement age, the average age of the population rises and as it does public expenditure increases, work input decreases and the preconditions for economic prosperity deteriorate. This problem affects a large number of western countries and a common response has been to allow increased immigration. Although Finland has a history of social homogeneity, it also has the lowest proportion (2%) of foreign citizens in the EU. The successful integration of immigrants is one of the main challenges facing Finnish society over the coming years. 5% of Helsinki’s residents are foreign citizens, with the largest groups from: Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Somalia, Serbia, China, Iraq and Germany. The policy has been to spread the housing of immigrants across the city however, the residential patterns of recently arrived immigrants reinforce existing spatial segregation in the city, as highly educated immigrants tend to settle near the concentrations of high tech industry to the west, whilst the less well educated in areas to the east and north.

In an increasingly globalized world, culture is playing an ever more important role in differentiating one place from another and reinforcing a sense of identity and common purpose within a community. Helsinki is the cultural capital of Finland and in 2000, on its 450th anniversary, was one of nine European Cities of Culture. In the metropolitan area cultural industries employ around 27,000 people and turnover €4.8 billion, 9% of the total turnover for all industries in the city. Helsinki is the centre for many of Finland’s creative institutions and industries including museums, galleries, concert halls, stadia, commercial designers, artists and musicians. It is also home to the national television and radio channels, newspapers and magazine publications, as well as to an extensive regional press. A number of cultural festivals take place in Helsinki throughout the year. The largest, the Helsinki Festival, held every August, includes concerts, exhibitions and a Night of the Arts.

There are around 80 museums in the city, the largest being the National Museum of Finland. The University of Helsinki contains a number of important museums including the University Museum and the Natural History Museum. The Finnish National Gallery is made up of three separate museums: Ateneum Art Museum with more than 18,000 works of classical Finnish art; Sinebrychoff Art Museum with 7,500 works of classical European art; and Kiasma Art Museum with 8,000 modern art works. More than 500,000 people visit these galleries each year. In addition to these state run institutions, there are around 50 independent galleries in Central Helsinki holding exhibitions throughout the year.

In recent decades Finnish media art has risen to international prominence. This field includes video, installations, computer processed image and music as well as sound art. It has been showcased in Helsinki at a number of festivals, galleries and museums. The recent development of new media art and crossover festivals now plays an important part in the cultural life of the city.

Both classical and popular music have a strong presence in Helsinki. The city has 14 music schools with more than 5,000 pupils. The main musical venues are the Finnish National Opera and the Finlandia concert-hall. Bigger concerts and events are usually held at one of the city's two big ice hockey arenas: the Hartwall Arena or the Helsingin Jäähalli. Helsinki has three major theatres: The Finnish National Theatre, The Helsinki City Theatre and the Finland Swedish Svenska Teatern and a further nine other professional theatres.

Along with other Nordic countries, Finland has an international reputation for high quality design. Helsinki is the national centre for commercial design including jewellery and fashion design, graphic design, furniture design and industrial design. Around 1,500 people in the metropolitan area are employed in design industries. The University of Art & Design is an integral part of the expanding design, media and art complex of the Arabianranta district. The Design Museum exhibits modern commercial and industrial design.

The city has 46 cinemas with 8,800 seats. In 2003, 11 feature length films were produced in Finland, 5 of which were shot wholly or partly in Helsinki. The same year the Helsinki Film Festival (Love & Anarchy) attracted 40,000 cinemagoers to watch 250 screenings of 90 films. The city’s DocPoint Festival is among the world’s 10 leading documentary festivals. In 2004 it screened 100 documentaries in 80 shows, attracting an audience of 14,000.

Finns are avid readers and their use of public libraries is among the highest in Europe. On average Helsinki residents visit a library once a month, totalling 9 million visits a year. In 2000, the city’s libraries had 1,800,000 books and 225,000 items of other materials available for loan. Libraries are centres of culture, learning and information, they act as a meeting point, providing a means of social contact, promoting equality and help prevent social exclusion. Finnish libraries were quick to adopt information technology and today Helsinki City Library has over 300 internet connections at its 27 branches. There are a wide range of university libraries in the region all of which are open to the public. There are 3 extensive cultural centres in the suburbs of Helsinki providing a varied range of artistic and cultural activities to the local population. All three centres have a library and adult learning facilities.

