Two Rail Projects Shaping Haaga

Comparing the planning principles behind Martinlaakso Rail Line in the 1970s and the modern-day Light Rails

Haaga, Lassila, Kaupintie 18,16,14,12,10 (1983, Scan-Foto Oy)


In Haaga one can clearly see the different layers depicting Helsinki’s postwar urban planning history and how the planning principles have changed over the decades.

Article draft 7.12.18

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.

Why Different Times Produce Different Plans?

My mid-term thoughts were concentrated around the idea that different sorts of urban planning would cause social diversity. After taking a closer look at the statistics, I am not so sure the social diversity in different parts of Haaga is as big as I initially thought. Studying segregation is not worthwhile if there in fact is not much to study. Linking social diversities directly to planning might as well be difficult.

However this does not change the fact that planning has changed significantly over the decades. Currently the planning of Haaga is strongly connected to the Jokeri Light Rail that is about to bring another pair of rails to the area. Infill development along the 25 km transverse light rail connection is one of the main focus points of planning Helsinki today. In Etelä-Haaga the goal is to create new homes for 3500 inhabitants and jobs for 2000 workers by 2030. 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 other and to the areas in between. The city also wants to develop the suburbs closest to the city centre into more urban areas and link them more closely to the downtown.

Helsingin Sanomat reporting about the infill development along the Jokeri Light Rail (HS, 15 December 2017)

Rail connections have defined the planning of Haaga already in the past. The latest public transportation development changing the urban structure considerably was building the Martinlaakso rail line in the 1970s. Along the 8 km railroad six stations were constructed relatively close to one another. Back then the main idea was to construct ribbon development where the sub-centres around the railway stations were built densely so that all the housing and workplaces would be situated within a walking distance from the train. The target was to avoid building problematic dormitory suburbs by planning a sufficient amount of workplaces and services inside area. This way more people could live their daily lives within the suburb without having to commute to the city centre for both work and leisure. Lassila area in Haaga was constructed around the Pohjois-Haaga station following these guidelines.

An article describing the idea of ribbon development along the Martinlaakso rail line (HS, 1 March 1973)

In my article I want to study the principles guiding the planning of Etelä-Haaga around the Jokeri Light Rail and compare them with the standards that defined the planning of Lassila and other railway centers 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. My article would give an overlook to the past, the present and the future planning of Haaga telling simultaneously about the general planning trends in Helsinki.

I do not want to concentrate on the details of individual plans but to study what has been the driving force behind them. Urban planning is all about wanting to create environments where people want to live based on current trends that are always changing. One key element of new urban development is also communicating and marketing the new areas to the public. The published brochures and articles in the newspapers are the city’s main means to inform and convince the public that a plan should be implemented.

My sources of information would mainly consist of Helsinki’s official planning documents and the articles published about them in Helsingin Sanomat. These give a good overview of how different plans have been explained and justified when they were first presented. The current plans and brochures of Jokeri and city boulevards can easily be found on Helsinki’s website. Finding material about the older plans might require some digging in the city archives. Helsingin Sanomat has been following the planning of Helsinki closely and it has an excellent web archive covering the past hundred years.


Helsingin Sanomat 2017, 1973

Jokeri Light Rail – Plans

Etelä-Haaga, Orapihlajatie and Paatsamatie area, City Plan

City Boulevards in Helsinki

Midterm Thoughts – Constructed Social Diversities in Haaga

So far my blog posts have not dealt too much with the future of Haaga. As a historian I strongly believe that knowing how Haaga has developed is essential when starting to plan its’ future.  For the first couple of weeks of blogging I decided to work on the prehistory of Haaganpuro following the recent history around the same theme as I thought that it would be interesting to follow how that certain natural part of the Haaga neighborhood had changed over time. This does not mean that I would not be interested in the other historical turning points of the area.

Assuming that the research in our publication is tackling the modern-day and near-future challenges in Haaga, the historical research that would provide the best background for this should undoubtedly concentrate on the most recent events that have shaped Haaga to be what it is right now. Based my own and fellow students’ observations it seems that Haaga now consists of two somewhat different parts that have been constructed during different decades.

