A wooden monument to optimism

This post is effectively a huge thanks to Dan Hill and everyone else at Helsinki Design Lab/Sitra where they are promoting low-carbon urban planning. The freshly pressed visualizations on their blog, of the bizarreness otherwise known as parking norms in Helsinki, should make it harder than before for the peddlers of business-as-usual to argue their case. For, as JHJ has noted before, it should not be an easy case to make. (But then in Helsinki cases aren’t so much made or argued, it’s more a case of taking and sticking to positions. Read on.)

Yesterday’s post on the HDL blog compares new-build in London (the massive Shard skyscraper at London Bridge) and in Helsinki (the massive New Helsinki boom that is transforming what used to be Helsinki’s West Harbour). Note, the Helsinki project is being peddled as exquisitely green. Dan then on the HDL-blog (here’s that link again):

A typical block [in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki] will be designed to have around 7 floors and have to make space for approximately 120 parking spaces. Both cities are well-served by public transport (in fact, Helsinki has previously been voted as having the best public transport in Europe) and Helsinki being a compact city, you could walk to most bits of central Helsinki from Jätkäsaari.

But the visuals, only one of which I’m copying here because it’s worth reading the whole post (there was the link again) are really provocative:

On the back of this, let us pontificate: for Helsinki to stay as lovely as it is, let alone become even lovelier, its management must get rid this tendency to clog things up either with cars or sclerotic ideas. HDL’s visual will help.

What it will also require, though, is something that is in shockingly short supply here, namely self critique. In fact any kind of critique (not to be confused with dissing or haukkua in Finnish) would be a bonus.

Instead of debate and self-critique, we have something that makes me think of the allegro of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony, oddly enough: Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Happy gathering of country folk).

As lovely as Helsinki is, endless self-congratulation is tiresome. The UK’s The Independent newspaper is the latest to pour heaps of dubiously argued (argued?!) praise on the whole country. Sure, it was once a fabulous place, and still is. But it sure is at risk of being messed up by amateurish and selfish decision-making, as any regular readers of our rants must know. Helsinki’s media (social and journalist-produced) is in danger of turning into a wooden monument to (misplaced) optimism. (The phrase borrowed with a twist from that excellent blog post. Did I already give the link?)

Helsinki optimism is really getting to us actually. Perhaps a short trip to smelly London is called for. It’s not as nice as Helsinki, but one knows that it will give one an injection of critical thinking. For instance the politically engaged Planners Network UK who know that now is not the time to foist solutions on others as much as to ask questions (Disorientation-guide pdf). Healthy disorientation in a time of obvious crisis (obvious outside Finland) can also be achieved through urban gardening in London. Looking forward.

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