The latest Helsinki Region Transport System Plan (HLJ) that Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) planners have developed includes a statement “the accessibility of the region improves significantly”, among several other impact assessment statements. This statement is a prime example of transition in the transport planning practice in Finland and in the world.
On the contrary to being concerned with for example average vehicular traffic speeds, the focus is on measuring accessibility. In general, accessibility means focusing on how people reach certain destinations, usually by measuring certain aspects of their journey, such as travel time. Thus, one has to conclude that HLJ is one of the leading examples worldwide of advancement in transport planning practice.
The focus on measuring accessibility impact is important for at least one important reason. By having the freedom to travel, we are able to accomplish many other rights, such as right to work, right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being, or right to education. Thus, by measuring how well people are able to reach certain destinations in time and space, we have at our disposal an important information about the opportunities citizens have in a society.
In relation, information about accessibility is even more important having in mind a dominant value of the Finnish society, which is equal access to opportunities for everyone. However, the idea of absolute equality is often challenged by the basic properties of transport systems. Essentially, the explanation is rather simple – it is rather difficult to have equal travel time to the Helsinki city center for all the citizens across the region.
So, if this type of equality is difficult to achieve, how should we measure improvement to the accessibility across the region? To this end, we might want to think about certain perspectives on social justice. And by doing so, we face a dilemma.
Among many theories of social justice, let us take a look at the two most influential ones. First, classical utilitarianism. Despite its cumbersome name, the central message is quite straightforward – an act is morally right if it maximizes the difference between the total amount of benefits for all and total amount of burdens for all people. Following this idea, we have to be thoughtful about the aggregate effects from our transport systems.
Contrary to this theory, one of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th century, John Rawls, has proposed an alternative view. Rawls argued that the distribution of effects matters as well, as it is not always desirable to violate the right of one to help the many. However, Rawls recognized that inequalities may exist, as long as the benefits from the inequalities are accessible to all, and are distributed to benefit the least well-off.
Dilemma originates from the fact that even taking into account only the utilitarian and Rawlsian standpoints, planner’s choice is difficult. For example, following the utilitarian idea, a planner might decide to measure average travel time or weight travel time value with the number of people traveling to certain destinations.
This approach sometimes would make complete sense, as for example, in the case of CO2 emissions. We certainly would want that our mobility system results in the lowest possible amount of total CO2 tons emitted.
On the contrary, taking a Rawlsian standpoint, a planner would have to focus on how much accessibility travelling from certain locations implies, or how much accessibility certain societal groups have. Similarly, this approach also makes sense, especially if we recognize that individuals have some inalienable rights.
However, the extent of the dilemma that planner has to face does not end here. Modern transport systems are rather complex, as they operate differently in different times of the day, in different locations, or with different transport modes. For example, we know that traveling with public transport often requires accessing the stop from where the public transport vehicle departs at a certain scheduled point in time.
Let us take a look at an example. The following link provides the travel times and transfers before and after the opening of West Metro in the Helsinki region, between 7 and 8h in the morning (http://westmetro.cs.aalto.fi/). These two parameters are available for every stop in the Helsinki region, assuming travelling from and towards each stop.
Testing out already two or three stops in the Helsinki region using this web tool, one can easily see that there is a (re)distribution in travel time and number of transfers values across the region. This visualization thus highlights the challenging dilemma that HSL and other transport planners face when making decisions about how transport system should function.
One could immediately wonder – how do we resolve such a dilemma if we are to advance planning practice? However, one could also wonder if we actually need to ask some additional questions in order to start resolving this dilemma? Perhaps we might need to ask ourselves how much societal importance we place on citizens’ mobility? Or perhaps we might need to ask ourselves how much societal importance we place on the challenges that built environment planners have to face today?
Ultimately, perhaps we might need to ask ourselves can we avoid asking such challenging questions if such questions are explicitly in front of us?
Kujala, R., Weckström, C., Mladenović, M., Saramäki, J., (2017) Travel times and transfers in public transport: Comprehensive accessibility analysis based on Pareto-optimal journeys, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0198971517300923)
Martens, K., (2012) Justice in transport as justice in accessibility: applying Walzer’s ‘Spheres of Justice’ to the transport sector, Transportation (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11116-012-9388-7)
Coverphoto: Nikodemus Siivola
Planning policy documents increasingly promote the ‘polycentric city’ as a model for sustainable urban development, not the least in Finland. There seems to be a widespread assumption that polycentric intra-metropolitan settlement patterns with compact, transit-oriented cities and neighborhoods will reduce travel distances, discourage car driving and promote the use of public and non-motorized modes of travel. But how well do these assumptions fit with state-of-the-art knowledge about the influences of land use on travel?
Will polycentric urban development reduce travel distances?
