It was the year 1969 and winter had set in across Helsinki. As the two brothers unpacked their suitcases, Henri gazed out his bedroom window for the first time. He had never seen so much snow! At their old house on Pohjoisranta the snow was quickly removed to make way for people hurrying around the city. Here small villa houses with orchards sat peacefully amongst forest, nestled into a nearby hill. He could see a road and apartment buildings under construction nearby. Their new apartment on Matkamiehenpolku wasn’t as modern as the previous one, but it was a lot bigger. Henri was excited for this new beginning and through the eyes of a kid, Etela Haaga was wonderland of vast open spaces just waiting to be explored.

Image courtesy of the Hiippala family.

There were no schools in Etela Haaga so the brothers continued attending the SYK school in Nervanderinkatu. There were not many children to play with in their new building and they missed running around the courtyard with all the children of Pohjoisranta. Although the journey was longer, the brothers looked forward to school each day to see their old friends. Led by older brother Eerik, the boys soon made friends with the children of Matkamiehenpolku and as further apartments were built, more families moved to the area. As teenagers Eerik and Henri spent a lot of time with friends at the popular hang-out on the high cliffs behind their apartment building. Here, out of the watchful eye of parents, they would listen to music, play cards and occasionally sneak a cigarette or beer!

The group also spent days roaming the area, cycling to the Pirkkola Swimming Pool and playing football and hockey at the Etela Haaga sports field. When Henri was hungry, he would pick apples, pears or plums from the many fruit trees nearby. However, the group was careful not to roam too widely. Crossing the Ilkantie would find you in uncharted territory under the control of the Pohjois Haaga gang. The brothers knew venturing alone to the north could be problematic, a bloody nose or even worse.  Mixing with the north was uncommon and the brothers had no friends in Pohjois Haaga. They were at home in Etela Haaga, it was their identity and a kingdom to protect. Although Henri was secretly jealous of the cinema and mini-golf course on the other side of Ilkantie.

Images courtesy of the Hiippala family.

Riding mopeds borrowed from a nearby motorcycle club was the favourite pass time of both boys.  They spent hours cruising the gravel path of Keskuspuistontaival within the central park. Henri always got his moped so dirty, which wasn’t difficult as after rain the narrow tracks turned to mud and clay. They could ride without licenses on the condition that the mopeds where cleaned before they were returned. Eerik ‘s confidence grew, and he built an informal ramp where they could jump in Kivihaka. This resulted in a few small incidents and was soon shut down!

As more schools were built in Etela Haaga, students came from all over Helsinki to attend. The brother’s world expanded and suddenly weekends consisted of visiting friends in Munkkiniemi, Töölö, Ullanlinna and Leppävaara and Viherlaakso in Espoo. Around this time Eerik got a girlfriend and started spending less time with the group. Henri remembers his older brother looked so happy parading with a girl around the streets of Etela Haaga. Both brothers had grown up and had less time for friends. Soon the gang on the hill had disbanded, with members transitioning to the next stages of life.

To Henri it felt like the whole suburb was moving on, his parents were getting older, friends were leaving for work or study and new families were not moving to the area. In the early 1990s he noticed a dramatic change in his neighbourhood. One by one the stores that Henri and Eerik frequented as children started to close: first the camera shops, then the Butcher his mother liked and finally Fazer pastry shop in Palokaivo Square. People were drawn to the new shopping centre at the city centre with chain stores and fast food outlets. Although admitting change is inevitable, Henri missed walking to his neighbourhood shops. The streets around Palokaivo Square had been so lively and there was a strong sense of community which had now faded.

For years Etela Haaga was quiet, a shadow of its former glory. Henri met his wife and remained in the area where he raised his own family. Now, things are changing, there is a new feeling in the air and Etela Haaga is again under transition. Young families are once again moving to the area, attracted by schools, big apartments size and good transport links to the city. The forests and open areas remain, it is the perfect suburb to raise a family. Henri hopes a new generation will bring the feeling of community back and create their own life stories in Etela Hagaa, just as he has.

This is a story based on true accounts given by Matti and Seppo Hiippala who grew up on Matkamiehenpolku in Etela Haaga. Matti still resides in Haaga and his knowledge of the area spans over 50 years. 
Interview conducted September 2018 in conjunction with Asta Hiippala. Please refer to Asta Hippala’s article for an in depth look at the historical divide between Etela Hagga and Pohjois Haaga.

2 comments

  1. How refreshing it was reading your piece! Designers are now learning about the power of narrativity, which you obviously have embedded, somehow. If you want to read about how planners use, or could use narrativity in their work, let me know. But if you have Facebook and wish, please browse my page where I have a two-month old post about a North-American planner, mayor, and professor emeritus who gave a great lecture in Helsinki about narrativity and planning. Katie, thank you for sharing your piece. I was smiling reading it and was amazed how it took me momentarily to my childhood as I was born in 69 too. Wow imagine that!

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