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%.


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.

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

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.



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.


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

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.

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-


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


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.


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.


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 0405 winner

(photo of Lehtovuori House)
Lehtovuori House , helsinki
by A-konsultit Architects 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.

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.


City Planning Department webpage
Estonian Architectural Review- From Economic Policy to Creative City Ideas - The Helsinki Experience.
Finnish (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.

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?

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

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
Sea 500
Land 186
Shoreline (mainland) 98 km
Islands 315


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

  • 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


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.


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

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Themes - Business & the Economy

Finland’s Economy: a National Context

The Finnish economy has undergone a profound structural change and rapid economic growth during the past few decades, despite the challenges of its remote location and relatively small population. There has been a transformation from an economy based on agricultural production in 1950 to the innovation based economy of today. There has been a commitment to social equity and a demonstration that this need not disadvantage a country’s economic performance. However, since the recession in the early 1990s this has proved more difficult to maintain and the region has seen greater spatial and social differentiation as well as an increase in inequality of personal income.

The Finnish economy was growing faster than other Western industrialized countries throughout 1980s but, faced with increasing competition from abroad, there was an economic restructuring and a shift from traditional manufacturing to high technology industries. Having industrialised relatively late, manufacturing did not play as important a role in the Finnish economy as it did in other European countries. This made the transition to a new, knowledge based industries less difficult to sustain.

The global economic downturn at the beginning of the 1990s had a more profound affect in Finland than in other western countries, coming at the same time as the collapse of the former Soviet Union: at the time Finland’s largest single trading partner. The service sector and high tech industries have since recovered whereas traditional manufacturing has not.

For centuries Finland has been dependent on world markets and international trade. The opening of the internal European market, Finland’s joining the European Union in 1995 and adopted the Euro in 1999, have supported Finland’s foreign trade. The value of exports doubled during the 1990s from 19% to 38% of GDP. Today, two-thirds of international trade is with other EU members. However, markets outside of the EU, such as the United States and East Asian countries, are more important for Finland than they are for most other EU countries. Since the end of the 1990s, EU membership and globalisation have led to a rapid increase in the flow of foreign investment in Finnish companies. There is now a significant share of foreign ownership in large Finnish companies but the stock of Finnish companies’ investment abroad is still twice that of foreign investment stock in Finland.

With a gross domestic product of US$30,818 per capita, Finland was among the 15 richest countries in the world in 2005. Finnish GDP per capita was 108% & 104% compared with OECD and EU averages and around 75% of that in the United States. Inflation, which had traditionally exceeded that of other industrialized countries, fell below 4 percent in 1986 and today runs at 1%: the lowest in the euro area.

The Finnish economy is now among the most competitive in the world. The Institute for Management Development placed Finland at number six in the world in business competitiveness in 2005 and the World Economic Forum ranked Finland as the most competitive economy in 2004. It was ranked first in terms of growth competitiveness and second in terms of business competitiveness behind the United States.

The Finnish economy is based on a concept of cooperative capitalism. There is a belief in the power of social capital and cooperation, which has been a major competitive advantage for Finnish firms and the economy. Such cooperative practice includes a consensual relationship between workers, management and government.

Finland has a history of successfully utilizing advanced technologies. In the late 19th Century it was among the first to adopt electricity and more recently it has been amongst the leaders in forest industry technology and shipbuilding, as well as mobile communication technology. According to the Global Information Technology Report of 2004, Finland is the third most advanced country in terms of exploiting IT.

One of the major factors behind the success of the Finnish economy has been the continued investment in research and development. In 2002 Finnish expenditure on R&D as a proportion of GDP stood at 3.51% (around 5 billion euros), 50% higher than the EU average. Two-thirds of this investment came from the private sector. At the same time there has been heavy investment in human capital i.e. education and training.

Finnish researchers are at the leading edge of developments in a number of fields including forest improvement, material technology, environmental technology, neural networks, low temperature physics, brain research, biotechnology, genetic technology and communications. Nokia has been the main driver behind the growth of the mobile communications sector but there is also an established network of small and medium sized companies. In terms of patent applications per capita, Finland is ranked fourth in the world behind Japan, the United States and Germany.