The short answer is to this question is no. Residents travel on average longer distances for commuting as well as most other trip purposes the farther away from the main center of the urban region they live – up to a turning point beyond which travel distances tend to be reduced if the residential distance to the city center increases even more (Figure 1). This has to do mainly with the greater concentration and density of workplaces, stores and other facilities in the inner than in the outer parts of the metropolitan areas. The more or less radial structure of the main road and rail networks and the fact that the point of gravity of all trip destination addresses in the region is usually located close to the main city center also contribute to this.
Figure 1: Curve showing how commuting distances tend to vary with among workforce participants living at different distances from the city center of Oslo. N = 1160. Source: Data from the RESACTRA project.
Proponents of polycentric urban development might argue that travel distances among suburbanites could be reduced if more workplaces and service facilities were decentralized. While it is true that non-specialized facilities such as grocery stores, primary schools and kindergartens should preferably be located close to the residential neighborhoods they are intended to serve, decentralization of specialized facilities will only lead to longer travel distances. This is especially so for specialized workplaces. Decentralizing of workplaces to a suburban sub-center may reduce commuting distances among the local residents, but most companies recruit their employees from a much larger geographic area than the local neighborhood. There is little overall variation between workplaces located at different distances from the city center in average commuting distances, although employees of workplaces close to a second-order center do commute shorter distances than employees at other peripheral workplaces.
Will polycentric urban development discourage car driving?
In most city regions, decentralizing residential development to polycentric nuclei contributes to more car driving than if the new dwellings were built as inner-city densification. Although suburban residents living close to a second-order center travel less by car than suburbanites living far away from a second-order center do, especially if they live in the outer suburbs, their car travel distances are substantially longer than those of their inner-city counterparts (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Weekly travel distance by car for commuting and seven non-work purposes among workforce participants living at different distances from the city center of Oslo and from the closest second-order center. N = 1061. Source: Data from the RESACTRA project.
Increasing the jobs-housing balance in the suburbs by decentralizing jobs will not decrease car driving, but increase it. Accessibility by car is usually much easier in the suburbs and exurbs than in the inner city. In the suburbs, roads are normally wider and less congested, with fewer light-regulated crossings and easier parking conditions. As a result, the proportion of employees and visitors who travel by car to outer-area jobs and service facilities is much higher and overall distances commuted by car longer than for workplaces and facilities located in the inner city, even for job locations close to second-order centers (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Proportions of regular car commuters (to the left) and mean weekly distance commuted by car (to the right) among employees of workplaces located at different distances from the city center of Oslo and from the closest second-order center. (Please notice that no workplaces located closer than 2 km from the city center of Oslo are located less than 1 km from the closest second-order center.) N = 1160. Source: Data from the RESACTRA project.
Will polycentric urban development promote the use of public and non-motorized modes of travel?
Mirroring the different shares of car commuting among employees of workplaces differently located, the proportions of regular public transport commuters are much lower at suburban than at centrally located workplaces (Figure 4). This is true also when the suburban workplace is located close to a second-order center, although such proximity contributes to somewhat higher shares of public transport commuters than among the employees of other peripheral workplaces.
Figure 4: Proportions of regular public transport commuters among workforce participants living at different distances from the city center of Oslo and from the closest second-order center. N = 1160. Source: Data from the RESACTRA project.
A similar pattern exists for non-motorized travel. Measured as the share of total travel distance, there is a steep center-periphery gradient, also among residents living near a second-order center (Figure 5). Living close to a second-order center still contributes to higher proportions of non-motorized travel among the suburban residents.
Figure 5: Non-motorized proportion of total travel distance for commuting and seven non-work purposes among workforce participants living at different distances from the city center of Oslo and from the closest second-order center. N = 1061. Source: Data from the RESACTRA project.
Polycentric intra-metropolitan settlement patterns with compact, transit-oriented cities and neighborhood perform better, judged from a sustainable mobility perspective, than ordinary outward urban spatial expansion does. However, polycentric development is far less favorable than densification close to the main city center if the aim is to reduce travel distances, discourage car driving and promote public and non-motorized travel. Polycentric intra-metropolitan urban development is likely to increase car travel per capita instead of reducing it.
Professor Petter Næss, Norwegian University of Life Sciences. E-mail: email@example.com
A reflection on the questions of MaaS scalability
Somewhere on planet Earth, a human wonders.
This traffic is not moving at all. This is horrible!
Those damn transport engineers! Why cannot they figure this out and solve congestion?! It is 2017! We should be having flying cars by now…
How was that thing called again? MaaS? Anyway, it would certainly be great to have it now. I could just take a taxi ride, and perhaps manage to reply some of those emails from this week.
Why are we not having that already?! We can certainly figure out all the necessary data integration. Most of our systems across the city are going digital anyway.
In one click, I could choose my trips. Then I could just use the system whenever I want and however I want. And then I just get a bill at the end of the month.
That would make my life so much easier. And I bet all my friends would love to have the same thing. Simply, on-demand transport service.
Hmm… Wait a second. If all my friends join in, that might be quite good. But what if a lot of people joins in? Or even all the people?
