Helsinki is stone-footed on shops

It’s come to our narrator’s attention that some things need to be repeated. Repetition is the mother of all learning, kertaus on oppimisen äiti or repetitio mater studiorum est, or something like that.

Regarding shops, the number of actual shops peaked in 1964 both nationally and in the capital, but since then the loss of shops has continued along with the growth in the size of shops. Think centralisation and concentration, also efficiency savings, economies of scale, those kinds of things.

Quite a few people share the view that the rapidly expanding ranks of older citizens in Helsinki will be poorly served by toothless or non-existent (in these people’s view) planning regulations around retail. What will they do when the local shop is gone or the only ones left in their neighbourhood sell ball gowns, jewelry or specialist diving equipment, they ask.

I know of course that there is a plethora of documents that show quite clearly that all decision makers are committed to ensuring that quality, choice and convenience, and profitability, can all flourish happily together.

Whereas across the UK there has been a huge growth recently in concerns about the loss of independent shops and the sad consequences of this for high street life, the Finnish debate doesn’t even have a term for such a thing.

So let’s move on to something it does have a term for. Kivijalka translates literally as stone foot but unsurprisingly its meaning in this context is foundation. The word is used metaphorically and, as you’ll see from the photos below, glaringly obviously, it’s used to talk about buildings’ foundations. A kivijalkakauppa then, is a shop built into the ground floor of a multi-storey building. Sometimes by implication this does seem to connote independence from chains, but at other times it just means small and local.

Since most of the most-loved buildings of central Helsinki date from the first half of the last century, they were also built to accommodate the foundation of city life: shops. MerilinnaHere for example, in the majestic Merilinna on Merikatu, overlooking the Baltic, with a serious kivijalka. It just squeezes into our most-loved classification having been completed in 1900 from drawings by Waldemar Wilenius. Still in use for retail – antiques and a patisserie/konditor.






Here on Tunturikatu in TöölöTunturikatua the foundation is rather shallower.  The shop-fronts are also a bit “mute” or, as the Brits would have it, “dead”!







Or then there’s this gem of a small block of homes in leafy Munkkiniemi. From the layout of windows and door, the assumption surely isn’t unreasonable, that the section to the left was built as a retail space.Tiilimäki








Considering what 21st century architects and planners do with a kivijalka, here is a rather typical example from the not-yet-quite-finished Arabianranta quarter, bicycle storage.Arabianranta fillarikellari


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One response to “Helsinki is stone-footed on shops

  1. Pingback: Hard Values « Jees Helsinki Jees

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