The difference of the areas can be seen in place names, Southern Haaga being older and centering around the former municipality of Haagan Kauppala and Northern Haaga including Lassila being the newer suburb built from the 1950s onwards. These two different parts give an extremely good example of how planning changed after the war from building dense downtown-like areas to constructing suburbs in the woods. The differences do not follow the administrational boundaries very strictly but when looking at the building types and how they are arranged one can clearly see that the areas are constructed with different principles in different times.

In addition to the differences in the built environment, diversity can also be found in the social structures. The proportion of rental housing as well as people with foreign backgrounds, lower education and smaller incomes is higher in the northern parts of Haaga. (Statistics Finland. Helsinki Information Services.)

Datasource: Statistics Finland.

This map shows the 250 * 250 meter squares inside the municipal boundaries of Haaga city district where the amount of people with only basic education and low income is in the top quartile of the Helsinki capital area. There are not too many squares where both educational and income levels are low, but even the existing ones could be further examined in order to reduce deprivation.

A similar study has been made by Mari Vaattovaara and Matti Kortteinen on concentrations of poverty, low education and additionally unemployment. Their results stated that even though in Helsinki there are no large areas of poverty, the poverty can cluster in individual blocks inside neighborhoods. Is this the case in Haaga too? (Beyond Polarisation versus Professionalisation? A Case Study of the Development of the Helsinki Region, Finland. Vaattovaara & Kortteinen 2003.)

I would like to deepen the analysis on constructed Haaga and the people living there. Why are the Haaga areas different in so many social and spatial aspects? How can that difference be seen in the everyday-lives of the people living there? Have the differences changed over time? Can the diversity of the built areas explain the differences in social structures? Could the diversification be reduced by improving services, planning or transportation?

Measuring Pleasurable

This week’s blog post is all about density.  Density is one of the key factors in defining the existence of different urban elements inside a city. Calculating density is quite simple since you can always count the number of certain things inside a certain area. The equation becomes more difficult when trying to fit a variety things densely inside an urban area. Adding one thing usually means having to reduce the amount of something else. In this post my intention is to balance between the density of different factors in a city from my study line’s USP Peoples point of view keeping in mind my background in history.

I chose to apply for the USP Peoples study track because I thought there the citizens, the people living in cities are put in the centre. When writing a text where you are supposed to evaluate which things in the city you value to be good and which bad, you are forced to make moral decisions. How much a municipality should control and steer the land use inside its borders? Should cities grow only according to economical demand or should it be open to everybody? In my mind and hopefully in the minds of USP Peoples people too the answer to the preceding questions should be the latter.

In which way all this relates to the density question then? Cities are always dense, but the question comes down to making a choice between different dense factors.  If the city is planned for the people, then it should have a high population density itself and a high density of various services the people are willing to exploit. People like to take advantage of different services and the services like to be consumed. For the citizens it is most convenient to use services that are close to them. High density of something that is not life-sized or within a walkable distance estranges people from the services.

How can it be measured weather an urban area has a sufficient population density and supply of services? One could argue that the best place in these terms is the one where the density of people and services is the highest. Also, a good way to examine the demand is to compare the cost of living or providing services in a certain area to the density of people and amenities.

From a historical point of view the Helsinki Centre is the densest area in the country. The 26 most expensive areas to buy an apartment in Finland happen to be located inside the densely built area around the centre of Helsinki (Statistics Finland 2018). But not everyone has the opportunity to choose their dwelling place freely. Yet the cities should do more to provide them with similar kind of living conditions that are most wanted. For decades Helsinki has lacked the ability to build new areas with sufficient density of people and services.