At that scale, how will the system make sure that we all get the service that we need in that particular moment? As I am traveling to work, there are also a lot of people who are traveling to work. And at the same time there are people traveling to school, to the airport, to the grocery store, to see a friend, or who knows where else. There might be even a person going to the hospital because of a broken leg or because she is having a baby.
That is a lot of people with so many different needs. And some other day, their needs might be completely different. Just as some other morning I might be having one of those meetings that start sharp at 9.
Then, what about traffic? Certainly telecomm network has a bit of different properties from traffic network? I mean, is it that easy to linearly add more bandwidth just like in the Internet networks? And Internet has routing protocols that determine how data moves across the network. Is that even possible for traffic?
In addition, I remember reading somewhere that traffic networks have a certain maximum value of traffic that they can sustain before getting into congestion. And I remember that going into congestion is much easier as opposed to going out of congestion. So those dynamics certainly complicate the situation.
Perhaps this is not as easy as it seems. If we have all those people with different needs, that all want all to travel at the same time without much thinking about their mobility, will it be possible that everybody gets a promised service?
Certainly, it will be quite difficult to accomplish this without delaying and routing some people on the network? And who is to determine that some of us will arrive on time while some will have to be delayed?
Then, what if not all the people join the system? There might be some people who cannot afford to pay for this service. And if we do not know their travel requests, how can we account them in traffic predictions?
Hmm… This seems more complex than I imagined. No wonder why we don’t have the system at scale yet.
Anyway, why am I worrying about this? Certainly, there has to be someone responsible who is thinking about the same things?
Somewhere on planet Earth, a human waits in congestion, while staring at the sea.
If we want to break the silence around multiculturalism in Finnish urban planning, we need to develop vocabulary for it. The people involved in urban planning will also have to start thinking in terms of relations – between people.
The future of our country will be multicultural, as Kimmo Lapintie wrote in his BEMINE blog text in February (Lapintie 2017). While the natural growth rates are low, the population growth is already based entirely on immigration. Considering this, it is indeed remarkable that multiculturalism considerations have remained absent in the urban and regional planning documents (Lapintie 2014). According to Lapintie, this reflects the bio-political nature of urban planning which is ”interested in people as population groups with biological features, such as age, gender, fertility, health and disability.” He would like to see a new understanding that brings in the cultural and social features instead of focusing on the variables such as the size and productivity of the population.
What if we took on the challenge of creating a post-biopolitical planning? How should we grasp the socio-cultural diversity and cultural as well as religious differences conceptually? The terminology is not established, and there are not that many Finnish words available for the vocabulary. Besides multiculturality/-culturalism (monikulttuurisuus) one can talk about interculturality and transculturality – both of which might translate as ’kulttuurienvälisyys’. But does it really matter which words we pick? My point is that it helps if you pay attention to the concepts and their different burdens in terms of connotations. What may suit a more contextual discussion might not be that well-placed when talking about encounters between citizens.
Multiculturalism can be understood as the recognition of co-existence of a plurality of cultures within the context of a nation (state). In this discourse the common understanding is that different cultural groups are awarded equitable recognition (Stratton et al. 2001). That would sound like a great achievement already in many countries, wouldn’t it? However, such a society might still consist of parallel ’realities’ where encounters across the divides would be few. It could also mean that people remain locked within the circles that they allegedly belong to. The question then is, how can the different social and ethnic groups be recognised without being essentialized?
Interculturality helps us here because it focuses on relations. It shares the recognition of difference and equality included in the multiculturalism discourse, but it brings in the principle of positive interaction. It centres individuals and institutions instead of focusing on the relations between fixed cultural groups. The focus on relations helps to avoid ‘ethnicizing’ cultural differences. The intercultural character of a society is a matter of cultural diversity as a whole, not only a matter for those who are allegedly different from some assumed unity within the society. As everyone is someone else’ s Other, interculturality is everyone’s issue (Guilherme & Dietz 2015).
But let’s get back to urban planning. Should it become more aware of multiculturalism or try to promote intercultural encounters? In my view, these two tasks should complement each other. Building on Kymlicka’s (2003) model, I would like to see a combination of intercultural citizens and institutions operating in the multicultural cities. Urban planning would in this context be much about getting rid of the barriers that prevent groups from receiving equitable recognition. However, of at least equal importance, from my point of view would be the creation of encounters. By that I don’t mean only that planners would have to know how to provide spaces of encounter. First and foremost, they should be able to feel for the ’full’ individuals instead of their bio-political reductions, as Lapintie might refer to the end-users whose multiple affinities are currently not taken into account.
In order to manage the diversity and maintain individuals’ equal access to resources, major institutional reforms – even radical intercultural openings (Terkessidis 2010) – are needed. This would mean also that (planning) education has to be rethought. Here I do not mean providing people with ‘recipes’ of accurate behavior in given intercultural contexts (Guilherme 2013 ) nor schooling students as if the intercultural competences drastically differed from the intracultural ones. Rather, I call for more diversity-awareness and self-reflexivity as well as for making new connections within the existing diversity.
