Well, gush-warning as I find myself – amazingly – well disposed towards Kamppi (the building complex) whose top-floor hosts a reasonably pleasant cafe. This uncharacteristic charitability towards that turn-of-the-millennium excuse for urban space is probably motivated by strong feelings of affection for Helsinki and its (currently) blue skies, smiling tram drivers, buildings painted to just the right shades to catch the magic of spring sunshine, park benches returned to parks, mountains of snow reduced to crusty bumps of grit and next month’s lawn slowly (very, very slowly, it seems) coming to life (see foreground). Of Finland’s four seasons, spring may not be the most memorable, but when you’re in it, it certainly is a season!
But it doesn’t happen all by itself. If the rooftops were teeming with snow-removers a month or two ago, the streets are now littered with “move-your-cars-out-of-the-way-of-the-street-sweeper” signs (if only the cars would just go away and stay away!) and caretakers hosing down the grit and the street dust. It’s tempting to think of this as spring cleaning, but after the winter’s constantly visible signs of maintenance – and on an all-too-fleeting visit from grimy London – I realise that one of the constants about Helsinki in recent memory is that it has a year-round beauty regime. Let’s hope it continues. You can tell when something’s looked after.
I always knew there was a strong sense of good manners and respect for sharing space (a kind of urban version of Finland’s everyman’s right of access to natural areas) and some legislation on maintaining streets in Helsinki. But it’s only struck me this year how many people are visibly working at keeping things in shape.
Alas, I fear our windows are letting the street down. Nobody but me to wash them. A direct hit on my civic conscience was this, the cleaning equipment left outside by a caretaker. Can’t get away without at least a spring clean in that slanting sunshine …