The architecture of modern day Helsinki dates back to the Empire Style buildings of Engel, built in the early 19th Century. The Lutheran Church and the Palace of the Council of State building on Senate Square are his most prominent works. At this time Helsinki was being rebuilt in stone following a great fire that razed many of the city’s old timber buildings. The Russians, who had recently taken control of Finland from the Swedes, remodelled Helsinki in the image of St Petersburg, the Russian capital. During the 19th Century most of the city’s houses were still built of timber. There are still many areas of Helsinki with distinctive old wooden houses such as Kapyla, Kumpula, Toukola and Puu-Vilila.

Dating from the 19th and early 20th Centuries are the Jugend, or Art Nouveau, districts of Katajanokka, Eira and Ullanlinna. The chief exponent of the Jugend style was Eliel Saarinen who came to prominence with the design of the Finnish Pavilion for the World Fair in 1900. This building was influenced by German Jugenstil, traditional Finnish timber houses and the Gothic Revival in Britain. This style became known as Finnish National Romanticism or Jugend.

The architecture of the 1920s and 30s was marked by classicism and functionalism, as seen in the newer districts of Toolo. The best known functionalist building in Helsinki is the Olympic Stadium. The best known Finnish Modernist architect is Alvar Aalto who moved his office to Helsinki in 1933. His works in Helsinki include the headquarters of Enso, the Social Insurance Institution building, the Academic bookstore, the Hall of Culture and Finlandia Hall.

The 1990s produced such major public buildings as the new Opera House; Mantyniemi, the official residence of the President of the Republic at Meilahti; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma by the American architect Stephen Holl, one of the few major projects in the city to be designed by a foreign architect. The decade also saw a large amount of conversions of old industrial properties for cultural and other activities.

Helsinki has developed as a balance between the urban and nature. Fingers of green stretch from the rural hinterland towards, and sometimes into, the city centre. These narrow parks are important recreation area for the city’s residents. The close proximity of nature makes outdoor leisure pursuits easy. The city has more than 500 kilometres of hiking and jogging tracks and 950 kilometres of cycle paths. There are over 350 sports and ball fields and 70 municipal playgrounds. During the winter the city maintains over 200 kilometres of ski trails as well as eight ice stadia and more than 70 outdoor skating rinks. There are 14 indoor swimming pools and, during the summer, two outdoor pools and 26 beaches that are clean and safe.

Helsinki has hosted a number of international sporting events including the XV Olympiad in 1952, the first World and two European Athletics Championships, World and European Championships in ice hockey and figure skating, and European Swimming Championships at the Makelanrinne stadium. The Helsinki City Marathon is held in August and attracts runners from all across the world.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Themes- Housing (Continued)

Planning and Housing examples
This post contains some background and some examples which I will expand on and add to in the coming weeks all the areas below are mapped in the google earth helsinki map on the side bar.

Population and Housing Overview

Current population is approx. 560,000. The city has a construction target of 4,500 houses a year, and owning 70% of the land tends to drive development. The city aims to control the amount, quality, and cost of housing in Helsinki. Social mix aim of housing policy is specific and defined, no social segregation is the aim. Average apartment size is 62msq (34sqm per person). Two thirds of the entire housing stock is post war. Housing blocks predominate at 86%.

Prefabrication

Since the 60's estates have been built as integrated neighbourhoods using mostly prefabricated methods of construction. Precast concrete block construction for quick and easy assembly and weatherproofing. Row and single houses tend to be timber frame come concrete breeze block.

Following the 2002 city plan Key planning areas for the Helsinki Planning Department are identified. They each have their own strategic aim within the Helsinki metropolitan area.
Below are listed some planning schemes, recently completed, ongoing, and future.

Recently Completed

Pikku Huopalati
Late eighties and early nineties development on reclaimed land. Some post-modern styling which has dated.

Ruohlahti
A redevelopment from the 90's which includes the rope factory offices, and housing. A successful extension to the centre of Helsinki.

Herttoniemenranta
Herttoniemenranta or the Herttoniemi Waterfront is a new urban residential area for 9,000 inhabitants located by the sea some 7 km to the east of the city centre. Herttoniemenranta is a high-rise area, but there is a wide employment area nearby on the Herttoniemi industrial estate.

The main commercial services are located near the metro station in the centre of Herttoniemi.


Ongoing

Arabianranta

North East of the City of Helsinki goal to make it a kind of Virtual Village (of 7,000) knowledge centre see webpage (helsinki virtual village).
The aim is to make it a key centre for design and industry and with University of Art and Design Helsinki and other educational institutions as well as area residents all located there. Also housing here is a good example of designed blockhouses with reserved money for purchased art for the urban fabric.

