Could Helsinki be the first major city besides Venice to forbid personal automotive transport? While small scale car-free zones exist such as in Copenhagen, and many European cities (with Gent perhaps the most extensive car-free area), many of these decisions are based on practical considerations within medieval streetplans.
Helsinki already has a small car-free area on the island fortress of Suomenlinna, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Too often, being car-free is seen as a Luddite, retrograde step, with visions of Amish buggywhips. But Helsinki could show how it might be a progressive, technologically forward step to forgo personal automotive transport in favour of cycling, walking, mass transit. Developments in communications technology are already profoundly affecting modes of working, refiguring the role of a central business district, and lessening the transport strain of a twice-daily rush hour.
Reducing the dominance of the car offers up two exciting possibilities for the development of Helsinki in 2050. Firstly, it would allow the arterial routes to become multi-functional zones, combining transport links, linear parks and high-density housing. Secondly, it could help prevent sprawl and suburbanization, and increase the housing density in the centres. Shrinking the city becomes a positive step.
If this sounds like New Urbanism, don't be alarmed. Unfortunately, most car-free concepts, such as carfree.com are suspiciously regressive. I'm not proposing an ersatz, cosy Leon Krier-esque townscape, nor the banal, venal pedestrianisation that bedevils the UK's car-free areas. We can explore new typologies of streetscape, intertwined combinations of transport, housing, commercial space and parkland. Streetscape would no longer be defined by a building line separated by 12-20m for a two-lane blacktop.