The Great Transformation

So long, summer. Hello electioneering. We hope.

Municipal elections are on 28 October and, gratefully, the Great Transformation is at least somewhere on the agenda.

By Great Transformation I’m not talking about the shift from a kind of all-round existence to the market fundamentalism most of us now take for granted. (See Karl Polanyi’s great book of that name for that story.)

Nor am I talking about the great climate transformation that this blind fundamentalism has brought with it. (Check out George Monbiot’s text about that here).

I am of course talking about New Helsinki and all the stray bits and pieces of urban development going on around it.

Did I say development? Slip of the keys.

At the small scale Helsinki is, and is likely to remain, wonderful. At the bigger scale, well, watch out and invite your friends to visit soon. Something big and ugly is expected near here soon.

Almost whichever way you look, the Helsinki Planning Department is getting a lot wrong. It makes room for cars not people, that is, for cars, not people. It plans to chop down forests where it doesn’t need to. It drives big roads into the city centre. It plans for megamalls instead of local shops. Perhaps it’s even opening the door to mediocre and anti-social architecture. (Surely not!)

It wants to build high and although plenty of people and quite a few bloggers are aghast, I have yet to find anyone who believes the madness could actually be stopped.

Saying “no” or looking for alternatives to “the authorities” perhaps doesn’t come naturally to Finns. (See here for a relevant and nice Finnish piece on the topic).

New Yorkers had been saying “no” with a vengeance since the 1960s and the prickly, saintly Jane Jacobs. Even in Stockholm there must have been critical voices over the years, since nothing like the high-going hubris of Sergels Torg has ever been allowed (at least near the centre) since that went up in the 1950s.

JHJ and friends are grateful to those who are doing something to be constructively critical, e.g. here, here and here. (This last link gets in because before the Töölönlahti moonlight swim of a few nights ago – where ordinary folks protested/rejoiced in the bay with their bodies – Peltsi Peltonen made an impassioned speech on behalf of the sea and against business-as-usual that was music to JHJ’s critique-starved ears.)

Looking forward then to urban planning inching its way onto the political agenda.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Great Transformation

  1. Hi. There are people who are trying to create the great transformation, me included. It’s not easy, though, trying to dismantle a paradigm. What we want is dense urban neighborhoods where it’s easy to live your life and walk, cycle and use public transport everywhere.

    In Facebook, you can find use in Lisää kaupunkia Helsinkiin group. The short description says it all: Tämä ryhmä on kaikille niille, joiden mielestä Helsingissä on aivan liian vähän oikeaa kaupunkia. Tiheästi rakennettuja kerrostaloja, joiden kivijalat ovat pikkuliikkeitä täynnä ja joissa on sopivasti puistoja luomassa kaupunkilaisille kohtauspaikkoja.

    ps. you can meet many of us in our monthly pubbing event. It’s held on the first Tuesday every month in pub Angleterre. The next one is next Tuesday, just a couple of days from now.

    There are surprisingly many people blogging and doing things about it. Many of us are running in the Helsinki city elections this fall. Some examples include me: http://mikkosarela.blogspot.fi/
    Otso Kivekäs: http://vesirajassa.blogspot.fi/
    Tolkku: http://tolkku.blogspot.fi/
    Joel Jalkanen: http://jalkanen.blogspot.fi/
    Virrassa: http://virrassa.wordpress.com/ (for those in Espoo!)

    And many others. There are great things happening and we are approaching a crossroads.

  2. JeesHelsinki

    Mikko, thank you. I look forward to reading some of those excellent-looking blogs you mention.
    I had actually thought of the “great transformation” as a metaphor for the way KSV, at the service of the Car and Business Parties in this town, is using its considerable weight to produce or at least facilitate c**p urban planning and design. But you are of course right that efforts are afoot, and they should be supported, to do better. That also means transforming what passes for acceptable and factual. For instance, Tolkku’s blog http://tolkku.blogspot.fi/2012/08/vieraita-elamanmuotoja.html reminded me that the “truth” according to the Car Party [Kokoomus, surely, ed.] is, of course, nowhere near an accurate account of the world. I sincerely hope that more truthful truths will soon take over, and that Finland will cease to be a “one-truth” nation. (So frustrating when that one pravda, er, I mean truth, is such rubbish).
    Thanks again, wishing you success. JHJ

  3. Hi! Thanks for mentioning that the City Planning Center is planning to chop down forests where it doesn’t need to and linking it to Pro Meri-Rastila blog. The biggest problem here in East Helsinki is that people who are making plans that affect our daily life are not familiar with the area and besides they are not willing to listen to our views.

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