In cities that are bundles of different pasts, no single type of existence can represent “normality”. Unlike the nation states that still try to stick to some largely imagined shared past, cities have to be prepared to share the future, by creating connections within the diversity.
Guilherme, M. (2013). Intercultural competence. In Byram, M. & Hu, A. (Eds.) Encyclopaedia of language teaching and learning. London: Routledge. Pp. 346–349.
Guilherme, M. & Dietz, G. (2015). Difference in diversity: multiple perspectives on multicultural, intercultural, and transcultural conceptual complexities. Journal of Multicultural Discourses 10:1, 1-21.
Kymlicka, W. (2003). Multicultural states and intercultural citizens. Theory and Research in Education 1:2, 147–169.
Lapintie, K. (2014). Miksi monikulttuurisuus ei mahdu suunnittelijan suuhun – eikä päähän? Yhdyskuntasuunnittelu 52:3. http://www.yss.fi/journal/miksi-monikulttuurisuus-ei-mahdu-suunnittelijan-suuhun-eika-paahan/
Lapintie, K. (2017). Three invisible things in Finnish urban planning III: multiculturalism. Blog post of the BEMINE project 14.2.2017. http://bemine.fi/three-invisible-things-in-finnish-urban-planning-iii-multiculturalism/
Stratton, J., Ang, I., & Bennett, D. (2001). Multicultural imagined communities: Cultural difference and national identity in the USA and Australia. In Multicultural States: Rethinking Difference and Identity. http://188.8.131.52/islandora/object/uws%3A11382
Terkessidis, M. (2010). Interkultur. Edition Suhrkamp.
The collaborative economy was propelled into global limelight thanks to wide-spread platform economy businesses such as Über and Airbnb. Also known as the ‘sharing economy’, the concept floats somewhere between theory and practice, business and not-for-profit.
Particularly scant thus far I have found the coverage of the potential of the sharing or collaborative economy in advancing the environmental agenda, or to use some more buzzwords, the circular economy and sustainability agendas. I would like to see these fields come together in theory, but also in practice.
Let me give you some examples.
A North-American non-profit car sharing scheme published in their 2013 fact sheet stunning environmental impacts: saved carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions (nearly 200 million kg in two years), saved miles driven, and saved fuel consumption. On top of these positive impacts the added benefits of car sharing include reduced congestion, reduced numbers of cars bought and reduced consumer costs (see e.g. here).
The global car sharing company Zipcar boasts 10 percent of members get rid of a car after joining, and 32 percent of users (they just passed the 1 million user mark last year) would have purchased a vehicle without the presence of the service.
In a Finnish study findings were even more striking (but sample small): 60 percent of households using car sharing had not owned a car before joining, 30 percent got rid of their car, 20 percent no longer needed to buy a car, and altogether after joining 80 per cent no longer owned a car.
Even organisations can cut their car mileage and need for fleets via sharing: Croydon council in London has some pretty staggering metrics on their partnership with Zipcar. Another fact sheet (in German) reminds us that car sharing is also for companies (not just the public sector).
These examples serve as poignant reminders that strength (and impact) lies in numbers.
Many car sharing companies (for profit or not) are making green investments in their fleet: interest in electric vehicle (EV) schemes is climbing. Also several initiatives in Europe aim at reducing CO 2 emissions from passenger vehicles, with one potential option being the deployment of EVs (Norway leads, Netherlands is runner-up).
Consumers’ (you and I) perception and willingness to purchase EVs lies at the heart of its potential to ‘go big’. The more we trust the message (e.g. on sustainability or ‘goodness’ of the EV as opposed to a combustion engine car), the more likely we are willing to pay, and eventually obtain one for ourselves. But even if we choose not to, there are options to support the ‘goodness’.
From a sustainable mobility perspective, the combination of sharing and EVs makes sense. For an individual it may be more difficult to make the EV investment, with its (still) higher price, limited range (battery) and subsequent lack of fulfilment of all their transport needs as compared with a traditional combustion engine vehicle. But with increasing car sharing and mobility as a service (MaaS) options, we may not need to own our cars much longer.
When it comes to the collaborative economy, car sharing only scrapes the surface. We could do much more ‘sharing’ that would leave the environment as well as our wallets in better state. Instead of increasing our material possessions, we can increasingly opt for services that deliver the same – or even better – product or outcome but via a service rather than material possessions. MaaS (mobility as a service and related platforms) is an example of this.
Sharing of power tools illustrates the idea of making better use of idling assets perfectly. Better utilisation of existing resources equals less need to use (virgin) resources in manufacturing new ones. This is environmental and resources sustainability at its core. Not all ‘things’ require huge amounts of rare earth elements to make (as do for instance mobile phones), but if less ‘things’ were needed, a lot of material would be saved. Not to mention CO 2 from transport (logistics) and electricity generation (again, manufacturing).
Whilst individual behaviour change (our everyday choices) is important when it comes to personal consumption – often considered a difficult thing to do on large scale – the question about the benefits of the collaborative economy is also about the possibility to improve practices within the wider system. It is, after all, total consumption that drives markets (up, down or reinvention!), like voting that drives politics.