Specialisation is important to a country the size of Finland if it is to be competitive in the future global marketplace. However, its reliance on the mobile communication sector makes the economy vulnerable. Demand for such technologies, products and services have demonstrated susceptibility to global economic slowdowns and in the long term, market growth may not be as rapid as it was during the 1990s. Since the turn of the millennium there has been a marked weakening in growth performance in the Finnish economy. The contribution of the ICT sector to aggregate productivity has been much smaller and increases in employment rates have been low. Income growth is faces further challenges associated with an aging population. The number of employed workers to each welfare benefit recipient could fall from 1.7 currently to 1.0 by 2030.

Finland has among the highest prices in the euro are, 23 % higher than the average. Its remote location, above average taxes, low population density and a relatively small population keep prices high. The level of household debt has traditionally been relatively low but it has been growing rapidly in recent years. Finland has a history of house price volatility which has potential damaging effects on the wider economy: a reciprocal relationship existing between house price movements and general economic conditions.

Business & the Economy in Helsinki

Helsinki is the engine of the Finnish economy and one of wealthiest capitals in Europe. The metropolitan area contributes around one third of the Finnish GDP, 1.5 times higher than the national average. In 2004, economic growth in the region was 3.2%. Its status as a capital city, good international connections, logistics network and availability of a skilled workforce mean that most large Finnish companies have their head offices and other important functions in the metropolitan area and it is the favoured location for regional head offices of international companies operating in Finland.

Until the 1960s the local economy was reliant on engineering, printing and textiles. The service industry has since overtaken manufacturing as the main generator of wealth in the region. Traditional industries that suffered heavily during the recession in the 1990s and have never really recovered. The service sector was also affected but has since continued to grow at an increasing rate and today dominates the regional economy.

As the service sector has grown, employment relationships have undergone change. Fixed-term and part-time contracts have become more typical. An increased amount of work is carried out at home or at client’s premises. Combined work and training or employment and retirement are other growing trends.

There are currently around 48,000 businesses in Helsinki employing 280,000 people. The city’s economy is primarily service-based, having gradually moved away from heavy industry. 80% of Helsinki’s workforce is employed in the service sector. 16% work in IT. Unemployment rates remain high and structural unemployment poses a major problem. The unemployment rate in Helsinki is around 7% against a national average of 9%. The region is not as reliant as it once was on the centre for employment. In the mid 1960s the city centre accounted for 75% of all jobs in the metropolitan area. Today that figure has fallen to 40%.

Information technology and financing sectors form the backbone of Helsinki's economy. The IT industry is centred on Western Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa. High tech entrepreneurship and start ups are yet to gain prominence in Helsinki. Relatively few start ups have achieved a global market position, despite highly favourable conditions. Despite the decline in manufacturing, Helsinki is still Finland’s main industrial city with strong printing, electronics, textiles, metal and shipbuilding industries. The Port of Helsinki, the fourth largest in the Baltic, is a focus for commercial activity. Biotechnology has a strong presence and is one of the predicted areas of growth in the future. The new Helsinki Science Park at Viikki focuses on biosciences and biotechnology. There are 3,400 retail outlets in the city employing 15,000 people. Scandinavia’s largest shopping centre called Itäkeskus with 190 shops and 27 restaurants is in Helsinki, ten kilometres east of the city centre.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Introduction - Ways of Doing Things - Part 1

“ The urban masterplan is a conceptual framework that offers a strategic diagnosis for cities and our environments. It attempts to encapsulate the multiplicity and interdisciplinary approaches required to develop and implement sustainable and innovative solutions to the programmatic, functional and cultural identity of cities”

Tamara Horbacka – Theme Park, Home Issue 2001

As an artist and educator, this quote resonated with me as it outlines the importance of the notion of ‘roots’ and ‘wings’ in relation to any kind of interdisciplinary activity/practice and in particular the working process and strategy of Team Helsinki.

