The size thing

Is Helsinki cool because

a) it is so far north

b) people here read so much

or

c) it’s a capital city but it’s still “human” sized?

Well, all of the above, of course. And the way you can walk over a little bridge to Uunisaari and turn back to face Merikatu and take pics like this.

Feels like the last century made synomyms of “big” and “cool”. As in LA was cool, tall buildings were cool, gigantic brands were cool. Somehow in spite of that, comparatively little Helsinki gained a bit of a reputation as being cool somewhere around 1999. Retro and techno got a high-ish profile, ditto some freak Finnish quirks like mobile-phone-throwing competitions. No doubt the new consensus on Finland being a knowledge economy or having a National Innovation System (NIS) to rival the best global competitors sounded cool. Though as a “system” the NIS-thing was rather uncool and typically Finnish in a political sense: thoroughly organised, state-sanctioned, virtually monopolistic but with an entrepreneurial and individualistic tone, etc. etc.

Around its edges though, the weirdness and the freakishness flourished, as did the cosmopolitanism. The business-opportunities and jobs (not forgetting the Finnish girlfriends and spouses and occasional boyfriends) brought more non-Finns into the city. Cool! Visitors and residents alike, they agree with older locals, on the whole, that Helsinki’s small size is a fabulous asset. Year after year people comment on the fabulous combination of “small” and “capital”.

P.S. for urban history geeks, films about Helsinki at Bio Rex, Lasipalatsi, this Sunday, 1 euro each.

P.P.S. for planning geeks: as the international fashion for BIG continues, and as the EU’s “spatial planning” policies are put into practice around its capital cities so do the pressures to turn the Helsinki region into something better and bigger. To manage this process we now have a Strategic Spatial Plan (pdf from the link on the right). Er, when will someone really justify the claim that “growth” and “bigger” is actually better?

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