Finland’s capital city, the most populous in the country, sits on the shores of the Gulf of Finland in the southern Uusimaa region. As of January 2019, Helsinki’s population had risen to 648,042 – a 0.7 percent increase from the previous year, according to the city’s executive office. Official spoken languages are Finnish and Swedish, though a whopping 78 percent of Helsinki citizens speak the former, while around 5 percent opt for the latter.
According to Matti Lehto, a strategist in the Helsinki office of design consultancy Kuudes, the city is focusing on its shoreline, developing new seaside neighborhoods in old commercial harbors. One such area is Kalasatama, a “smart city district,” which aims to provide residents with functional, accessible and sustainable resources and infrastructure to keep Helsinki an easy place to live despite its growth. This district, as well as other nearby developments, including Arabianranta and Jätkäsaari, are part of the city’s answer to the increasing demand for affordable housing.
“Helsinki is growing, and it’s growing fast,” Lehto says. “The housing situation is very difficult, and prices are soaring. But luckily, there has been a change for the better in recent years. We are now seeing the first high-rise buildings showing up in the Helsinki skyline.”
The Hot Spots
“The absolute number one new hot spot in Helsinki is the new central library, Oodi,” Lehto says. Opened in December 2018, Oodi is located in the city center opposite the parliament building and serves as a non-commercial cultural and social hub for all. Another must-visit is the Kallio neighborhood, which, according to Niina Hietalahti, founder and food strategist at Nordic Breakfast Ltd., is packed with cool breakfast joints, bars and restaurants. She suggests starting in the flower-filled Bear Park, so named for its sculpture “The Bear on the Anthill” by artist Jussi Mäntynen.
Obstacles and Opportunities
Like so many growing cities, accommodating an influx of new residents with housing, proper transportation and other services remains one of Helsinki’s bigger challenges. By 2030, neighborhoods such as Kalasatama are expected to be fully developed and provide housing to upwards of 20,000 people. “All in all, there is a lot going on in Helsinki right now, and I find it truly inspiring,” Lehto says. “And you can feel it in the overall vibe of the city – others find it inspiring, too.”