The ‘roots’ of the city are its programmatic structures, functional necessities and existing and inherent cultural identities. People need to live, work, travel, eat, consume, respond, play, grow, create, rebel, disrupt, communicate, migrate, wander etc in the 21st Century city.

For me, to give a vision of a city is to allow it to have ‘wings’, to think conceptually and laterally about what a city could be in 40 years time, an almost impossible conception in real terms but this is about ideas, about standing real objectives alongside expansive, playful and conceptual thought.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Themes - Housing (First Draft)

The population of Greater Helsinki is expected to grow from a figure of 1.3 million today to over 2 million in the 50 years time. An additional 70 million square metres of residential development are expected to be needed to meet the demands of this enlarged population. If this additional housing is to be developed in a sustainable manner a number of existing challenges need to be met.

Efforts to improve the housing of workers in Helsinki began during the nineteenth century. After World War II significant measures were taken to subsidize housing through what is known as the Arava legislation. These laws came into force in 1953 and became the basis of a housing policy that helped foster the surge in construction that followed over the next two decades and beyond. This boom in construction has meant that the majority of homes in the region are relatively modern. By the 1980s about 75% of residential dwellings in the city had been constructed since the Second World War.

Population movements during the first half of the 1970s saw a rapid growth in residential construction in the region, when as many as 70,000 dwellings were built in a single year. By the first half of the 1980s this figure had dropped to 48,000 units. Additionally, the type of dwellings being built had changed. During the 1960s and 70s about two-thirds of new dwellings were apartments, and a third houses. By 1980 this ratio had reversed and much of the construction work involved the renovation and refurbishment of existing buildings. Migration into the region continued in the latter half of the 1990s with population growth in the metropolitan area running at 1.5% per annum, compared to an average of 0.5% for other European metropolitan areas.

In 2004 there were 42 million square metres of residential floor area in the Greater Helsinki Area. Two thirds of the housing stock was in blocks of flats, half were owner-occupied and 40% were rented. The various municipalities show a marked difference in the make-up of their residential building stock, with a concentration of flats in Helsinki and large numbers of detached houses in the more affluent suburbs. There are around 300,000 dwellings in the City of Helsinki and a further 300,000 in the wider region. The majority (86%) of homes in the city are in blocks of flats. The size of dwellings in the region is relatively small. In 2004 the average was around 34 square metres/person, this figure having doubled since the 1960s. The average size of dwellings in the city is 62m2.

Since the 1970s housing policy has been based on a concept of social integration, with special attention having been paid to the spatial dispersion of ethnic minorities. The idea has been to avoid the formation of disadvantaged enclaves and deprived neighbourhoods. To a large degree these policies have been successful, making Helsinki one of few European cities without neighbourhoods with concentrations of poverty. However, in recent years the situation has begun to decline and an east/west divide has started to develop.

The private sector housing market in Finland has been prone to instability since the 1980s. House price fluctuations have been greatest in the Helsinki region, due to the strength of the local economy and the effect of inward migration. A boom occurred in the years 1987 & 1988, with real house prices rising by over 50% followed by 3 years of heavy falls, when almost all of the preceding gains were lost and thousands of households were exposed to negative equity. One of the main factors that contributed to this house price bubble was the deregulation of the Finnish banking sector. Before deregulation, interest rates on home loans had been rationed and kept at low levels which, together with generous tax relief, often lead to negative interest rates. When the banking system was deregulated loan to value ratios increased, sometimes to 100%, and repayment periods doubled to between 12 and 15 years. Pent up demand was released and prices soared.

Another gentler but more sustained period of house price growth took place between 1996 and 1999, when real house prices again rose by 50%. It is generally believed that these increases were brought about by a growth in real disposable incomes, at the same time as a fall in real interest rates. In recent years prices have levelled out and remained stable. Although loan subsidies have been reduced, owner-occupied housing still has a favoured position within the Finnish taxation system. Interest rates for the purchase of new homes are amongst the lowest in Europe. The government operates a mortgage guarantee scheme which covered 25% of new loans in 2004.

