Two Rail Projects Shaping Haaga
Background & Introduction
After the wars involving Finland had ended at 1945 the city of Helsinki faced a rapid rise in urbanisation. The city was under enormous pressure to create housing for hundreds of thousands of evacuees fleeing from Karelia as well as for the growing generation of baby boomers. The increase of population exposed urban planning under multiple challenges which resulted a significant change in the way Helsinki was planned (Schulman Pulma and Aalto, pp.27-35, 2000).
Before the wartime the urban structure of Helsinki had been quite consistent. Helsinki was a compact city sitting on a small cape where buildings were laid densely in closed quarters with only a couple of exceptions. From the 1950s and increasingly from the 60s onwards several new suburbs were constructed further away from the existing city and apart from each other (Schulman Pulma and Aalto, pp. 39, 2000). According to Hedman (1981) many of these suburbs were in their planning phase referred as garden suburbs drawing from the ideas presented by Howard and Unwin at the turn of the 20thcentury.
Among one of the first suburbs constructed was Haaga, formerly a small borough only a few kilometres away from the city centre. After constructing around the obvious townships such as Etelä-Haaga, Oulunkylä and Herttoniemi in the 1950s the urban planners and construction companies began to look for new grounds further away from the existing urban areas. Reinforced concrete had revolutionised the construction industry by providing a new fast and cost-efficient way to build completely new suburbs from scratch (Schulman Pulma and Aalto, 2000).
As Schulman (2000, pp.48-50) explains, the Finnish cities especially in the capital region decided to tackle the housing shortage in cooperation with the banking sector and the construction companies. Almost all the major cities provided the contractors with cheap land to build on and in exchange the construction companies funded by the large banks agreed to take care of not only constructing the housing, but also building the infrastructure and sometimes even planning the new areas. This so-called project development can be seen in Pohjois-Haaga where the tower blocks in the mid-50s were actually one of the first residential areas where the buildings, roads and sewerage were constructed by the same company called SATO (short from Social Housing Production). SATO also took actively part in planning the area (HS, 17 June 1995).
After wartime the construction of new residential areas was steered by the urgent need of new housing created by the war. Rush was however not the only reason behind the change in planning principles. Already in the 1940s a new trend of rehabilitation had emerged. The dense quarters constructed in the early decades of the century were regarded to be too closed and cramped and creating social as well as health problems. The solution was to lower the building density, grow the sizes of individual flats and most importantly to provide people with more space both inside and outside their apartments (Schulman, pp.35, 2000).
The previous is a description of the planning principles shaping the urban planning of Helsinki during the rapid expansion of the city during the decades following the war. Urban planning is all about wanting to create environments where people want to live based on current trends that are always changing. Often the planning principles are guided by previous planning actions that are regarded somehow faulty. The planning principles always reflect strongly the current values of the time when the plan is done. As values change over time, the planning has to adapt to that switch and correct the possible mistakes done in the past. Planning principles cannot be detached from the realities set by the economic situation nor the different levels of politics. In his studies Harry Schulman (2000 pp.35) talks about urban planning ideals which are then shaped by the economics and politics and refined into planning principles.
In this article I want to study the planning principles behind two very different plans at different times. The first project that has caught my attention is the Martinlaakso Railway Line which was constructed in the the 1970s. According to Herranen (1988, pp. 299) the Martinlaakso Line was revolutionary as it was the first project in Finland where urban planning, transportation planning and land use were organised as a whole. The Martinlaakso Line was closely connected to the problems that occurred in the element suburbs of the 50s and 60s. The railway is one of the major turning points in the history of Haaga as it connected the suburb closer to the city centre and boosted the construction of Pohjois-Haaga and especially Lassila with new kind of planning principles implemented.
After examining the planning principles and the driving forces behind the Martinlaakso Line I boldly state that after it was completed the Haaga area remained relatively unchanged all the way until the 2010s when the cplans of another pair of rails into the area was introduced. Currently the planning of Haaga is strongly connected to the Jokeri Light Rail. Infill development along the 25 km transverse light rail connection is one of the main focus points of planning Helsinki in the near future. In Etelä-Haaga the goal is to create new homes for 3500 inhabitants and jobs for 2000 workers by 2030. (Raide-Jokeri, 2018)Similar kind of light rails are one of the key elements when planning the city boulevards, which are also due to change Haaga remarkably over the forthcoming decades. Helsinki has a strategic goal of creating a light rail network that would connect the heavy linear railroad and metro tracks better to each another and to the areas in between (Helsinki City Plan, 2018).
This article studies the principles guiding the modern-day planning of Etelä-Haaga around the Jokeri Light Rail and compares them with the standards that defined the planning of Lassila and other railway subcentres in the 1970s. The fundamental ideas behind these two very different plans can tell a lot about how planning Helsinki and the mentality behind it has changed over time. This article gives an overlook to the past, the present and the future planning of Haaga telling simultaneously about the general planning trends in Helsinki. The sources of information mainly consist of Helsinki’s official planning documents and the articles concerning the plans published in Helsingin Sanomat over the years. These give a good overview of the planning principles when looking at how the different plans have been explained and justified when they were first presented.
