A city user’s manual
“For me, the railway station is the true fragrance of Helsinki. Under its many smells is the industrial odour of the railway. A sprinkling of tobacco, railway line and debris. You come here by train, as I did before I lived here. It’s that smell – of arriving in Helsinki.”
Editor-in-Chief at Radio Helsinki and multi-media personality Maria Veitola grew up in Eastern Finland. Since childhood she has viewed Helsinki as a ‘seriously cool place’.
“Helsinki was an insane adventure, a crazy experience. I never had the dreams shared by so many people, to move to New York, London or somewhere like that. From my teenage years it was crystal clear to me that I wanted to move to Helsinki. Helsinki was a huge motivation and inspiration for me.”
To understand the logic of a city you need to use it. Maria asked people who knew the city about the best places to go. In her free time she explored the city by bike and bus. She officially began studying at the University of Helsinki, but in practice at the heart of cultural life in the Corona Bar.
“It was the city’s cultural Mecca, where the most interesting artists and musicians hung out. That place was so alive. It was much more motivating to be there and wonder about those people than to sit in a lecture hall analysing Finnish poetry.”
A maker of the city
Maria Veitola began a traineeship with Radio City at the age of 21.
“That’s almost certainly where I got the bug, the feeling that anybody can do anything in this city. If you want to create the world’s best magazine, then you can do that with your friends. My friends and I had the publication Sue Ellen.”
Maria sees making things happen as a fundamental form of self-expression. In many cases, doing something that makes you happy also creates wonderful things for the city and its people.
“That’s probably why I became a ‘maker’ of Helsinki, because I’ve done things. And I’m still doing them with Radio Helsinki.”
Although there are always grumbles and bureaucracy, Maria has never allowed them to stand in her way.
“Yes, I think the atmosphere here is more supportive. People are visibly delighted by the things that other people do. Restaurant Days and similar events are good examples of something getting started and everyone jumping on board.”
Pearls of the sea
People often talk about Helsinki’s pure natural environment and long coastline. But the city has yet to celebrate and make the most of these advantages. Hernesaari is Maria’s favourite place in Helsinki. She is thrilled that building has begun on the Hernesaari and Eira coastlines.
“I visited Lonna during the summer, which was lovely. I’m now looking forward to the opening of Vallisaari. It’s great that people have woken up to what these islands offer. Something is finally being made of the archipelago. I’ve always been a little jealous of boat owners, of their completely different experience of Helsinki in the summer, when they can move around as they like, enjoying picnics on their small boats.”
Helsinki’s new meeting places
People should get out and about more in general. But they often need a reason for getting exercise. Such as a place to meet.
“I would like many more people to come here. People from different cultures. I would like this city to be more cosmopolitan. Look at how completely different inner city Helsinki is to the Itäkeskus, which is just a couple of metro stops away. I would like to see more meeting places between the people from these places.”
Luckily, Helsinki has learned to make exceptionally good use of the social media in city activities and bringing people together. Maria views the Meillä on unelma (We Have a Dream) demonstration organised by volunteer groups as a good example of this. An event attended by 15,000 people was built from scratch within a few days. Dozens of well-known performers, event management and translation services could all be found through the social media. When the call went out, people answered.
“Here, we’ve moved a long way down the path of saying that someone’s come up with something, so let’s get involved. Now we need to get the same level of enthusiasm and agility into the city’s organisation, to make sure that this Helsinki spirit doesn’t fade away. It is a challenge for the city, but it’s wonderful that new people, who will regenerate our culture, are coming here too.”
Text: Anna Pakarinen
Picture: Tuomas Kallio
Maria Veitola chose Iiris Kokko as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.