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.