There is one surprising neighborhood raising on the list of most wanted residential areas in Finland. Kalasatama, the former eastern harbor of Helsinki is currently being constructed into an area dense in both people and services. Once Kalasatama is finished the population density will be approx. 30,000 inhabitants per km2. Densities this high can nowadays only be found in the older parts of the city centre such as Alppiharju, Punavuori or Kamppi. The suburbs built during the decades between the completion of these areas and Kalasatama have population densities no higher than 10,000/km2. Maybe the Helsinki officials have finally understood that there is a constant need for areas that provide densely packed spaces for people and services (Asuminen Helsingissä, Asumisen ja rakentamisen tilastotietoa 2018).

In this text I have made a conscious choice not to analyze the diversity of services or housing. Hopefully they will be discussed next week by some of my fellow students.


Prices of dwellings in housing companies 2018

Avainlukuja asumisesta Helsingissä 2018

Uutta Helsinkiä, Kalasatama 2018

Writing this text and becoming enthusiastic over urban themes has been inspired by numerous researchers, planners and activists. Every one of the writers whose texts I have read, the architects whose work I have admired and the people who I have talked with have shaped my thinking and had an impact on how this text turned out to be.

The Rotten History of Haaganpuro

Helsingin Sanomat scraps from the 1970s concerning Haaganpuro

In last week’s post the main focus was in the ancient history of the waterways of Haaga and how the past streams and rivers can still be visible in the 21st century Haaga. The Haaganpuro has gone trough a revival during the last couple of decades but before that when Helsinki’s expansion was most rapid during the 1900s the small stream struggled to survive in the middle of massive road and residential construction projects. This blog is a small scale case study about the discussion around Haaganpuro in the 1970s. Until then the Central Park had been left relatively alone but when a plan to build a four lane motorway towards Hämeenlinna was made, the park and the stream running there became threatened.

In 1976 the Helsinki City Council introduced a plan to preserve the Central Park where the Haaga area was also discussed.  Back then Haaganpuro was called Mätäpuro, which translates as “Rotten stream”. One could argue that the name didn’t really emphasize the natural importance of this small waterway. In the city’s grand Central Park Plan it was addressed that Mätäpuro is worth preserving as it creates an unique valley in the Maunula area in the opposite site of the motorway from Haaga. In the city’s plans Mätäpuro would also be the heart of a park to be created in the southern parts of Haaga. In order to construct the motorway Mätäpuro would need some redirecting and improving its embankment in both sides of the Hämeenlinna motorway.

The city’s visions regarding the future of Mätäpuro and the Central Park contained some beautiful words and gave the image that the issues had been considered. However taking a look at the press presents quite a different image of Mätäpuro’s situation in the middle of the 1970s.  Comparing the empty phrases in the official planning documents with the press that usually  better reflects the citizens’ views can often create a better general overall view of the discussion around a certain topic.

Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland and the main platform for public discussion around the development of the city, published several articles in which Mätäpuro’s situation was discussed. Already in 1972 the paper was concerned that a lot of areas with naturally important values will be lost because there was a giant interchange being planned on top of the Central Park in Haaga. In 1978 the stream was under threat when Lapinmäentie bordering Haaga in the South was under development. Later the same year HS wrote about an event where the residents of Lassila would “round on Mätäpuro, the nuisance of their neighborhood and at least clean the stream’s edges.”

This comparison between two different sources telling about the very same issue illustrates how much the viewpoints of different actors in the city can vary. When looking at the official documents produced by the city, it almost always seems that there is a clear plan for everything. This often is the case until a new plan occurs or the city budget for the forthcoming year is cut. These unfortunate alterations can seldom be seen when only looking at the city archives.


Helsinki City Archive. 114 Kaupunginhallituksen mietinnöt 1976:8 – 23 (8. Keskuspuiston osayleiskaavan hyväksyminen.)

Helsingin Sanomat 22.1.1972, 16.2.1978, 23.5.1978.

The Native Residents of Haaga

Haaganpuro flows trough the Kauppala Park Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In this year’s Urban Challenge Studio 1 we USP students will be focusing on the research of Haaga area and the future possibilities it holds. Following the lecture about Mannahatta Project by Eric Sanderson I will try in this blog post to reconstruct how the Haaga area may have looked before the 17th century. Haaganpuro, a small stream running from the Central Park to the Huopalahti bay, one of the hidden gems of 21st century Haaga must have been a key element in the natural surroundings of Haaga before human influence started to grow.

