Apparently city fathers, municipal politicians, decision makers, development corporation executives, whatever you want to call the people who get to decide on big investments in the urban context these days, talk of a “crane index“, i.e. the number of tall (sky scraper-scale) building cranes they can see from their own office window. (Presumably said window is located on one of the upper floors of an already finished piece of turn-of-the-millennium corporate architecture, giving a good view.) Some even attribute the phrase to an Australian politician who dismissed his economic adviser’s councel on the grounds that all he needed to know was what he could see with his own eyes, out of that window: cranes = $
A Finnish decision maker might see this out of their window, but only if the perspective was from their own home or a walk on the (still publicly accessible) stretch of water in Lauttasaari.
Well, such a Finnish decision maker is most likely up to his or her neck in economic woes professionally speaking if not personally. Regarldess, many, like the Australian politician, are willing and able to brush off the relevance of available research evidence.
It might not immediately strike one as an urban issue, you’d think, but recently there’s been a flurry of reports about the quality of research done by stakeholders, including government ministries, on the impacts new mineral extraction. Kainuu and Lapland have plenty of economic woes but also, it seems, a lot of raw materials waiting to be dug out of the ground with the willing labour of local jobless people. Good thing, bad thing? Worth the billions in investment? The impact of new mines on the environment? University researchers and others disagree vehemently.
However, the cranes visible in the picture above are mostly not of the construction type but what’s left of central Helsinki’s harbour functions. Though minerals are cheaper to extract where life is cheaper, it’s likely that any minerals excavated in Finland will also find a buyer however expensive and disruptive it might be to get at them. Contemporary urban growth and activity still needs one heck of a lot of STUFF and METAL to keep it going, virtual or no.
Personally, I prefer a harbour town where the harbour functions, cranes, ships and ugly industrial buildings and all, are visible, to one with only tarted up consumer-centred waterside boulevards.
In Helsinki the port was moved out of (some people’s) sight. Still, the shipping industry is going strong, much, much stronger than thirty, forty years ago. It would give the city variety and liveliness, and it might even be wise in some weird way, to keep the shipping world in view when the rest of us city dwellers go about our business. Of course, in an era when we take it as given that cities never have enough money, the small question of land-values does complicate things a bit. Waterfront housing development, anyone?