Governments (national as well as local) have a role to play in supporting, even ‘nudging’ individuals, businesses and communities in this positive impact game: Who is the first to invent the best, most pragmatic and exciting solutions? When will the solutions be not only superior to the ones we have today, but a ‘must-have’ or rather ‘must-use’? The collective choice to use these initiatives will propel us all to a new consumption regime, benefitting everyone.
We are also setting an example for the next generations. In this, I strongly prefer not to follow my parents’ generation (the big cohorts born in late 40s, early 50s), as they seem to me to be the most consumerist of us all. We can all get by with a lot less, and that path can be taken and re-taken every day.
With the help of a little perseverance, some good governance, and a sharing (caring) attitude, we can make better economic and environmental decisions across society. Collaboratively.
Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is a core practice in international transport planning, primarily used for ex ante project appraisal. In the Finnish context, CBA is part of the larger framework for transport project appraisal, the so-called YHTALI-framework, which includes other elements, such as environmental impact assessment.
As an economic method, CBA has its advantages in measuring the economic aspects of infrastructural alternatives. A particular importance stems from the common sense principle that we should take actions only when their benefits exceed their costs, as reality of decision-making is always situated in a context of constrained monetary resources. Moreover, there is a certain usefulness in using monetary values as a common reference point, especially for comparison between different projects.
Despite its dominance in transport planning practice, CBA has been extensively critiqued from a range of different aspects. For example, one of the recognized issues is “double-counting”, as there is a possibility that certain impacts are included two or even three times in an appraisal. Moreover, just as any other analytical tool, CBA can suffer from a range of other issues, such as incorrect input parameters or lack of transparency in analytical processes.
However, besides these issues, I would highlight three critical questions that arise from using CBA in transport planning.
The first question is – can we use CBA to decide about, often non-quantifiable, quality of life parameters? For answering this question, we have to recognize that measuring quality of life is intrinsically difficult to quantify, especially in terms of monetary effects. Even if this issue is addressed by using qualitative approaches, we run into the so called ‘horse and rabbit stew’ problem, where if you take one horse and one rabbit, no matter how you combine them the taste of the horse dominates the stew. Similarly, quantitative impacts may end up dominating the decision-making procedure.
The second critical question is – can we use CBA in decisions with high level of uncertainty? Nowadays, it is more difficult than ever to think about possible and desirable futures, due to the increasing complexity of our infrastructural systems. This uncertainty about the future is even more prominent when we start facing decisions regarding emerging technologies, such as self-driving vehicles or Mobility-as-a-Service. The difficulty in using CBA in such decision-making scenarios is in the fact that the disruption from these technologies does not solely pertain to the transport sector bur rather to the whole society.
The third, and certainly not the last, critical question on CBA is – are decisions based on CBA ethical? CBA has often been critiqued for its utilitarian perspective, as the procedure is primarily concerned with maximizing (or minimizing) the net benefits (or costs). Despite the importance of net effects, by subscribing to this narrow conception of social justice, CBA neglects the explicit distribution of costs and benefits across particular segments of society, thus often neglecting the least-advantaged.
In order to avoid solely facing questions in this brief reflection, one should note that extensive efforts have been spent on developing alternative appraisal approaches, such as multi-criteria analysis (MCA). Moreover, there are even composite frameworks combining CBA and MCA, thus opening opportunities for public participation. However, as the time of easy decisions is behind us (or perhaps has never been there), sustainable, strategic, and integrative planning will have to be cautious about CBA (over)application, while continuing to seek improvements in decision-support methods.
Barfod, M. B., & Salling, K. B. (2015). A new composite decision support framework for strategic and sustainable transport appraisals. Transportation research part A: policy and practice, 72, 1-15.
Martens, K. (2011). Substance precedes methodology: on cost–benefit analysis and equity. Transportation, 38(6), 959.
Mladenovic, M. N., Mangaroska, K., & Abbas, M. M. (2017). Decision Support System for Planning Traffic Operations Assets. ASCE Journal of Infrastructure Systems, 05017001.
Næss, P. (2006). Cost-benefit analyses of transportation investments: neither critical nor realistic. Journal of critical realism, 5(1), 32-60.
van Wee, B. (2012). How suitable is CBA for the ex-ante evaluation of transport projects and policies? A discussion from the perspective of ethics. Transport Policy, 19(1), 1-7.
Over the past several decades, there has been an increasing awareness of protecting unique landscapes, habitats and species. Regulatory frameworks have been created to ensure the protection of several green areas (e.g. institution of national and regional parks, Nature 2000 sites and nature reserves). In addition to the ecological values, policy makers and city planners have recognized green areas as venues for leisure and recreational activities for citizens.
While recreational and cultural values as well as the ecological ones have been the most mentioned within the policies and planning strategies, academics have investigated other services that green areas can provide, the so-called ecosystem services (e.g. improving physical and psychological health, filtering pollutants and dust from the air, providing shade and lower temperatures) (Di Marino & Lapintie, 2017).