Vikki

Ecologically developed area or green zone. Viikki has become a green university campus district. The Viikki Science Park is at the heart of the new town district. The Science Park is a centre for research, study and entrepreneurship focused on biology and biotechnology that has grown up around Helsinki University institutions. At present, some 7,000 people live in Viikki. By the year 2015 the number of inhabitants will grow to over 15,000. The number of jobs in Viikki will be 7,000–8,000 and the number of students around 6,000.

Future Projects

Sörnäistenranta-Hermaninranta
The Harbour area of Helsinki is being moved to Vuosari and the whole 117 hectare area redeveloped marking a major addition to the city centre. With 15,00 inhabitants, 6,000 jobs and a new metro station.

West Harbour

Another harbour redevelopement and extension both of Ruohlahti and the city centre.

Kruunuvuorenta
Laasjasalo oil terimanl will be closed down in 2010, and the terminal and surrounding district will be redeveloped into a city neighbourhood of 10,000 people with 50,000msq of office space. Project from 2010-2025-

Kuninkaantammi

New area in historically rich are for 5,000 people.

Pasila

Central Pasila and old railway yards
An extension to the cenre built in the 70's and 80's but because of the relocation of the harbour and railway requirement change a large redevelopment will take place. Construction to begin 2010. To provide for 2,000 residents and 10,000 jobs.

Töölönlahti

The end of Helsinki's central park and start of the centre of Helsinki. New music centre which has started construction. in many ways the realisation of Aalto's plans for this area of Helsinki previously and sort of sums up the advantages and disadvantages of the methods of development in Helsinki today.

HOUSING EXAMPLES

Some Housing projects which were in the 0405 Finnish Architecture awards judged as best Finnish built Architecture between 2004-2005 are below only the three below one in housing category.

Helsingin Arabianvillat Housing Company
gunnel Nymanin piha 2, Helsinki
by ARK-house architects. 0405 winner

Helsingin Ahomansikka Housing Company,
Nuppukuja 5-7, Helsinki
by Kirsti Siven & Asko Takala Architects
www.arksi.fi 0405 winner



(photo of Lehtovuori House)
Lehtovuori House , helsinki
by A-konsultit Architects
www.a-konsultit.fi 0405 winner

Kamppi centre
mixed use in the centre of Helsinki by Davidsson Architects


Kamppi apartments

an example of a loft apartment conversion ( a rare thing in Finland) by the same firm in Vantaa.

Background Opinion to the 2002 city plan and general Helsinki town planning policy.
Two things strike me about the 2002 planning policy which are not stated . Firstly they borrow much from Aalto's and Saarinen's masterplanning visions for Helsinki (see Töölönlahti ) Secondly a reinforcement of a largely successful creative Industries planning policy which has been in place in Helsinki since the economic crash on 1991-1993. The strategic goals being;
  • Developing Helsinki as a centre of science and research and the new knowledge-based industries
  • Improving traffic and communication links
  • Consolidating the cultural profile of the city
  • Developing a high-quality urban environment
  • promoting the city internationally and creating new international networks.
The history of this is that a company called Comedia consulted for Helsinki and wrote a report for them to this effect. This policy in some way predates but matches the book 'The Creative City' by Charles Landry founder of Comedia. This is more famously put forward by Richard Florida and his creative class theories which have been welcomed in many cities as well as Helsinki. Although perhaps any advances made by Helsinki city can be put more firmly at the door of Nokia a private company than any city effort, the city strategy in any event ties in with commercial realities pretty well.

Comment
Prefabracation in the housing sector has been taken to a high level in Finland but has this stifled design and creativity in this area also. Are there opportunities for looking at more diverse solutions within the prefabricated methods currently employed by all major builders in Finland? I take this as implied in the brief, and that they are well aware of this. Plan shows desire by authorities to decentralise within Helsinki and to add distinctive character to different developments.

References

City Planning Department webpage
Estonian Architectural Review- From Economic Policy to Creative City Ideas - The Helsinki Experience.
Finnish Architects.com (some firms with examples of their work)

Monday, 26 February 2007

Perfect City Article

Perfect City is an internet forum concerning the future of the worlds cities. It has a number of interesting posts and it is well worth a look. An article has been published on their website today about the Team Helsinki project. http://www.perfectcity.net/2007/02/26/team-helsinki/#more-71

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Great Urbanist Game

(This title references an article by Catherine de Zegher in an exhibition catalogue of drawings, models, prints and writings by the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys. The exhibition presents the visionary global architectural project ‘New Babylon’ which was developed by Constant Nieuwenhuys between 1956 and 1974. He was profoundly concerned with the issues of ‘unitary urbanism’ and the future role of art in an advanced technocratic society.)

