Helsinki already ranks as one of the world's most livable cities, but by 2050, it may top the list, especially as other cities struggle to figure out how to accommodate swelling populations in limited space.
Over the next few decades, Helsinki expects to add around 250,000 new residents. But the more the population grows, the fewer cars will be on city streets as Helsinki transforms itself into a network of dense, walkable neighborhoods that are virtually car-free.
Right now, like many cities, Helsinki has a compact urban core linked to far-flung suburbs by expressways. As the city grows, each suburb will change into a mini-urban center surrounding tram or rail stations.
"Even though the city population grows, the use of the private car should not rise," says Rikhard Manninen, director of the Strategic Urban Planning Division for the city. "Key to achieving this goal is improving public transport, densifying existing areas, and expanding the inner city."
Helsinki envisions its busy expressways becoming boulevards lined with new housing, sidewalk cafes, bike lanes, and trams and buses. Residents will run everyday errands on foot or by bike; the city hopes that homes, businesses, schools, and stores will all be close enough together that many people might not even have to commute anymore.
But an expanded network of tram and metro stations will connect the entire city. New services, like a "mobility on demand" app that the city is already beginning to test, will make it simple to call up a bus, taxi, or shared car or bike, exactly when someone needs it.
As the city fills up with new housing and commercial space, it also plans to keep, and even add, parks.
"Helsinki is described as a green network city," says Manninen. "We, for instance, have five 'green fingers' running through the city from sea to surrounding forest network. Most of the new development will be located on brownfield areas, residential areas, and on transforming motorway corridors." The city also plans to add parks along the shoreline and add new connections to nearby islands.
The city's vision was all based on detailed feedback from current residents. "In a couple of months we were able to gather over 30,000 markings made by thousands of people," says Manninen. "The answers have been published as open data for anyone to use. This is one aspect in which we have been showing the way for many other cities that are dealing with questions concerning public participation."
Helsinki's draft plan for 2050 will likely be approved next year, after more citizen feedback.