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.

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