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


Lead said...

Something I haven't quite got my head around yet is the make up of the Greater Helsinki Area and the character of the distinctive parts. Is this something you have any thoughts about?

lewism said...

Its a problem, there is definetly some tension between the three cities Vantaa, Espoo, and Helsinki, and also tension between them and the smaller towns around. Helsinki, in buying land from a neighbouring town as a developer last year, was accused by that town of stealing land. Espoo residents voted against the metro going into their city, but it was narrowly passed by the city council perhaps under some pressure from central government. Also look at the make up of the competition jury and you can see there will be some political tension in there no doubt. Anything we propose should be city/town agnostic, we should be able to positively impress Helsinki moving forward but not shutdown or just merely incorporate other areas, that will just not play out well.

Lead said...

What seems to be lacking is a regional tier of government able to make stategic decisions that affect the whole area. In particular in relation to public housing and transport. Might not go down too well?

lewism said...

It could be something we make explicit in the competition entry. A role in the design as bringing a coherent plan to the area which everyone can sign up to and contribute. Different municipalities will also want slightly different things

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