Nonetheless, cities have lost green areas in the past. Today, this phenomenon is still occurring for several reasons. The population living in the cities is increasing very rapidly, and thus, a demand for new housings, infrastructures and services is occurring. The expansion of built up areas within the metropolitan areas has mainly occurred by transforming the brownfields into new residential and commercial areas and by converting arable lands and urban forests into new land uses.
In addition to this, real estate developers have tended to emphasize the ‘view to the green areas’, which typically increases housing costs and property values. This approach has resulted in limiting the urban densification around the protected areas (based on given distances and potential impacts), while the other green areas have been constantly affected by the urban development.
It is evident that there are conflicting interests between construction and transport networks and provision of green areas. Too often, green areas are considered ‘left over’ spaces within the built environment. The ever growing network of infrastructures (e.g. roads, highways and railways), and the housing production in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area are leaving less room for green areas. The latest decisions within the new master plan of Helsinki (2016), for instance, have focused on converting arable lands into residential and infrastructure uses, thus reducing urban forests and other green areas (Di Marino et al., 2017). Recently, several green areas have been ‘sacrificed’ for new projects, such as the tunnel along the Ring Road I in Espoo (see Fig. 1 and 2).
Figure 1 and 2. Working sites for the new tunnel project along the Ring Road I, Espoo, Finland.
Unlike the local strategies, the Helsinki-Uusimaa Region has already developed a green strategy that includes nature, recreation and cultural environment (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014). The Helsinki-Uusimaa Region has focused on three main issues by identifying specific sustainable measures to develop the transportation system, housing production and planning principles of municipalities (land use) (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014). The letter of intent that has been signed between the municipalities and the state (that is called MAL) was intended to define the common objectives between the municipalities. For instance, the healthy and safe living environment should be addressed through ‘high-quality housing’ and ‘agreeable living surroundings’. In the future, the so-called island living is meant as an ecological and natural way of life ‘that combines housing and work by utilizing the latest communication and environmental technology’ (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014, p. 22). In addition, enhancing the cultural environment and preserving the natural diversity are considered relevant to the living environment. In this living environment, ecosystem services (both material and immaterial) are provided by nature and are relevant to the human well-being (Uusimaa Regional Council, 2014).
There are still several perceptions of green areas that mostly depends on the different actors involved in the urban development. The knowledge on ecosystem services can be useful in drafting sustainable local strategies that bring together the regional and local strategies themselves. It would be interesting to include ecosystem services along with traditional public services (Di Marino & Lapintie, 2017). However, it is evident that there is a further need to understand the values of green areas themselves and related benefits. It is time to place the same level of emphasis on ‘green’, housing and infrastructure.
Di Marino M. & Lapintie K. (2017). Exploring the concept of green infrastructure in urban landscape. Experiences from Italy, Canada and Finland. The paper is forthcoming in Landscape Research
Uusimaa Regional Council (2014) The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Programme Vision and strategy 2040 strategic Priorities 2014–2017.
A couple of years ago I went through the planning legislation in Finland, architectural policy programme of the Uusimaa region and comprehensive and detailed planning documents in the city of Helsinki, in order to find out how multiculturalism and its impacts were defined and understood (Lapintie 2014). They weren’t. The silence was so complete and loud that I became interested in trying to understand why this was the case. It is true that Finland has been a rather homogenous nation with much fewer immigrants that our neighbouring Sweden, for instance. Our national imagination has also cherished the idea of common values and national spirit, such as honesty, hard work and persistant attitude towards obstacles, but also melancholy. However, nobody could have missed the fact that our population growth is already based entirely on immigration. In the years 1990-2015 the proportion of the population with foreign background has grown from 0,8% to 6,2% (Statistics Finland).
So one would expect that planners, together with other policy sectors such as housing and social policy, would be interested in where the new ethnic and language groups will live, how their specialised needs will be satisfied, and how this change in our national and local identities will affect the urban and regional development, including aesthetics. But no: time and again we get the answer that these are not planning issues, that they belong exclusively to housing and social policy sectors. This in spite of the fact that there is a widely shared understanding that segregation and its adverse effects should be avoided. But how? And if we are successful in this endeavour, what does it mean? And are we sure that this is the right answer?
If our anti-segregation policy is based on distributing all minority groups evenly in the metropolitan area, this does not mean that they simply disappear. They will need specialised services, and these services have to be offered in central areas most accessible by public transportation. Something like this is actually happening: one of the few mosques is located in Eastern Pasila, in the middle of the metropolitan area. But it was not planned there. Rather the users who needed the service found the empty premises of a former bank and transformed them to their purposes. Large gatherings during Friday prayers and the need of parking space might be considered as a planning issue. However, there is more to it: if Pasila is going to be the centre of multiculturalism in Helsinki, surely it is taken into account in the current plans of Central and Northern Pasila? But it is not even mentioned. Not once.
