The right to Haaga

As a part of the research project about Haaga, I found my interests somewhere along the relations of quantity and quality in the urban fabric. Following the thoughts of Kai Wartiainen (introduced in the instructions for this assignment) about the planning process and its modern reversedness, I would like to examine the relations of at least two definitions or meanings of a neighbourhood. Using Haaga as a case-example, I would like to explore it as a product, or in terms of economics, a commodity, and on the other hand; as a home, environment and essentially the habitat of human beings, the residents.

Housing is a commodity quite different than most others, for you cannot create exact duplicates of it, unlike of an iphone or a car. Essentially in a very basic example one could say that Haaga as a neighbourhood at a given time t has qualities x and a price of p and demand d and the supply s. The demand at any given time essentially forms on the market according to the qualities, or in other words: how desirable is Haaga as a neighbourhood compared to other neighbourhoods? The demand would then set the price according to the supply. Now if the demand was to rise due to the good qualities of Haaga (or any other reason), pressure to increase the “supply of Haaga” would logically arise. But this is the challenge when it comes to the commodity of housing and supply. The changes in supply of housing in an area affects the qualities of all housing units in that area, because the housing unit cannot be detached from the neighbourhood context. You are simply not buying an apartment, you are buying a habitat.

Essentially by increasing the supply to match the growing demand you are altering the qualities of the neighbourhood, in good or in bad. In times of rapid urbanization sometimes decisions have to be made on expense of individuals to accommodate the need of the greater public. Surely the thousands of people moving to Helsinki each year have to live somewhere and it would be both unjust and foolish to turn the willing to-be residents to other areas by declaring the existing urban fabric as holy and unchangeable – as something given. Cities have grown and changed through the time of history, in fact a city is usually just a settlement that grew to be something bigger. Why would the currently existing reality of a city be any better or more righteous than that 200 years ago or 200 years from now?

I would like to explore the problematics of the so called “common good” and “private benefit” as seen on both sides of the table when defining Haaga as a home and habitat and on the other hand pure real-estate. Veikko Eranti has done a study (Eranti, 2014) on the worlds of justification used in a debate and an effort to influence the process of altering the plan of Haaga, in which he analysed the ways that people justified their opposition of the plan. He found that people justified their opposition quite strongly with their personal interests or relations with the area, which would lead into thinking that the residents feel entitled to the area in which their home is located in. While the article is obviously very interesting to a sociologist, I use it here only to underline what I am about to discuss as my main research question.

I would like to seek for relations on density and quality and ask questions like “who has the right to determine these?” Inspired by the short introduction of Wartiainen’s ideas and borrowing from the ideas of David Harvey (see for example: Harvey, 2013) I would like to problematize the dynamics of modern urban development and try to seek answers for the difficult question on the right to the city, in the context of Haaga.

Who really owns the urban? Who has the right to call the shots? Whose benefit is being sought after in urban development? The city is not a city without its residents, yet the residents have sometimes little to say when it is being shaped. Do we have to accept this as a part of indirect democracy and “just the way the world works”, or could we possibly pinpoint any preventable problems in urban planning in the Haaga context to shed light on some of those in other places?

Ideally the research would help find any clues to the trilemma between the interests of residents, the city officials and the building industry and its associates. Using the history of Haaga (near and far) I would like to dig in the dynamics of stakeholders in a changing neighbourhood. Essentially asking: “who wants what and why, and who got it and why?”. I feel that analysing such material and trying to understand the developments from every side of the table, would help evaluate the processes by which these developments happen and possibly help bring all stakeholders closer to understanding each other in similar instances.

Essentially the research would be a question of who had the right to Haaga in the early 1900s when the Munkkiniemi-Haaga plan was made, who had it later when something quite different actually happened, who had it in the time of the plan alteration and infill developments that Eranti studied and moreover, who has it today?



Eranti, Veikko. 2014. Oma etu ja yhteinen hyvä paikallisessa kiistassa tilasta. Sosiologia 1/2014.

Harvey, David. 2013. Rebel Cities: From the right to the city to the urban revolution. Verso: London. ISBN-13:978-1-78168-074-2.

Its all about the sound

This is a soundclip I compiled of what I had after going through what was mostly just wind and rattling, due to the weather circumstances. For this reason it is not from one place, but more like a compilation of the places we walked through. It starts with loud chatter and sounds of vehicles (and wind) but gradually towards the end, easens off to a almost complete silence with only the sound of a distant conversation. I feel it wraps up the varying surroundings we passed from centers with people, to quiet pedestrian walkways, to bridges over highways, to forests of calmness. But always with people.