Game 1

When you ask a child to describe and think about what a city could be like in the future, their response and aspirations are part projection. Their psychological contemplation of this question is about remaining in the present and potentially about adding ‘things’ from the future into their current space.

This could also be looked at this the other way round: instead of trying
to guess the unguessable, imagine the idyll and work backwards from there,
tracing the changes that bring about the dream. (Lead – 14th
February 2007
)

Game 2

‘People need to live, work, travel, eat, consume, respond, play, grow, create, rebel, disrupt, communicate, migrate, wander etc in the 21st Century city’

What is daily life in a city? Where does the modern flanuer wander? Do they wander the streets or the World Wide Web? They do both at the same time. What is architecture is the often placeless age of electronics and technology?

A
multidisciplinary design approach can work in terms of designing ‘clever’ places
that are adaptable and ever-changing. The iconic architecture of ‘future cities’
is no longer the target but instead the non-existence of design and its
replacement with a generic way of thinking. The city becomes the canvas of
people’s lifes and it is truly usable. (Monospace – 14th February
2007
)

Game 3

Bridges and Parks.

Bridges link 2 fixed points over something. They are elevated; exist on a different layer in a city to a park. They are primarily to get you from A-B, to traverse, commute, and wander. Although you may meet on bridge and take in the view, there is no other reason to be there than to get from one chosen destination to another. What else can happen between these fixed points? Can a bridge be a park also?

Parks suggest leisure, green space, children’s space. Maybe parks should not be perceived solely as a space you occupy when you are not working/consuming. As the modern flanuer knows with access to open air wireless in some European cities, parks are and could be the new office hubs of the 21st century.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Themes - Geography (first draft)

Physical Geography

  • 338,000 square kilometres, of which 10% is water and 69% forest;
  • 187,888 lakes, 5,100 rapids and 179,584 islands;
  • Europe's largest archipelago, including the semi-autonomous province of Åland
Finland is situated in northern Europe between the 60th and 70th parallels of latitude. A quarter of its total area lies north of the Arctic Circle. Finland's neighbouring countries are Sweden, Norway, and Russia, which have land borders with Finland, and Estonia across the Gulf of Finland. Forest covers about 75 per cent of Finland, while bodies of water - mainly lakes - cover almost 10 per cent. Finland is the most heavily forested country in Europe, with 23 million hectares under forest cover. There are approximately 190,000 lakes and about 180,000 islands. Europe's largest archipelago, which includes the self-governing province of the Åland Islands, lies off the south-west coast.

Helsinki geography
Total area 686 sq.km
Sea 500 sq.km
Land 186 sq.km
Shoreline (mainland) 98 km
Islands 315

Weather

The climate of Finland is marked by cold winters and fairly warm summers. In the far north of the country the sun does not set for about 73 days, producing the white nights of summer. In winter the sun remains below the horizon for 51 days in the far north.In summer the temperature quite often rises to +20 Celsius or more and occasionally goes close to +30 in southern and eastern parts of the country. In winter, temperatures of -20 Celsius are not uncommon in many areas. Finnish Lapland invariably has the lowest winter temperatures. The mean temperature in Helsinki in July is +17 Celsius and in February -5.7 Celsius.Helsinki is a summer city of parks and water. But lots of opportunities for skating and ice fishing on the Baltic in winter. The Baltic is the least salty sea in the world, its closer to freshwater and as its also the youngest sea there are relatively few fish adapted to it yet.

Average maximum and minimum temperature ( ° C ) for the period 1961-1990 in Helsinki.


Helsinki Milan London New York



Month max.°C min.°C max.°C min.°C max.°C min.°C max.°C min.°C

January -2 -7 5 -2 7 0 3 -4
February -2 -8 8 0 7 1 5 -3
March 1 -4 13 3 10 2 10 2
April 7 0 18 7 13 3 16 7
May 14 6 22 11 16 6 22 12
June 19 11 26 15 20 9 27 17
July 21 14 29 17 22 11 30 20
August 19 13 28 17 21 11 29 20
September 14 8 24 14 19 9 25 16
October 9 4 18 8 15 6 19 10
November 4 -1 10 4 10 3 12 5
December 0 -5 5 -1 8 1 6 -1

Demography
  • 5.3 million, 15.5 inhabitants per square kilometre
  • 62% live in towns or urban areas, 38% in rural areas
  • Principal cities: Helsinki (561,000), Espoo (232,000), Tampere (204,000), Vantaa (187,000), Turku (175,000) and Oulu (129,000)
  • About one million people live in the Helsinki metropolitan area.
  • Finland has a Sami (Lapp) population of 6,500

Post-war demographic changes have been quite radical in Finland. Notably in the 1960s, Finland saw what may have been the fastest rural depopulation among the western industrial countries, and a corresponding change in the structure of the economy. More than 600 000 people left primary production. Manufacturing was no longer creating new jobs, but the tertiary sector absorbed some 300 000 new employees. In ten years, urban population figures increased by about 600 000 and the urbanization rate went up from 38.4% in 1960 to 50.9% in 1970. Rural depopulation continued, with people moving from the outlying areas of rural municipalities to the centres. Thus, rural municipalities took on an increasingly urban character.