On the other hand, if we would give up the current policy of even distribution and allow (or even force?) ethnic and social concentrations, most probably in the Eastern parts of Helsinki, we could also concentrate specialised services there. But this would naturally have further segregation effects, since these areas would become more attractive to new immigrants, at the same time as many other groups would start looking for alternative places. This kind of selectivity in housing and public services such as schools has already started. Not a planning issue?
How could we understand this systematic silence? It is not that planners do not know, or that they never come to think of it. In the recent plan of Central Pasila, we can even find the following subtitle in the environmental impact assessment: ”Impacts on people’s health, safety, the opportunities for activities of different population groups in the vicinity, social conditions and culture”. But what do we find under the title? Air quality, noise, wind, shading, soil contamination. That’s it. Important issues surely, but they only concern environmental health effects. People as active beings with social and cultural features do not exist. Why?
This is where Foucault could give us a hand. In his later writings, he coined the term ’biopolitics’, meaning that modern societies are mainly interested in people as population groups with biological features, such as age, gender, fertility, health and disability. These are all relevant to the size and productivity of the population which, in turn, defines the economic strength of nations. Not surprisingly, then, all these features have been taken into account in modernist urban planning. Children are given their playing fields, core families their suburban dreams, environmental health standards are used, and disabilities are addressed by principles of design-for-all. These are all clearly visible, but not the cultural and social features that make social groups active and meaning-generating beings, not just bodies.
But a change in our mindset is clearly inevitable. The Finnish population and workforce is already in decline, and the current birth rate of 1.65 children per woman (instead of 2.1 that would allow ’natural’ growth) will mean that the future of our country will be multicultural. Different social and ethnic groups will become visible, particularly in the cities. But what would a post-biopolitical planning be like? Let us find out by creating it.
Kimmo Lapintie (2014) Miksi monikulttuurisuus ei mahdu suunnittelijan suuhun – eikä päähän? Yhdyskuntasuunnittelu, vol. 52, n:o 3.
In his famous book on space and place the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan gave the following instruction on reading his own text: ”The approach is descriptive, aiming more often to suggest than to conclude. In an area of study where so much is tentative, perhaps each statement should end with a question mark or be accompanied by qualifying clauses. The reader is asked to supply them.” (p. 7) Let us do what he suggested and question some of the widely cherished ideas of space and place – partly the legacy of Tuan himself. Space is often thought to be somehow more abstract than place. It is taken to be an undifferentiated container that becomes a place only when we endow it with value. Place is the home of security, space the realm of freedom. Place is known to us, space not so much.
Although there is some truth in this, this way of thinking is also problematic. Space as such is clearly no more abstract than place: both can be abstracted to the same extent, as in the Cartesian grid where space is represented with the x- y- and z-axes and the place with a point with coordinates relative to them. Speaking in concrete terms, on the other hand, both space and place are clearly meaningful to us. The home is a meaningful place, but so is the motorway that Augé called non-place – only the meanings are different. There are safe places but also scary places, in which case the safest thing is to get the hell out of there. Space is freedom, for sure, but it is freedom exactly because it allows the possibility to change places. Space as a multitude of alternative places, all of them with different characteristics and meanings, is how this interesting interplay could be approached. There is never just one place, always a multitude of them, and they exist to us as possible locations even if we would never visit them.
How are these theoretical reflections relevant to the contemporary situation of urban and regional planning? We know, of course, that people are not staying at one place, and that is why transportation between places is such a crucial element in planning. We know that commuting from home to the workplace does not respect municipal borders, and that commercial activities concentrate in places of good accessibility, having their customer base in a wider area. Instead of cities and the dichotomy between the city and the countryside, we have come to accept the functional city region, where citizens and businesses not only choose their locations but build complex networks, and where both housing and labour markets are regional.
But something more is happening. The development of information technology has greatly increased the possibilities of working outside the main office: at home, in various contemporary urban offices, during transportation in trains and buses, and in public and semi-public spaces like libraries and coffee shops. The employers, in turn, have noticed that it makes no sense to rent and maintain large office spaces with low occupancy rates; instead, the workers are profiled according to their mobility, and the mobile ones are not allowed to keep rooms or even permanent desks. Work is thus becoming mobile both inside and outside of the office. For the mobile workers, there is no longer only one workplace but a number of alternative workplaces, only some of which are intentionally designed for this purpose.
In addition to this, we are not necessarily living in only one place at a time. As secondary homes have become more well equipped and communication networks faster and more widespread, the borderline between working and leisure is slowly becoming blurred, and people can spend longer times in the places of their preference independently of their working hours. Highly specialised working couples also need to search for job opportunities from a larger catchment area, leading to several forms of interregional solutions of living in many places. Climatic preferences, higher incomes and the growth of the retired population is creating international networked living in different places in different countries. In this multitude of living opportunities, the concepts of primary and secondary homes are becoming outdated, even though the primary residence still determines our identities as citizens and taxpayers.