The Martinlaakso Rail Line – Ideals from the 1970s
When entering the 1970s, the urban planners expressed dissatisfaction with the Helsinki suburbs built during the decades following the war. The suburbs once called garden cities were then nicknamed as forest cities describing the sparsity and scattering of the suburbs (Turpeinen Herranen and Hoffman, 2000, pp.251). In 1981 the urban planning department of Helsinki published a report about the main characteristics and development needs of Helsinki’s suburbs (KA 2.4:33). In the report, the urban planners announced that the scarcity, small size and housing-oriented structure in many of the existing neighbourhoods in Helsinki had resulted in them becoming dormitory suburbs in which the residents have limited labour and leisure possibilities. This forced the citizens to commute to the city centre for both work and recreation leaving the suburbs empty of jobs and services.
Additionally, the city of Helsinki was worried because property use in its centre was changing. An excessive amount of residential buildings was turned into offices which, together with the increase of services, caused growth in (mainly car) traffic between the centre and the sleeping suburbs (Turpeinen Herranen and Hoffman, 2000, pp.251). The urban planners’ answer to the previous problems was investing in public transportation and creating multiple subcentres along the new rail lines. During the 1970s metro planning sped up while also the existing railways were electrified and better utilised in everyday transport. The first entirely new project to break ground was the Martinlaakso Rail Line which was some sort of a combination of these two. Branching off from Huopalahti station in Haaga the rail line took advantage of the existing railway connections and technologies, but the stations were located within a relatively short distance from each other which is typical for metro-like networks (Herranen, 1988, pp.298-299). Along the seven-kilometre railway the trains would call at six different stations out of which three were located inside Helsinki and three in Vantaa.
According to Herranen (1988) the Martinlaakso Rail Line was the very first proper effort in Finnish community planning to combine urban and transportation planning. In public the new urban rail line was referred as ribbon city development where the different subcentres would be well linked to each other and to the city centre. When planning the new ribbon neighbourhoods in Lassila, Kannelmäki and Martinlaakso, special attention was paid in making sure that the residents would not have to live in isolated sleeping suburbs. Instead the goal was to create “self-sufficient, functioning neighbourhoods and to avoid building grey suburbs” (HS 1 March 1973).
In an interview given to Helsingin Sanomat (HS 1 March 1973) lead architect of the Haaga-Vantaa project, Heikki Kaitera described the planning objectives from behalf of Helsinki. Referencing to the forest suburbs he states that “the new neighbourhood centres will rise from the grey suburban mass of the capital area”. This was to be achieved by improving the job self-sufficiency from what was less than ten percent in certain forest suburbs to anywhere between 30 and 50 %. In ribbon city the building efficiency would be highest around the railway stations with most of the housing and workplaces located within a walking distance from the rail line. The city also wanted to learn from previous mistakes by building public services, such as schools, health care and shopping centres simultaneously with the housing and the transportation. A large park stretching from Lassila all the way to Malminkartano following the Mätäjoki river would fulfil the recreational needs in the whole area. Kaitera also gushes about the shopping facilities being from “the greater world” with a massive department store being built in between Lassila and Kannelmäki.
The areas in Kannelmäki and Martinlaakso were almost completely unbuilt before the rail line plans were established. In Haaga however things were different since the earlier-mentioned Pohjois-Haaga towers had been sitting in the woods for already a couple of decades before the station, located only a kilometre away from them, was opened in 1977. For the people living there the rail line obviously marked a major improvement in their connections but also the building of an entirely new type of residential area on the other side of the track. Before constructing the Martinlaakso Rail Line Lassila was a forest-dominated area with only a couple hundred people living in detached houses constructed during the war in a rapid manner to provide homes for the Karelian evacuees (Oittinen and Tepponen, 1989 pp.12).
Helsingin Sanomat took a closer look at the plans considering Lassila a few days after publishing the interview with the project management (HS 6 March 1973). The minor residential housing in the area was demolished since it would be replaced with the new ribbon development consisting of 27,000 square metres of housing for over 9,000 new residents. The cornerstone of the Lassila plan was constructing a housing block consisting of several 15-story high towers in the middle of the area surrounded with numerous other buildings more modest in size. The pedestrians and cars were meant to move in different levels allowing the pedestrian space in between buildings to also provide the necessary green inside the area. The planners stated that their main idea was to aim for optimum efficiency in land use by locating small parks in the “green streets” where people would anyway walk during their daily errands. The actual recreation, exercise and sports was meant to take place in the large Mätäjoki-park serving all three areas.
