Helsinki seems to be lagging behind in urban problems. But it’s catching up. Many phenomena that are troubling Helsinki now – anti-social behaviour, housing problems, decaying service infrastructure, iconic architecture, child poverty, scared rich people – were common features of many English-speaking places in the 1980s already and plenty of academics/people started to write about them.
Today there’s MASSES of literature on how the modern city fell apart with the arrival of immaterial (supposedly) wealth and WTO-authorized politics (so-called). There’s a SWELLING of text on how brilliantly or disastrously cities have done. (Which surely means that a latecomer like Helsinki has the benefit of learning from mistakes made elsewhere. Doesn’t it?)
In one book that came out in 1992, a chap called James Donald wrote that cities in general have been turned into texts. As text – statistics, reports and development strategies and what have you – cities can be more easily deciphered and hence controlled. That process already happened way back in the nineteenth century when Helsinki was barely a town. But by the 2000s Helsinki-research certainly was generating a heck of a lot of text.
Some of it is written in a surprised tone, as if those nasty things I listed above weren’t expected to happen to/in such a nice little country. But eventually and with just a little time-lag, the 3 ‘g’s: globalization, gentrification, ghettoization landed in Finland, along with iPhones, people with (really) funny names and increasing spatial inequality.
Besides literature on urban problems, there’s also more and more literature on architecture. Then there’s older stuff on beautiful buildings and architect-geniuses, in both Finnish and foreign (LOADS of it) and recently some pretty interesting stuff on its sociopolitical and cultural significance by folks who aren’t primarily interested in buildings, but more in the impacts of Architecture as Materialized Social Order. (Some names from across this eclectic lot: Eyal Weizman, Lelsie Sklair, Rob Imrie, Teresa Caldeira, James Holston, Michael Herzfeld … And from Finland: Kaarin Taipale, Panu Lehtovuori, Harry Schulman, Hille Koskela…)
Whatever bits you read of this stuff, it makes you “read” what’s around you in new ways. Who knows, it might even make you take notice of your environment before it’s too late, when it falls victim either to a bulldozer or an even less unnatural disaster (think New Orleans).
And so, in between other stuff – like seeking out the sun by the sea at Cafe Ursula – we here at Jees Helsinki Jees can just carry on having fun and adding our teeny weeny bit to:
“this incestuous, intertextual implosion of representations where architecture becomes the subject of film, film the subject of history, history the subject of criticism, criticism the subject of deconstruction, deconstruction the subject of architecture, and so on ad infinitum,” as Anthony D. King put it in this book.)
OK, JHJ isn’t just about architecture, but we do think it pays to pay it attention.