Friday, January 13, 2012

Espoo, the heart and brain of Finland

New York Times ranked Helsinki as the second most interesting places to visit in 2012. I'm happy for the ranking because I love Helsinki, and I think that among Berlin and London it's one of the nicest cities in Europe. But there is one thing I don't like in Helsinki: the attitude towards Espoo.

If Europeans want to act like an intellectual, the easiest way to do that is to mock Americans. The same applies to the intellectuals of Helsinki: the easiest (and the cheapest) way of underlining your own intelligence is to say something ironic and pitiful about Espoo. For example to claim that in Espoo there are no cafés, and to imply that cool people like writers and freelancers are unable to work in Espoo. Well, just for your information, Tuomas Kyrö has been spotted many times writing at Chico's Tapiola. And he's the Finnish writer with the largest amount of street credibility at the moment, isn't he.

The hipsters of Helsinki see Espoo as the incarnation of middle class life style. In Espoo everybody lives in suburbs. Everybody wears a helmet while biking. Everybody is an engineer or married with one. Everybody picks yellow foot chanterelles in the fall and skis in the winter.

Espoo may not have a history, but it sure has a future.

Dear Helsinki, loosen up. Espoo is not competing with you, Espoo is facilitating you. Espoo may not be a historical city with a lively center, but we don't care, we can borrow yours and make Helsinki history and downtown even more vivid. And yes, we are living in suburbs, but that's because Espoo has actually done something concrete regarding land-use for people to live in and for companies to run business, while Helsinki (and Laura Kolbe) has been just discussing about how to make "urban living rooms" for the citizen. And according the leaked secret plan, Espoo and Helsinki may be anyway merged into one city.

Helsinki wouldn't be as appealing as it is without Espoo. Helsinki may be the soul of Finland, but Espoo is the heart and brain. Espoo pumps life into Helsinki. Espoo acts logically and lets Helsinki be the decadent one. Soul is something mysterious and unique, something that nobody can completely chasten. But in order to nurture the soul you need both heart and brain for sure.


  1. Moi Katri, fresh ideas, well written and I agree with most of the arguments. Yes, Espoo is the brain. Heart, well, maybe, depends who you ask. But where is this coming from: "Espoo acts logically and lets Helsinki be the decadent one."? I don't have a problem with that thought, I actually like the idea, but I just don't agree with it. Do you really see for example Espoo decision-makers acting that logically comparing the ones in Helsinki that it is fair to say that?

  2. Moi Antti, glad to see you here!

    If we look the decision makers and the city councils of Espoo and Helsinki, it's way too harsh to say that other ones would be logical and other ones decadent. I do think that Espoo has been acting more logically in planning the land-use and the availability of day care and schools, but for example decisions related to public transportation have been much more logical in Helsinki. And if we look at the decision makers, well, you can find nuts in both of the cities, but luckily smart ones are also represented both in Espoo and Helsinki.

    What I'm after with the statement is more related to the spirit of the city. Let's imagine a situation: you're supposed to get yourself a new pair of shoes, a deodorant, something to eat, and check out how does a certain book seem like on a quick look. If you fit that imaginary situation into context of Espoo, you start thinking: "Shall I go to Tapiola, Sello or Iso-Omena? Deo and food I can find in all places. Tapiola has the best book stores, Sello is the most potential in supplying shoes but Omppu would be on the way of my destination." Performance-oriented, but still logical, right? But if you're fitting the same imaginary task into context of Helsinki, the tone is different: you start to think about nice little shoe shops; some small brand or even vintage. You may just wander around in a book store enjoying the presence of books. You order a glass of wine with the food or have a cup of coffee as a dessert because you feel like doing so. And while you're after the deodorant you might try out a perfume, just because you're worth it. In the eyes of an Espoo citizen, there's a hint of decadence in Helsinki.

  3. Moi again, I've enjoyed many posts, especially the one with all the meteorologists. Anssi Vähämäki, WHO?

    And thanks for clarification! OK, the spirit of the cities was the vibe behind. Maybe the first thought of decision makers (that's how you supposed to write it?) was too obvious engineer-thinking. Shame on me. But the way you described the visit to Helsinki: that's not decadence, that's everyday life in the city. :) See you soon, niissä merkeissä.