Light Rail Projects – Vision 2050
Constructing the Lassila neighbourhood around Pohjois-Haaga railway station was completed by the mid-80s. The scale of the actual Lassila is slightly smaller than what was proposed in the original plans described above. The area currently has approx. 4,500 inhabitants and 5,000 jobs. Thus, the target amounts of inhabitants or housing square meters were not achieved, Lassila has a job self-sufficiency of over 100%. After Lassila was completed the housing production in the Haaga area has decreased significantly with only less than two thousand apartments built over the last two decades whereas there were over three times more flats constructed during the 70s and 80s (Helsinki by District, 2018).
Constructing Haaga began in the 1950s and one could argue that constructing Lassila was the final stage of completing the area as we know it now. Some minor infill development has been completed in the southern parts of the area during this century but Haaga has remained mostly unchanged for almost three decades. However, this is about to change as Helsinki’s planning principles have undergone a shift from building radial neighbourhoods like the ones along the Martinlaakso line into creating a multicentric web of subcentres and densifying the existing urban areas (Helsinki City Plan, 2013). It emphasises the strengthening of subcentres along the existing railway and metro tracks by introducing the concept of “Centre Network” in which the city would provide multiple urban concentrations all around Helsinki. This is due to the fact that living in central, dense urban areas is more popular than ever.
The new city plan features yet another new kind of rail transportation system that is due to change Haaga possibly even more than the Martinlaakso Rail Line. According to Helsinki’s Vision 2050 (2013) the radial city structure will become interconnected by a light rail network which features both transverse routes from east to west and new radial lines following the city boulevards. The city boulevards are Helsinki’s effort to increase the effectiveness of land use along the motorways close to the central urban area. Nowadays the motorways separate different parts of the city from one another as they are hard to cross, reclaim large noise and pollution impact areas around them and permit only car traffic. In the future Helsinki has a strategic target to convert the motorways into urban boulevards where light rails, cyclist and pedestrians are well acknowledged. The boulevards will allow large amounts of housing to be built along them providing the citizens with the kind of urban environments they want.
The first light rail project is already well underway as the cities of Helsinki and Espoo along with the public transportation service are soon beginning to construct Raide-Jokeri. Jokeri will be a major improvement for transverse connections between the neighbourhoods outside the city centre. It will connect the metro, all three railway lines and the suburbs in between better to each other. The pair of rails will also enable large building to take place by the side of it. Making the areas along Raide-Jokeri denser will provide new homes for 24,000 people in Helsinki and almost for as many in Espoo. Nearly 16,000 new jobs are also anticipated to locate along the light rail line (HS 17 December 2017).
In Haaga some planning has already been done with the Raide-Jokeri in mind. In Etelä-Haaga there are two construction projects pending to be completed before the rails reach the area (Helsinki New Horizons, 2018). The eventual goal in Haaga is to have at least 3,600 people moving in to new apartments near the light rail stops while also connecting the Huopalahti station to a larger surrounding area than before. Where the Martinlaakso Rail Line featured several neighbourhoods constructed from scratch, this time all the residents will be located within the existing urban areas. Housing is most wanted in the city centre and by densifying the areas closest to it should answer to these needs of urban lifestyle. Infill development will take place in former industrial sites, wastelands and in some cases also by demolishing old buildings in order to squeeze in more efficient housing (Raide-Jokeri, 2018).
The City Boulevard plans have suffered some setbacks in courts of law as the state is worried that converting motorways into lively streets will hinder car traffic to and from the capital city’s core. A lot of the discussion is centred around the Hämeenlinna motorway that borders Haaga in the east where the boulevardisation would in addition to the car traffic also endanger some parts of the central park (HS 8 November 2018). However, as the public discussion has been focused around the rejected plans, many may not have noticed that the plans to convert Itäväylä, Tuusulantie and Vihdintie into city boulevards were actually ruled practicable by the Administrative Court. As the number of city boulevard projects to move forward in the forthcoming decades was diminished, attention will probably sooner or later be directed even more than before towards renewing the three remaining roads.
Even if the Hämeenlinna boulevard was turned down for now, the Haaga area will nevertheless be affected by boulevardisation plans. Vihdintie is technically not a motorway but as it still forms a four-laned border between Haaga and its neighbours in the west. The city of Helsinki has presented a preliminary plan of Vihdintie boulevardisation (Helsinki New Horizons, 2018) in which the lead planner Suvi Tyynilä aptly explains the difference between planning in the past and in the future. She states that “when planning the boulevard city, the goal is not to create another set of ribbon suburbs but instead to bring a new urban stratum to the existing neighbourhoods”. Practically speaking, this means that the ribbon structure, revolutionary only three decades ago is now proclaimed to be outdated and that the city wants to enclose the ribbon suburbs into its urban core. The Vihdintie Boulevard would enable building new homes for up to 15,000 new inhabitants in Haaga and urbanise the area drastically.
So far I am happy with my results and I feel like I have done many interesting findings. In the final chapter my aim is to conclude the results and really compare the two different grand plans and the relationship between the past and the present. I have also been considering adding a few pictures or newspaper cuttings in the article to give some visual support for my findings.