These population movements within Finland took a very distinct course. The primary growth areas were municipalities in the Helsinki area and the major provincial towns. Movement into the towns was channelled into countless suburbs, making town structures uncharacteristically dispersed. As Finland was already sparsely populated, this further decline in the rural population led to cuts in public services.

The Finnish economy was unable to adapt to these structural changes, and in consequence some 200 000 Finns left the country in the 1960s, moving mainly to Sweden, some temporarily, many permanently.

The number of foreigners living in Finland has quadrupled over the past fifteen years. This is partly to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening up of borders, Finland joining the EU, and the internationalization of Finnish companies and Finnish society; but marriage to a Finn is probably still the the most common reason for someone moving to Finland. Most immigrats live in Helsinki Metropolitain area.

Helsinki population

Total population (1.1.2006) 560,905
Men 46.6 %
Women 53.4 %
Finnish-speaking 86.7 %
Swedish-speaking 6.2 %
Population density 3003 inhabitants per sq.km

Language

Sweedish and Finnish are official languages in the 2001 cencus, 91.3% of the population were Finnish speakers and 5.4% (281 000) Swedish speakers. There are about 1 700 people whose first language is Saami and 21 000 whose mother tongue is Russian. Note Russian and English are catching up fast.

The Finnish language is a member of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family that includes, in one branch, Finnish, Estonian and a number of other Finnic tongues, and in the other, Hungarian, by far the biggest language of the Ugric group. Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish. The official status of Swedish has historical roots in the period when Finland was a part of the Swedish realm, a period that lasted from the early 13th century until 1809. Another indigenous language is Sami, spoken within the small community of Sami people in Lapland (also known as Lapps). English has become the most popular foreign language and is widely spoken.

Urban Structure

Helsinki's geographical location is on a narrrow peninsula jutting out into the sea. This has had a significant effect on its urban structure. Not until the late 20thCentury were the bays on either side of the centre bridged, so before this Helsinki and its suburbs had to extend north, inland. The centre was thus effectively hemmed in on three sides by water. Traffic problems in the centre are problematic and getting worse because of this. Helsinki now forms a kind of half wheel with the centre at the hub. The city and its numerous town plans have seeked to provide a balance always with nature so the provision of parks has always been there and these extend in fingers and radiate out roughly speaking also from the centre.

Espoo by contrast built up quickly like Vantaa after the second world war and the increasing urbanisation of Finland. Espoo went from a small village to second largest city in Funlnad in a generation. Really a dormitary ciry or suburb of Helsinki structurally it is built up on the opposite bay around Tapiola, and along the main roads towards Turku. So it is roughly speaking orientated perpendicular to the coats in two corridors with another large central park in between.

Vantaa also mainly built up along road and rail lines on a north south axis north east of Helsinki.
Helsinki area is low lying rocky, good for building on, only in Espoo is there more clay type soil areas. Buildings in Helsinki area have traditionally never been over 100m tall about 16 floors is the max at the moment although a tall housing block over 100m is being built in Espoo.

Politics

The Finnish Parliament is celebrating its centenary in 2006-2007. Universal and equal suffrage was enacted in Finland in 1906 the first country to do this in Europe, and the first elections for the Parliament were held in 1907.
There is quite strong often bitter competition between rival cities within the metropolitain area. Central government are analysis the countries number of city and area councils and some in Helsinki greater area may be merged with Helsinki in the future. There are even border disputes, where Helsinki council has tried to buy land in other council areas for development in East Helsinki. The three four main cities making up Helsinki greater area are Espoo Kaunianen, Vantaa and Helsinki. Helsinki and Vantaa are probably more SDP, leftwing while Espoo and Kuanianen are more rightwing voting with slightly higher average income and slightly more Sweedish speakers.

Finland may or may not be part of Scandinavia, geographically not really but culturally yes. See this post about it.

Further Reading
pdf of economic and population info about helsinki.
pdf of facts about helsinki2006