HISTORY

The reconstruction in Europe after the second world war accelerated industrialization and caused a massive resettlement from the countryside to the cities in a short period of time especially in Scandinavia, which was behind the rest of Europe in the grade of urbanization. The need for big-scaled housing was urgent. The answer was the new efficient building technique of concrete elements and areal development based on land use agreements. Larger unbuilt areas were usually located rather far from the built city centre. The suburbs as we know them were born: large uniform housing areas built in a short period of time far from the existing infrastructure. This happened in Scandinavia and also in Suvela.

FOUNDATION

While Suvela was being planned and built, there was no centre of Espoo yet. Even today, Espoo as part of the metropolitan area of Helsinki does not have one city centre like cities usually do. The name of the area, Centre of Espoo, that Suvela is part of, is thus merely a paradox according to Tuomas Nevanlinna and Jukka Relander, a Finnish philosopher-writer and a Finnish historian.

Suvela has its origin in an international architectural competition won by a team of Polish architects in 1967. The competition was arranged with high hopes by the commune of Espoo, which needed a new centre for its constantly growing population. The winner plan represented city planning ideals of the era with overestimated growth expectations of inhabitants, traffic separation, and deck constructions.

Realization of the plan was started hastily in Suvela in 1970-1973 outside of the actual centre of Espoo, since the commune owned land there. The backbone of the plan was a pedestrian street, which would start at the office centre by the railway station and continue along the hills Kiltakallio and Kirstinharju in Suvela. There was supposed to be bustling street life with cafes and boutiques on the ground floor in the block of flats that would be surrounding the pedestrian route at its both sides.

Illustration of the pedestrian street Kirstinharju in 1967.

Illustration of the pedestrian street Kirstinharju in 1967.

However, the profit expectations of both the commune and the building firms raised the buildings in Suvela with two extra floors on average and left the ground floor service spaces out. While bad guidance of the city and cultural differences in communication delayed the realization of the plan, the previously mentioned planning ideals turned soon old-fashioned.

The grand plan: suburban reality in Suvela, Helsinki, 1971. Photo by Studio B. Möller, from Elämää lähiössä ('Life in a suburb').

The grand plan: suburban reality in Suvela, Helsinki, 1971.
Photo by Studio B. Möller, from Elämää lähiössä (’Life in a suburb’).

URBAN REGENERATION

Suvela has been through altogether four urban regenerations in each decade after its unsuccessful birth like many other suburbs in Finland. These urban regenerations have been dependant on the wave motion of general economical development while the amount of immigrants has been steadily rising alongside.

Urban regeneration, the rise of multiculturalism and economical development in Suvela in 1967-2016.

Urban regeneration, the rise of multiculturalism and economical development in Suvela in 1967-2016.

First awakening to the physical and social problems of Suvela happened already right after it was born. The commune of Espoo had turned to a city in 1972 but the oil crisis in the following year put building in the centre of Espoo to a halt. The new apartments in blocks of flats in Suvela were suddenly isolated and too far from the housing markets of Helsinki region. They were unwanted also because of their bad quality and hence bad reputation as well. Therefore the city established a special project to boost building in the centre of Espoo already in 1973.

The second wave of urban regeneration came in the mid 80’s, which gave a start to a national SOFY-project (SOFY = development of co-operation models to integrate social and physical aspects in planning and development of housing areas) with the help of a financial boom of the time. Suvela was one of the areas which played as a stage for different kinds of participatory city planning experiments to improve its physical quality and social status. However, the results of the SOFY-project in Suvela were seen mostly in the physical environment at the expense of the social one partly due to the heavy organizational structures of resident participation and co-operation. The long and awkward name of the project can be seen as a symbol for this.

Suvela witnessed a third urban regeneration boom in the late 90’s. The ministry of the environment had started a national suburb program to boost the Finnish building sector that was suffering from the stagnation after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. However, this time the results were merely cosmetic in Suvela.

By the millennium Espoo had grown to be the second largest city in Finland with a flourishing economy, good city image and an exceptional city structure of five equal city centres helped by the pull of its big neighbour Helsinki. The city noticed that its old centre had got badly behind of its other areal centres. Therefore, Espoo decided to establish a special project to boost building at the old centre of Espoo in 2003 – once again. When the ministry of the environment announced a special suburb program after the international financial crisis of the year 2007 to boost the building sector – also once again – Espoo decided to sign up Suvela for it and launched a special development project for Suvela the same year.

Suvela was enrolled in the suburb program during 2008-2011 and almost right after it in a housing area program funded by the same ministry during 2013-2015. During the latter period the program area included also the rest of the old centre of Espoo. These programs form the core for already the fourth urban regeneration prime in the history of Suvela.

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