Measuring unmeasurable

Density is an interesting concept, that means simply how much of the measured is in a given space. Population density is perhaps one of the major “densities” when talking about an urban area. As a lecturer (Lotta Junnilainen if I recall correctly) pointed out this week: a city is not much without its people. Density is always defined not only by how many units there are, but in what space. Its all pretty simple when you first think about it, but to make meaningful interpretations and comparisons with different densities one must understand the nature of the space that the density is calculated for. What I mean by this is not only do you have to keep in mind the amount of people in relation to the area, but also what are the charasteristics or the function of that area of space.

If you calculate the population density for a given building lot, you will get a higher number each time you put an extra floor on top of the building. If you take a set area, say one square kilometre, and calculate the density of residents for that including roads, parks, shops, houses and railways, you will get a number, but it will not tell you much of you don’t know whether it’s an industrial zone, high-rise suburb or a low town-house district in the innercity.

All in all, what I guess I wanted to say is that density as an absolute figure doesn’t tell much without adequate background knowledge on the area. That said, I still think that population density (in all its possible calculation methods) is an important tool when measuring the city. My previous studies being in sociology, it probably goes without saying that for me, the city is first and foremost the people in it.

But while the people are the true heart of the city, they alone are meaningless. What truly is meaningful is who they are or more precisely who they can be in that city. Densely built cities, in theory, give a fertile ground for different entrepreneurs because of the high number of potential customers. In that sense any given individual would, in theory, have more options to support themselves and accordingly any given individual would have more options to consume their time and money in a dense city.

Following that, one might think that increasing the density to the maximum would be a simple answer in creating the maximum amount of possibilities? I fear that it is not so black and white. Like I stated earlier density alone is not a sufficient metric for good or bad urban life and increasing (or decreasing) it has implications on the qualities of the area. Increasing the density of people in an area without adjustments to the infrastructure, for example, creates congestion.

Densifying an area can also mean smaller homes, higher buildings shadowing the streets or insufficient public services, crowding the schools and public transport, essentially making life worse in those areas. That’s where I believe design comes in. Managing dense or densifying neighbourhoods with smart design solutions and sensible investments can make all the difference between two equally dense areas. I think the uses for density as a notion is less about the figures, even though they are the basis, and more about how the density is reached in a balanced manner and what it means in terms of a specific set of other circumstances.

Beyond wikipedia – Well planned is half done?


The story of Haaga as an urban part of the city of Helsinki can be said to have started roughly a hundred years ago. In the beginning of the 1900s Helsinki did not own much of the land areas it does today, and infact until 1946 the whole of Helsinki was pretty much the peninsula located between Seurasaarenselkä in the west and Vanhankaupunginselkä in the north-east and Kruununvuorenselkä in the south-east.

Obviously, there was life outside the peninsula, and much of it had to do with Helsinki, but it appeared that Helsinki had little interest to make land purchases on these areas in the beginning of the 20th century, even allegedly given the chance.

Special land enterprises arose to fill the evident real-estate business vacuum surrounding the capital city of Finland. One of these was a company called Ab M.G. Stenius, which was the company responsible for buying the land areas of Haaga and Munkkiniemi in parts by 1912. Quickly after, in 1915, the company had finished the famous plan for the area called the Munkkiniemi-Haaga plan, which was done by Eliel Saarinen and consisted of dense yet idealistic garden-city values.

The plan was both detailed and holistic, but due to many factors was never realised. Like many things in life, also great plans are subject to chance and the change of circumstances. The first world war, and probably a list of reasons too long to be discussed in this post, resulted in a lack of investors and potential residents, therefore essentially freezing the growth of the area. Be that as it may, come the 1920s, plots were sold in great quantities and housing was built, some of which did however resemble the original plan.

What strikes me the most in all of this is, by reading through the materials available on the different phases and chapters of Munkkiniemi-Haaga, it would almost seem as if the area was bought in order to prepare it for selling for profit, what might have been seen as the inevitable through the eyes of Ab M.G. Stenius stakeholders. After all the company did have board members that also sat in big chairs at the city council.

Through many phases and negotiations going seemingly up and down like a rollercoaster, the land areas of Ab M.G. Stenius were sold to the city of Helsinki for 83 million Finnish marks in 1938 and the areas were merged into Helsinki in 1946 along with many other areas.

As is pointed out in various (marvellous) posts done by other students (e.g. this one) the real construction boom of Haaga started only in the 1950s and had only minor details resembling the ambitious Munkkiniemi-Haaga plan. The question that immediately arises from all of this is: what happened?

