Portrait No. 5: Helsinki

Modern, dynamic,
vibrant: Helsinki

The Finnish capital does its reputation as “Pearl at the Baltic Sea“ justice: With its impressive architecture from different stylistic periods, colourful squares, magnificent parks, a varied cultural offering, and a life style with an omnipresent Finnish design tradition, Helsinki is considered today as one of the most liveable cities worldwide. We continue our special series on the top 6 cities with the highest quality of life and now present you city number 5 in the “Global Liveable Cities Index” – Helsinki.

Growing waterfront metropolis

Global design capital with ambitious goals 

Together with the neighbouring cities Espoo, Kauiniainen, and Vantaa, as well as further adjacent communities, Helsinki is part of a highly populated capital region, where approx. 1.4 million people live. The capital itself currently has approx. 613,000 residents.
As Finland’s political, economic, and cultural centre, Helsinki has become significantly more attractive in recent years.
 Its nomination as European cultural capital in 2000 and as global design capital in 2012 improved its image further and led to a continuous population growth. Forecasts say that by 2050 more than 850,000 people will live in the capital.
Helsinki faces these upcoming challenges with forward-looking city development focussing on a high quality of life, extensive local recreation areas, a well-developed public infrastructure, and public accessibility. 
Photo 1: The bright white cathedral at Senate Square is one of the most well known landmarks of the city.
Photo 2: Helsinki's pedestrian-friendly city centre captivate with their simple elegant architecture.
Photo 3: Esplanade Park, at the heart of the city, is a popular site for residents and tourists since 200 years.
Photo 4: A ride on the vintage tram from 1919 offers a special experience: It leaves several times daily from the central Kauppatori market place.
Photo 5: The Finlandia Hall, a building designed by the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, is a famous city concert and event centre. The Carrara marble clad white building can be seen from afar.
Photo 6: The Museum of Contemporary Art "Kiasma" is one of about 80 Museums in Helsinki.
Photo 7: The new district "Kalasatama" is currently being built on the site of the former industrial harbour. The new development area near the city centre will offer accommodation for 20,000 people and will be Helsinki's first smart city district.

Harbour relocation makes room for new maritime city district

New accomodation for 50.000 people

The relocation of the industrial harbour from the inner city to the east district Vuosaari in 2008 freed up vast inner-city areas, which in turn led to a proper construction boom. Currently, not one but three attractive city districts, in which 50,000 people are expected to live by 2030, are being built.
The new districts Jätkäsaari, Kalasatama, and Kruunuvuorenranta are designed following the principles of sustainability: Compact district structures with a healthy balance between owned and rented places of residence, as well as diverse shopping, service, and cultural offerings and a comprehensive public tram system are planned.
Vast parks with access to bathing beaches and seaside promenades as well as a generously designed green belt are intended to break up the urban structures in the residential districts and provide recreational spaces. 

Priority given to public transport

Tram and bicycle replace the car

Additionally, new residential spaces are to be created in the existing districts through retroactive densification and investments in public transport are to be made. The new land use plan, most likely to be adopted by the city council of Helsinki in 2016, includes, among others, the conversion of the motorways within the inner-city ring into roads with cycle paths. The long-term objective of the urban development measures is a pedestrian and cyclist friendly infrastructure replacing cars as the primary means of transport.

Sustainable energy targets

Helsinki awarded by the European Covenant of Mayors

The city's energy solutions prove to be particularly sustainable and climate friendly: In 2012, Helsinki received an award from the European Covenant of Mayors for its efficient power generation as well as district heating and cooling. The committee of 4,000 mayors and authorities is an official European movement with the objective of exceeding the energy policy targets to reduce CO2 emissions, set by the European Union, by a further 20 percent by 2020. Since 2008, the Covenant has been recognising outstanding concepts for sustainable local energy generation with an award. To date, this award was presented 14 times in total.
The municipal electric utility “Helsingin Energia” developed a highly innovative heat generation method. Here the residual heat of the large underground computer centre is used to heat up buildings and water. The heat is a by-product of the cooling required for the computers. It is fed into the district heating system and supplies approx. 500 households with energy.

Helsinki is becoming a smart city

Digital services per mouse click

A further strategic focus of Helsinki's sustainable urban development is the broad range of interactive online services, which includes the search for services to a citizen service platform and vast opportunities for citizen participation in current urban projects. With the “Helsinki City Open WLAN” Helsinki offers the whole city a WLAN network that can be used for free and without registration.

City-owned company develops user-friendly apps

To simplify access to public information and to use it optimally in terms of day-to-day digital services, the Helsinki's public sector and large digital companies founded “Forum Virium” in 2006. This city-owned company designs user-friendly apps to ease everyday life and the mobility of the city's residents.
For this "Forum Virium" uses publicly accessible data from municipal offices, authorities and companies. Selected information is used, for example, for a travel information application helping users to find cheap public transport connections.

The first smart district in Helsinki shall be called “Smart Kalasatama”

The currently emerging district “Kalasatama” provides an opportunity to test the integration of digital technologies and e-services into the urban development. Here new residential, energy, mobility, education and health services and products are to be widely implemented as part of a sustainable city development in close cooperation between citizens, local companies and the city. For example, applications supplying information about traffic reports and air quality or indicating the closest electric car sharing charging points are envisaged.
The project “Smart Kalasatama” is a joint project of the Finnish technology and innovation promotion agency Tekes and the city of Helsinki. The city-owned company "Forum Virium" undertakes the implementation of the project.

Further information

Helsinki's official website provides in-depth information on sights and attractions, things to do and current Events: http://www.visithelsinki.fi/en
Photos: Fotolia/Mark Oleksiy, Visit Helsinki/Vespiano13, Visit Helsinki/Lauri Rotko, Visit Helsinki/Mika Lappalainen, Visit Helsinki/Niclas Sjöblom, Visit Helsinki/Katri Pyyonen, Visit Helsinki/Kaisa Luukannel, City of Helsinki Media Bank