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


  • 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.


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


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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

SWOT: Housing


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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.