Obviously a lack of investors and small things like a couple of world wars would probably be a decent enough excuse for altering and delaying the plan as much as was done, but the real question I have in mind is one that rose after a discussion with our adjunct professor Anssi Joutsiniemi on planning and its timeframe. He emphasized that plans change due to all kinds of reasons, starting from such basic matters as values. The beginning of the 1900s was no-doubt a great time for utopian planners like Ebenezer Howard, but can grand schemes like that ever flourish especially in our day of rapidly changing needs and fluctuations in values?

Haaga has undoubtedly transformed in the last hundred years from a countryside to an integral part of urban Helsinki, but in ways that differ greatly from the intentions of the very forces that set this transformation in motion. Are we infact doomed by the uncertainty and unpredictableness of our own selves, even in the processes of sculpturing our future in stone, to just sit down for the ride as time takes us through the unforeseeable? Will the future always be just a mosaic-like collection of the values of yesterday, engraved in the urban fabric as an ever-expiring reality? Or could there be a possibility for timeless design, one that can be accepted as quality through the decades or even centuries? Perhaps flexibility is what we need, but how to integrate into the urban the flexibility for uses, needs and definitions still unknown?




THE SECOND PRACTICAL – historical bicycle route to the squatted culture spaces of Helsinki

In the second practical, we composed a bicycle route from Lepakkoluola (1979) to the contemporary Sompasauna. The route went through four more additional historical sites that were spaces for marginal urban culture or were squatted.

As the base for the map a map was downloaded from a WMS server. The first step was the pinpointing of the sights to the map. This was done by creating a vector layer and with the help of a GeoCoding-plugin. We made searches in the known addresses of the sights (e.g. Porkkalankatu 1 for Lepakkoluola). When the general area was found, a new vector layer was created. The layer was edited and with the Add feature -tool, the sights were added to the map as polygons.

The second step was creating the route layer. This was done to a new layer. However, instead of a Point type layer, a Line type layer was selected. After this, a new field was created by “Add to fields list”. The route was drawn by hand to the map. As the last step of the actually drawing of the map, the start and the end were replaced with point type pinpoints as they allowed to symbol a more general, free roam moment in the bicycle trip.

The last step was the stylization of the map and composing it as printable in Print Composer.

We persuade audience for the bicycle trip by assuring that they will get a cross-section of the Finnish diy culture. The route will start where the once legendary Lepakkoluola stood, go through historical sites of urban culture – music and arts – and finish in the proclaimed diy sauna in Sompasaari. The route reflects also social change. In the verge of the 1980s, Kill City and Punk House were temporary spaces, and the contemporary Lepakkoluola had to struggle for its existence for its whole duration. However, the slightly younger culture spaces of Kookos tehdas and Oranssi squatted in the late 1980s became an art school and an NGO funded by many sources – including the city of Helsinki.

In the beginning and end of the tour, the participants are free to roam. Around Lepakkoluola is located the beautiful scenery of Hietaniemi and participants are encouraged to visit Lapinlahteen lähti – with roots in Lepakkoluola. In the end of the tour, the participants will get a chance to bath in the world famous Sompasauna.

Groupwork by:

Juho Hänninen, Arttu Antila, Tommi Henriksson & Henri Mikkola

Haaga state of mind (Reconstructing Haaga)

The assignment we got this week is to recreate Haaga as it was or might have been in the 17th century. In class last week we did a group work about this to set the theme in place and our group, perhaps subconsciously, reverted into finding information about a later time, a time from where maps were available. Maybe it was because it was easier? Or maybe it was because our thinking was oriented towards looking for signs of documented human interference rather than lack thereof (mine sure was).

It wasn’t until I witnessed an excellent presentation about, not human, but natural interactions, which addressed the natural formation of land and nature all the way back from the ice age. It really struck me like a lightning from the blue sky – all this time I had believed that I have an open mind, but I stumbled clumsily on my own limited mindset.

Now, it would seem pretentious to simply take that and follow someone else without realising it for myself, so I will continue on with my own thoughts about the exercise. Perhaps next time I will be readier to doubt my own reality and what it consists of, and at least realize that simply believing you have considered everything is not enough.

The way that I felt most comfortable with thinking about this exercise was to approach it through the experiences people had about and meanings people gave to Haaga. What was Haaga like in the minds of people in pre 17th century Finland and Helsinki? What was the function of the place? How was it considered in relation to the city or other cities? I immediately found interesting the possible changes in its perceived closeness to the downtown and the identities of Helsinki and Haaga, which were politically separate at that time, and infact until 1946. (More about the merging can be found in the original documents by the city council here)

We had a lecture about literary analysis on Wednesday as a part of the research methods course, and perhaps also owing to the timing, I would personally approach this task by finding writings about Haaga from that time. I imagine it would be wise to also frame Haaga as based on facts, meaning find records of any permanent housing or taxing data, police records, land use and ownership and road plans (there was atleast one road: the Läntinen Viertotie or what is now known as Mannerheimintie).

