If the native citizens were the first settlement in suburbs, immigrants are the second one.

Accelerated industrialization after the second world war did not happen evenly in Europe or worldwide. This caused rising immigration, when people searched for a better living by moving to a foreign country. This did also hundred thousands of Finns by emigrating to Sweden and further. Finland used to be primarily a country of emigration till the 80’s.

After Finland had successfully built up the welfare state, the direction of migration turned and Finland started to be primarily a country of immigration from the 90’s on. The first discernible newcomers were refugees from Somalia. The Finnish media talked about the Somali shock. Post-war humanitarian crisis both in Europe and in other parts of the world have given rise to international agreements that oblige welfare states such as Finland and other Scandinavian countries to take in fleeing refugees.

These processes that Finland, Espoo as part of the metropolitan area of Helsinki and Suvela as a suburb of Espoo have been witnessing only since the beginning of the 1990’s, have started elsewhere in Scandinavia already some 20-30 years before.


Both the amount and percentage of immigrants has been constantly increasing in Finland since 1980. While still in 1990 the percentage of foreign language speakers in the population was only 0,5 %, today (2014) the number is 4,4 %.

Foreign language speakers in Finland in 1980-2014.

Foreign language speakers in Finland in 1980-2014.


In Espoo the growth of foreign language speakers has been faster than in Finland on average. The number has risen from 1,2 % in 1990 even to 9,7 % today (2014). In other words, every tenth dweller in Espoo speaks some other language than Finnish, Swedish or Saami.

Foreign language speakers in Espoo in 1980-2014.

Foreign language speakers in Espoo in 1980-2014.


The same development is going on also in Suvela, where already 39,0 % of the residents have a foreign background – the second highest number in Helsinki region in 2019. In 2000 the number was still just 7,6 %.

Foreign language speakers in Suvela in 1999-2014.

Foreign language speakers in Suvela in 1999-2014.

There is a tendency that the percentage of immigrants rises fastest in certain housing areas as Katja Vilkama has shown for the metropolitan area of Helsinki in her doctoral thesis in 2011. There are two reasons for this: While immigrants are steadily moving in housing areas where the percentage of immigrants is already high, the native Finns are moving out to such housing areas where the percentage of immigrants is lower.

Immigrants and refugees have moved and keep on moving to ethnically segregated housing areas due to both structural and individual reasons: Either because they have in the first place been inhabited in the non-profit rental apartments which are well represented in these suburbs, or because they have sought voluntarily the company of their extended family, friends and compatriots.

Irene Molina, a Swedish human geographer, stresses the impact of structural factors – the compelling force of the housing market – and calls this phenomenon provocatively racialization of the city.


As the state of these housing areas is what it is – whether positive or negative depending on the viewpoint – many researchers and urban planners have called for a new agenda, which would take multiculturality as a starting point in all urban planning. Here urban planning is understood in a broader sense than in the early urban regeneration of suburbs: in addition to the social and physical aspect, it now comprises also the cultural aspect brought up by the new suburb dwellers.

Canada is often mentioned as a good exemplary of integrating the newcomers in the society. John Berry, a Canadian psychologist, has defined integration as an acculturation strategy, in which the immigrant considers  to be of equal value to maintain on one hand one’s identity and characteristics and on the other hand relationships of larger society.

Acculturation strategies by John W. Berry (1997).

Acculturation strategies by John W. Berry (1997).

Multiculturalism as a public philosophy, which acknowledges racial and cultural differences in a society and encourages their sustenance and expression as constituent elements of a national social order, makes the individual acculturation strategy of integration possible. In other words, where integration is the choice made at individual level, multiculturalism is the choice made at the structural, societal level. Both concepts take the metaphor of a mosaic rather than a melting pot as the ideal in cultural encounters.

Mohammad A. Qadeer, a Canadian professor emeritus of urban and regional planning, has defined a ladder of (urban) planning principles that support multiculturalism. The further up in the ladder the city proceeds, the wider effects the proceedings have in increasing multiculturalism.

A ladder of planning principles supporting multiculturalism by Mohammad A. Qadeer (1997).

A ladder of planning principles supporting multiculturalism by Mohammad A. Qadeer (1997).



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