Friday, February 13, 2004

Today, we will discuss the pitfalls of urban redevelopment in Helsinki.

The following is something I posted on the IESAF site. We were discussing some old Railway sheds in central Helsinki which might be knocked down to make way for 'progress':

I go to various odd little towns around Southern Finland quite often because my hobby takes me to strange place that non-locals are unlikely to go to otherwise (I shall be in Valkeala tomorrow for example). And I've found it depressing beyond belief that beyond a few notable exceptions (Hamina springs to mind), Finnish towns are ugly 1960s concrete sprawls. I thought that growing up I lived in the most boring pointless town in Britain - returning now I see it as an example of Georgian splendour and a lasting monument to the internationalization of British trade resulting from the industrial revolution (read: its oldish and has lots of canals) in comparison to say... Jamsankoski or Hollola. Never been to Jamsankoski? I wouldn't. In fact the only time HSi has led me to writing a-"Dear Sir, I'm very very disappointed that..."-letter was the story that Helsinki city was considering pulling down some of the old military buildings at the end of Liisankatu, if I remember correctly. I found the address of the councilor who was trying to save them and wrote him a letter of support.

If the train sheds are falling into disrepair it just shows that it is a wasted opportunity. Helsinki has few enough buildings that show its historical genesis. Knocking those that exist down, seems like a crime against the past. Perhaps Finns are simply less interested in their past? I don't know...

I've just found on via Google the following discussion on the issue in the Guardian which sums it up quite accurately:

Helsinki is a city on the move: the docks are soon moving 20 miles to the east and a prison is being redeveloped as flats or a hotel; debates about the ratio of office to living space concern it too. But amid all the changes, a collection of otherwise unexceptional redbrick railway sheds between the new Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, the national parliament, and Lake Toolo, has become a focus for campaigners who want to save the city's industrial heritage from destruction. Looking down on them you see the point: the immediate surroundings are indeed scruffy. But what would seem quite normal in any British city here looks special. Quite what Aalto with his penchant for natural beauty, clean lines and birch would have made of it we can never know. It all comes down to what is Finnish.