Considering these developments, we may say that contemporary urban planning – along with urban and regional politics – is clearly lagging behind. The tradition of planning only one neighbourhood or even city at a time, with an ’existing’ or ’projected’ number of residents and workplaces inside its perimeter, is missing the whole point of multi-local living and multi-local working. The tradition of planning functionally divided land-uses, as well as designing spaces for specified functions, has difficulties in dealing with this dynamic multifunctionality of spaces and places. And organising public services ’close to home’ makes no sense anymore: home is where your heart is.
Tuan, Yi-Fu (2011/1977) Space and Place. The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.
Augé, Marc (1995/1992) Non-Places. Introduction to Anthropology of Supermodernity. London and New York: Verso.
Publications on multi-locality:
Libraries as transitory workspaces and spatial incubators
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. 2015 In : LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE RESEARCH. 37, 2, p. 118-129
Emerging workplaces in the post-functionalist cities
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. Forthcoming in JOURNAL OF URBAN TECHNOLOGY.
One of the main problems of contemporary planning is that it is done in silos: the various experts and decision makers all have their specific interests and practices, which are confined within thematic and geographical areas. Even if integration is the buzz-word, it is not easy to make it real. There is a certain path-dependency in urban and regional expertise: each profession has its own history of combining knowledge with power, and it is also important to defend one’s position in the planning commission. Who is needed, and what kind of knowledge is relevant? There is nothing self-evident in this. Different countries have used different experts; in Finland for instance, there is no actual planning profession, but planning is done by architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, planning and urban geographers, among others. They all have different educational backgrounds and, correspondingly, different priorities.
On the other hand, urban and regional governance is also confined within specific geographical areas. The cities are drawing their detailed and structural or master plans – mainly blueprints – and the regional authorities consider regional policies and land-use. At the moment the current government of Finland is planning a major new reform in regional governance, in which independent regions (with elected councils) would take care of social and health-care services, as well as regional land-use plans. The existing independent municipalities (many of which are too small to take care of their ageing population) would be left with local municipal plans and educational and cultural services. Whatever will be the result of this reform, one problem seems to persist: the different authorities take good care not to step on each others’ toes. Helsinki is careful not to suggest anything for the other cities of the metropolitan area (Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen), to say nothing of the larger urban region – and vice versa.
People – in contrast – are not confined. They may be living in one municipality and working in another – nay, they may be living and working in several municipalities and even city regions at the same time, changing their home and workplace as soon as it fits their purposes. They may have primary and secondary homes for both living and working, which is made possible by fast computer networks everywhere. In addition to the home and the office, they may occupy libraries and coffee shops for multi-local working. They would also like to use services according to their preferences and accessibility, but here they face a problem: urban and regional governance has no way of dealing with this fluidity and complexity. From the governance point of view, people are still conceived to be more or less fixed, with one place and neighbourhood of residence determining their local taxes, their public services, their local and national identity, and their political citizenship. Thus the functional urban region is not corresponding to the institutional framework that is supposed to govern it. This incongruence is only partly remedied by the voluntary agreements between the national and the local states, the so-called MALPE-agreements, trying to integrate land-use, transportation, services and the economy.
With nature we have another wicked problem at hand. Before the concepts of sustainable development and ecology came so widespread in planning discourses, the main functions of green areas and networks were recreation and preservation of endangered species and cultural landscapes. They fitted nicely with the overall scheme of functionalistic land-use planning, allowing the confinement of a suitable amount of green around or within the more profitable functions of housing, industry or transportation. At the same time they could be dealt with as structural elements connecting housing with recreational functions. Surely they were understood as having ecological roles as well, as e.g. corridors for species or water retention areas, but not necessarily analysed as such.
How different is our understanding of the urban and regional green today, after decades of research on green infrastructures, ecosystem services, health effects, micro-climates, stormwater management etc. that urban ecology is dealing with. Not so different as one might expect. The two functions of recreation and preservation still dominate the field: we are debating on how much green can be sacrificed for urban development, which areas should be preserved, and what form the green network should take. The main points seem to be too difficult to handle: the avoiding of the juxtaposition of urban development and urban green, the understanding of urban ecology in systemic terms (and not as end-states that can be represented with two-dimensional maps), and addressing the different qualities of the urban green and the respective ecosystem services. An urban forest and a golf course are both green, but they provide very different services, both ecologically and socially.
The issue, thus, does not seem to be the existence or the amount of knowledge, but the way that urban reality is conceptualised through this knowledge, whether it is scientific or professional. And if so, dealing with the complex and dynamic urban reality at hand requires re-concpetualisation, and this is exactly what we are interested in.
Libraries as transitory workspaces and spatial incubators
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. 2015 In : LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE RESEARCH. 37, 2, p. 118-129
Emerging workplaces in the post-functionalist cities
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. Forthcoming in JOURNAL OF URBAN TECHNOLOGY.
Exploring the concept of green infrastructure in urban landscape. Experiences from Italy, Canada and Finland
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. Forthcoming in LANDSCAPE RESEARCH.