Before the 17th century the Helsinki borough of Haaga was most likely just a forested area only a few kilometers away from the seashore. The forest probably resembled the likes of modern day Central Park but as it was unmaintained due to the low level of human interference, the ground covering flora must have been quite dense.

What influenced the undervegetation even more some five hundred years ago was the Haaganpuro, which back then was wider and more like a river than just a stream. Study on the watercourses of Helsinki suggests that before human interference the main waterway of 21st century Helsinki, the Vantaa River ran through a completely different route and was connected to also the western side of the Helsinki cape through the Haaga area.

In addition to the flora of Haaga the river provided a setting for numerous fish species, mammals and birds. Nowadays the Vantaa River banks in their natural state at Lemmenlaakso natural conservation area in Järvenpää host 56 different bird species, polymorphous vegetation and even mammals like otters, ermines and roes. A similar kind of environment in Haaga’s former waterways has probably hosted even a wider biodiversity.

The riverbanks of Vantaa in Lemmenlaakso, Järvenpää

Haaganpuro was rerouted and diminished as the residential areas and motorways were built in the area. Haaganpuro was left uncared for years and suffered from polluting industrial effluent for decades. However 20 years ago a group of local residents started a project to restore the stream into its natural state. They planted brown trouts into the river hoping that the king of Finnish salmoniformes would rehabitate the stream. After this the city of Helsinki has contributed in the project and funded the organizations responsible for the reparation of Haaganpuro.

The project has been really successful and nowadays the trout population has become less concerned. One could say that the original inhabitants of Haaga have been able to return where their ancestors were forced to leave. The brown trouts of Haaga spawn usually during October. If you are interested in catching the feeling of 17th century Haaga’s natural surroundings, next month will provide a wonderful chance to take a look how fish reclaim their right to the waters of the city.


Haagan kauppalan historia.  John E. Roos. Helsinki, 1950.

Vantaa City Museum

Lemmenlaakson luontopolku. Opas kävijöille.

Virtavesien hoitoyhdistys Ry


Social Housing With a View

During our excursion we had the chance to visit a residential building in Viikinmäki rented by the city of Helsinki. Helsinki is the biggest lessor in Finland as it provides homes for almost 100,000 people. City rental housing is significantly cheaper than housing in the free market. City-owned housing is the key element in social mixing which is essential for the city’s strategy to keep all housing areas relatively equal in terms of income and social conditions.

Viikinmäki is one of the newest residential areas in Helsinki and many parts of it are still under construction. Once finished, 20% of the housing will be leased by the city. Viikinmäki has a very unique feeling to it. One of the highlights are the small streets and squares where all the traffic takes place in the same level. Mixing pedestrians, cyclists and cars will certainly reduce speeding, accidents and make it easier for the people to use the street spaces for something else than just getting from one place to another.

As the name already says Viikinmäki is located on a hill and when a hill is high enough the view can be spectacular. In the photo you can see the scenery from the top floor of a social housing block. Who would have imagined that the sauna with the greatest view in Helsinki is situated inside a city-owned building which provides homes for all kinds of people regardless of their social status or earnings?

Living in Viikinmäki can be challenging for the not-so-well-off. As it is still under construction the services are really poor and the traffic depends strongly on owning a car. Even though thousands of buses on the motorway pass the area every single day, only one line stops in Viikinmäki. The boulevardisation of Lahdenväylä would improve the Viikinmäki-residents’ life a lot by providing them with the connections and noise reductions Helsinki as a functioning city should be able to offer.

Me, Myself and Dan

Doing what I know best. Just taking my bike out for a ride to discover new sides of my dear hometown Helsinki. Once I really start exploring the city, curiosity might lead me to spaces where the boundaries between public and private can be unclear. Here I am cruising in front of this beautiful tile wall towards a car wash, a space which is public only for the automobiles. Better to head somewhere else then to get my partner in crime cleaned up after an exhausting urban exploration.