After that my plan might be to start finding fictional literature set in or around Helsinki and Haaga. I would analyse the texts to try to find any clues to how Haaga is portrayed. What emotions is the writer trying to evoke by setting Haaga in the story? How is Haaga described? Also diaries, poems and other more informal records would surely be of use here.

My attempt to recreate Haaga would be one in which Haaga is recreated as it was from the human perspective at the time. Lands rise and rivers flow, but my Haaga for now would be not the physical one, but instead the parallel, co-existing set of meanings given to it.

Urban GIS and Visual Tools: Practical 1

The purpose behind the PRACTICAL 1 task was to utilize zonal statistics and to use the field calculator to add new columns into the attribute table of a shapefile.

The task was to detect green areas in the city of Helsinki and see what the ratio of green areas are towards total population figures. The completion of the task developed in the following manner:

In the Green areas phase:

Create a new field called Area_km2 to the attribute table – $area/1 000 000

3 & 4. Create individual green area data for districts using zonal statistics. One pixel of green area covers 400m2. Converting pixels into km2 is therefore done by dividing the pixel amount of a district by 2 500.

To get the right ratio green/ total area: The area of green for each district is divided by total area and then multiplied by 100. This is again done using the field calculator.

Population data phase:

Continuing the layer we previously modified (Helsinki_small_areas), we brought the data of the population grid into the layer by using join attributes by location. This way the population sum data for each district was drawn into the layer containing the green areas. During the process, the attribute summary had to be set to take summary of intersecting features, because otherwise all of the pixels (displaying the area of green) within each district wouldn’t have been included into the calculation.

The final step was to calculate how many inhabitants there are for each area unit (typically m2 or km2) of green area within the districts.
When visualizing the data one has to keep the maps simple and not force too much information into one map. Visualizing the green areas was done using the graduated symbol style and with the Natural Breaks classification method. Natural Breaks is good for classification, because it detects break points in the histogram and attempts to draw lines between clusterizations.

As could be expected we noticed that the districts located downtown had the least green areas towards population ratio. There are districts with high population rates outside of downtown (for example Vuosaari) which in theory could decrease the green area/population ratio, but the areas of these districts are usually higher compared to downtown. Therefore the dark areas on the map are displayed mainly downtown and in districts which have a relatively small area (for example Tammisalo).

Juho Hänninen, Arttu Antila, Tommi Henriksson, Henri Mikkola

It’s like a jungle sometimes

Or when it comes to Helsinki, mostly just forest. The term “urban jungle” probably fits better the crowded and narrow streets of a big city’s downtown area than the high-rise suburbs of Helsinki and Espoo which we passed on our excursion from Myllypuro to Leppävaara. Even so, the way that nature is integrated within the urban fabric in the Helsinki metropolitan area is something quite astonishing. More like “urban in the jungle”.

High hills, rocky forest paths and vast field areas just a quick bike ride away from a busy metro stop. These are places that might be harder to navigate when just moving from place A to B than a gridiron network of streets and avenues, but are at the same time serving an entirely different purpose. They are places where one can escape the urban.

The forest, by which here I mean any collection of close to natural-state pieces of vegetation roughly sizeable enough not to be see-through, is also in my opinion much more “up for grabs” in the Finnish mind, than other public spaces. It may have to do with the “every man’s rights” in Finland that allow the use and even to some extent the alteration of nature, or the fact that they are usually “out of the way”, or maybe it’s just because they are in fact “left” when an urban area is built around it, unlike the urban public places that are built often for a specific function. Without a specific and definitive function justified by the very creation of it in the first place, the forest may be under a very different set of codes of conduct than for example a street. Loitering in the woods is called camping.

I don’t know why, but it would seem the nature I saw along the way stuck with me much more than anything else. Maybe it’s because the trails and paths are something that usually only the locals would see. I used to drive the cab for four years in Helsinki, so I would think it’s safe to say I’ve seen a bit of every neighborhood. But that would be from the car. This time I got to see it through the eyes of the local.

I like the forest, because as a place it allows me to be curious, to explore. I like it because it doesn’t always make sense, and I like it because I feel I have a right to be there without a specific reason and just watch it exist. Those are also some of the reasons why I like the city. I feel that the elements of nature in between the urban city create a positive contrast with each other, where it is possible to feel a change much greater than the distance travelled might suggest.

If I would have to sum up what I saw on the excursion, it would probably be a diverse collection of spaces, both urban and natural, that intertwine with each other to form a uniform, yet varying whole, which while having many aspects to improve as a functional urban area still offers a unique setting for life as it happens.