From urban unpredictability to tulipmania


According to writers like Sharon Zukin, the contemporary metropolis is suffering a crisis of authenticity. One dimension of this crisis is the way urbanites both love and fear the unexpected. They want the authentic feel of a real, lived city and they turn up their noses at the macdonaldsization of urban space. Not this sanitised commercialism, they proclaim, we want the real thing, urban grit. But do they really?

Let’s take Helsinki’s Kallio, for instance (beautiful photos of it here). Kallio is one of very few densely populated and evidently diverse neighbourhoods in the whole of Finland. Lots of people say they love the vibe there.

But it also has a visible contingent of people who have drug and alcohol-related problems. Their behaviour is by definition sometimes a bit hard to predict. And so quite a few people like the idea of Kallio and like to hang out there, but are more than happy to live somewhere else. Somewhere less unpredictable.

Then again, as Ulrich Beck wrote back in the 1980s (the original that came out in German), the whole world is a bit of a risk society. Beck was interested at the time in environmental and technological risk. Anyone with a bank account will recently have become acquainted with another pervasive type of risk, financial risk.

In fact, a person these days could be forgiven for thinking that our whole way of life is premised on risk-taking and lack of predictability. Aren’t big salaries in finance to do with the valued capacity to work out how any kind of risk can be exploited, divided up, avoided, shifted into the future or onto someone else’s shoulders and so on?

We digressed. Again.

We were going to comment simply on the rather lovely element of predictability that survives in Helsinki. There’s something about the seasonality that you just can’t escape in this part of the world. Perhaps it’s the slowly but surely changing environment here that makes people come up with ways to mark the passing of time, and to enjoy whatever time/weather (temps, vous voyez…) they happen to be stuck in.

Soon we will be seeing Runeberg tarts in the shops. Then marzipan-filled buns to mark Mardi Gras. We will go and work off the calories afterwards in Helsinki’s parks with our toboggans and our children.

Already the tulip season is in full swing. Compared to many other flowers at this time of year they are relatively inexpensive in Finland. Here are some we were fortunate enough to be given.

Nothing wrong with predictability in this sense. Though tulips were perhaps the start of all this madness in the first place…

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