About Jees Helsinki Jees

Things change. This blog is a record of one person’s observations about change in Helsinki. Though not exactly. These are supplemented by the insights of a significant other, who sees Helsinki and Finland with rather fresher, if no less passionate, eyes.

So there are posts on current events and news in the Helsinki area, but also more personal commentary. Most of it is about planning, city government, capital and the other powerful drivers that shape where the rest of us live (allowing, of course, for some of the rest of us falling into those categories too). The whole thing is a personal diary. It’s also an attempt to make sense of one of the critical public concerns of our times, the shaping of shared and public space. Academics have written stacks about this, most of it thoroughly depressing stuff – more privatised space, more rules and security guards to police them, more consumerism and more segregation, mostly in tne name of attraction. That doesn’t mean nice-looking but rather enticing to international capital and wealthy tax payers. Some of the thinking here is from them, but much of it is from personal experience and from campaign groups and others who take an active interest and role in shaping Helsinki for people as well as profit.

Originally this blog was inspired by the sense that much of what goes on here is  another case of urban “development” obstructing and obliterating anything that anyone might have really wanted. We’ve calmed down a bit now, but still hope to come up with readable ideas and pleasurable visuals.

HRH The Prince of Wales wishes it to be known that He has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog.

6 responses to “About Jees Helsinki Jees

  1. Bel Ludovic

    This blog is awesome. It combines one of my favourite subjects, architecture and urban design, with one of my favourite cities. I’ve just read all thirty pages of it. It deserves more comments and more acclaim, so here’s my bit.

    I don’t agree with everything you’ve written (I feel less strongly about Kamppi, for example – whilst far from perfect, it gets quite a lot right that other malls elsewhere have got badly wrong), but I’ve never found the blog anything less than absorbing. And I’m with you on Senate Square – it should be left as it is (apart from new lampposts, perhaps). (Are the Senate Square plans even going ahead now? It’s all gone quiet on the subject recently.)

    Having been to Helsinki three times now, I take the view that its qualities make wholesale reinvention unnecessary. There’s not a lot wrong with it that I would change. If I were being hyper-critical I could perhaps suggest better shop signage, less crappy lettering on shop windows and better food retail, but in fact the only thing that really lets it down is the disappointing quality of much of its (hard, not soft) public realm, particularly the use of the same material on pavements and roads; I’ve never been to any other European capital where so many of the city centre’s pavements are surfaced with crappy-looking asphalt/tarmac rather than actual paving slabs. Where paving exists it’s high quality, but there’s not enough of it. I noted how Yrjönkatu (Hotel Torni end) had been transformed since the last time I was in Helsinki – the new pavements make such a difference to the streetscene. But on a dark, cloudy, rainy morning, as I sat in the Kanniston bakery and looked at the expanse of tarmac between Lasipalatsi and the old bus station building (the ground treatment seemingly unchanged since the area was actually used as a bus station), I did think: bleak.

    But if that’s the worst that can be said for a city, then I guess it’s not doing too badly overall! Here’s hoping that Helsinki remains the distinctive, gracious and special place it is today. I look forward to keeping up to date on its progress via this terrific blog. Keep up the great work.

  2. JeesHelsinki

    Bel,
    thank you for your kind words. Distinctive, gracious, special – we couldn’t have put it better!
    But as a matter of fact, the editorial team here at JHJ is seriously considering winding down completely. We’ll see. As you can guess, we enjoy writing about the object of our affections, but it is time consuming. Your message was so lovely though, that it may yet postpone things.
    There’s another problem too, and that is that the more you find out the more depressing it gets. We feel like telling everyone “come enjoy it now, it won’t last”!
    Your point about there not being a lot about Helsinki that you would change is something that those in power seem not to understand at all. They really are intent on making so many of the mistakes that others have done before – maybe a city shouldn’t be blamed for not learning from others’ mistakes, but it is sadly, horribly disappointing.
    So, in the pipeline there’s a lot of truly crap (even scary) urban planning and urban design as well as some nuggets of fine, human-scale future environment. There is some hope in the fact that a number of folks are waking up to the crimes being done/planned (I loved a remark by Ilkka Malmberg in Hesari’s monthly magazine that if Finland’s capital hadn’t been plonked here on the coast but inland, one benefit would be that the capital might still have four fine seasons… I think he was referring to the Planning Department’s aversion to leaving urban life to be lived under the open skies and its penchant for improvements like under-pavement heating. Nice hard landscaping did come as a bonus, admittedly).
    As for where real life goes on, a lot of Helsinkians are already turning their backs on the administration and doing things for themselves. Not something lefties like JHJ would normally advocate, but there’s lives here to be improved, streets to be cherished and buildings to be cared for.
    Ahhh, this really IS addictive. Thanks for reminding us about the good stuff, Bel. More later, honest.
    JHJ
    p.s. Some of the proposed Senate Square changes have taken place but only in the buildings. We are not impressed with the results so far but nothing really disastrous has happened yet.

  3. Bel Ludovic

    Well, I really hope you don’t stop. I can see what you mean about some of what’s in the pipeline, though. The renders of towers at Pasila, for example: so very ho-hum. As a Londoner, I am heartily sick of overblown, bombastic, ‘iconic’ architecture with randomly arranged bar-code windows. It would be very disappointing if Helsinki couldn’t come up with something a bit more imaginative.

    The cancellation of the Herzog and de Meuron hotel now provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something truly special there. I wonder whether the siting of the proposed new Central Library on Töölö Bay shouldn’t be reconsidered in favour of this site.

    Still, if the plans for Helsinki get too depressing, consider that London is worse: new megamalls, empty and pointless new ‘plazas’, finance-baiting Dubai-like skyscrapers such as The Shard – a monument to a bygone age, it now seems – and identikit streets full of the same chain eateries. There’s good stuff going on, too, but the overall impression is one of soulless self-aggrandisement.

  4. Yes, don’t stop, it’s great – I was just about to get in touch and invite you for a cup of coffee and a chat! Interested to discuss further.

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