The Finnish rental market was regulated until 1995. Government control over rents controls often meant that their real rates were continuously falling and consequently supply was restricted. Since deregulation rents have risen considerably along with the supply of rented accommodation.

Public housing in Helsinki has an international reputation for its attractive design and its mix of tenures. In Helsinki 18% of dwellings are owned by the state, with rents set below the market rate. The City of Helsinki owns 55,000 residential properties which are home to 100,000 of its inhabitants. There is no upper income limit for public housing in Finland although it is assigned on the basis of need. Nearly three-quarters of Finland’s population are eligible for social housing programmes and even relatively high income earners live in government subsidized housing. While public housing is in physically good repair there are increasing problems with vandalism, crime and property repair. If these issues are not adequately addressed there is a danger that those tenants with greater mobility i.e. the better educated and those with higher earnings will move out, leaving public housing as a last resort for those with no other option. Something the region has strategically avoided until now. Although public housing and socially equality are in decline, compared to many other European cities, it is still at an early stage.

Recently, the City of Helsinki has been aiming to increase the total housing stock by 3,500 units a year. Since 1997 an average of 3,000 dwellings have been built per annum, and since 2003 this figure has been around 3,500: in line with the city’s targets. 23 public housing corporations account for a third of the total number of new homes built each year. Current spatial policy results in most new housing production being met in existing urban areas, tending to be concentrated on major development sites of between 2,500 and 10,000 homes, quite often on former industrial sites. These large developments are often controversial with local residents as their scale is likely to greatly affect the existing character of an area. Municipal authorities produce detailed plans for new developments which are tendered on a combination of price and quality to private sector developers.

Around half of Finnish income tax is collected locally by the municipalities and is used to fund the provision of local services and infrastructural investment within the individual municipalities, as opposed to them being funded centrally. The result of this is that individual municipalities compete for high income (high tax paying) residents, with housing and other services for lower income earners being put under pressure. Property taxation was introduced in 1993 with municipalities able to levy property taxes at rates between 0.22% and 0.5%. These only account for 2% of the municipalities’ total income compared with the 50% generated from local income tax.

One of the major issues concerning housing in the Greater Helsinki area is the imbalance between supply and demand, with a lack of development sites resulting in an upwards pressure on house prices. Compared with the rest of the country, prices of homes in the region are as much as double and rents one and a half times as much. For historical reasons, the municipalities own a large proportion of the land within their borders. This is particularly the case in Helsinki where around 70% is owned by the city. The municipalities are able to exercise a large degree of control over housing production through their direct influence on the housing corporations and their release of development sites in their ownership.

The general shortage of sites in the regions may partly reflect the municipalities’ disincentives to provide sites for new housing, as they are responsible for financing expensive infrastructure required to support population growth. The current system causes municipalities to balance the gain from tax income against the added cost of new infrastructure and services. They are disincentivised to release land for social housing schemes because of the resulting imbalance between tax income and the cost of services. Another factor restricting the supply of new housing is the lengthy and bureaucratic planning procedure.

In Helsinki the city regulates the price and quality of owner occupied buildings by what is known as the HITAS system. In using the system the city aims to provide affordable housing for middle income groups. Around 500 Hitas homes are built on leasehold sites owned by the city every year. The system helps to regulate housing construction and ensures that the price of new homes correspond to their actual build cost. The resale price of Hitas homes are also regulated as part of the system. The city works with a number of major developers in the application of the system.

Population density in the region is very low considering its metropolitan status. In Helsinki there are 3,000 inhabitants per square kilometre which, compared to other European cities, is quite spacious: Dublin 4,300/km2; London 4,700/km2; Amsterdam 4,500/km2; Barcelona 15,700/km2; Paris 25,000/km2. For the whole region the population density is a sparse 415 inhabitants per square kilometre.