Kaupunkitutkimus ja metropolipolitiikka -ohjelma
Helsingin yliopisto
PL 54
00014 Helsingin yliopisto
Puh. 02941 24583
















Green Space Issues and the Metropolitan City 1990-2012: Phase II

Host institution:
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts and Department of Environmental Sciences

Project manager:
Professor Emeritus Peter Clark

Dr. Vesa Yli-Pelkonen, Suvi Talja, Matti Hannikainen, Anna Ojala, Niko Lipsanen ja Richard Robinson

Project duration : 
2011 - 2012

Project Description

The new project builds on and extends the pilot project approved in 2011, taking over and developing the key topics identified in the pilot research and trying to resolve and deal with questions and issues raised by that work.  It is thus concerned with Infilling practices and environmental impacts on domestic gardens; Green Space, Finance and Policy:  Maintenance and Uses of Green Spaces in Metropolitan Region; Green Space, immigration and integration; and Green Space Issues in International Comparative Perspective. The integrated team work on closely linked but separate topics is highly cost effective n generates important added value for the study of urban green space.

As in the first phase of the project, there will be a concern throughout with generating outcomes which are of interest and value not only for cutting edge scientific research but also for policy-making in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. The focus remains on developments since the 1990s (or earlier where relevant) arguing that a historical and cultural dimension is essential for understanding contemporary metropolitan developments. The approach is multidisciplinary involving historians, geographers and ecologists.

The project will be supervised by Prof. Clark supported by a project committee.     

Infilling practices and environmental impacts on domestic gardens
Researcher: Anna Ojala

In Europe, increasing attention is being paid to the role of domestic gardens in maintaining biodiversity in urban areas, particularly with the continued land-use intensification of the cities. The loss of green space as a result of intensive infilling practices may threaten the overall biodiversity of residential areas and have negative effects on the provision of essential ecosystem services. Private domestic gardens contribute strongly to the diversity of urban environments. However, while domestic gardens may constitute the major green space resource in residential areas, ecological information on them is lacking. The aim of this study is to broaden the knowledge of the environmental impacts of infill process on domestic gardens – especially on their spatial structure and ecological quality – in Helsinki Metropolitan Area (HMA), Finland. Also of interest is how the loss of domestic gardens may affect the provision of certain important ecosystem services, such as habitat provision and pollination. In the pilot phase of this project 2011 it was discovered that there is no previous information available on the extent and distribution of domestic gardens in HMA. In addition, at present, the cities of the HMA do not monitor the state of the private green areas. However, as the infill process of residential areas is continuing, the need of more detailed studies from private green areas is already recognised by the city planning officials. In the first phase of this project (3 month research work) the garden areas were measured from the residential area of Paloheinä, and the results and invented mapping methods from that study will be useful base of this second phase. Information is needed to monitor long-term change and dynamics of green space within residential areas. The phenomenon of infilling on gardens will be studied further in two case study districts in Helsinki (Paloheinä: with intensive infill development) and Vantaa (e.g. Hämevaara with less intensive infilling). The changes in garden and yard areas during recent decade will be compared and measured using the Geographical Information System (GIS) methods and aerial photographs. The impact on gardens is then evaluated based on existing material. 


Green Space, Finance and Policy:  Maintenance and Uses of Green Spaces in Metropolitan Region
Researcher: Matti Hannikainen

Continuously transforming urban structure means that also definition and functions of green spaces evolve. Administrative bodies change their practices usually due to external pressures, which included budgets and staff reductions imposed from above. Preliminary results from the on-going  2011 research on  the impact of recession on maintenance and uses of green spaces in Helsinki in the early 1990s indicate that recession did not have a major impact on green spaces. Maintenance had been revised to reduce its cost already in the late 1980s, so during recession this practice was implemented only more rigorously. Most of savings focused on construction of new green spaces – notably parks – and staff reductions. A more fundamental transition occurred in Helsinki resulting from re-organization of its Public Works Department (PWD) on one hand, and incorporation of most green spaces previously maintained by different departments under the PWD in 1996. Since 1997, statistics on overall acreage in Helsinki differ hugely from previous ones concerning especially forests, parks and other types of green spaces. What triggered this change? How much did, for instance, increased ecological awareness and creation of new nature reserves influence this transition? How far did this conceptual change differentiate recreational forest and urban forest areas in accordance to their maintenance practices and uses? Did Helsinki continue provide only traditional kinds of parks as new green spaces or did increased ecological awareness allow development by private-public partnership programs as, for instance, in London? Did similar development take place in Espoo and in Vantaa?

Green Space, immigration and integration
Researcher: Niko Lipsanen

The number of immigrants is rising markedly in the Helsinki capital region. Nevertheless, immigrants and green space has been a neglected research theme in Finland (as in many European countries- see the report by Richard Robinson). Recent research in 2011 (see report) shows that non-European immigrants in Helsinki and Vantaa prefer more urban public settings to forests and parks in their outdoor leisure activity. However, more research is needed to reveal whether it is the urban attractiveness or other factors that explain the result. The 2011 research was mainly based on observation and short interviews for analysis of the reasons of observed behaviour more detailed interviews are needed particularly of those using public urban spaces. Interviews will be done with non-European immigrants in Ruoholahti and Hakunila, which were research  sites already used  in the pilot research, As a third research site the suburb of Myllypuro in eastern Helsinki will be added. Myllypuro has recent undergone major changes as its old shopping mall in the centre has been demolished and new apartment buildings and shopping area are being built. That has resulted in a significant rise in the level of ‘urbanity’ in the central part of Myllypuro. Hence, it is a perfect research site to study whether changes in the level of urbanity have an effect on the use of outdoor space by non-European immigrants. Interviews will be performed spring and early summer, 2012. Limited observation of the use of outdoor space will also be performed in Myllypuro to get comparative data from there. There is a lots of ongoing political discussion whether similar renewal and infilling should be done also in other suburbs. This research will provide significant information for the planning process from the point of view of immigrants that form a growing part of the population of those suburbs.


Green Space Issues in International Comparative Perspective
Researchers:  Richard Robinson

This part of the project will further examine Helsinki’s policies and responses to the above issues in a broader European setting, through a general literature survey and collection of comparative research data for specific cities.  The 2011 literature review focuses on the green space research in four northern and central European cities (Stockholm, Prague, Antwerp and Leicester).  Although this research is still ongoing, the preliminary results suggest that there are clear distinctions between the themes, approaches and definitions of green space research in these particular urban locations.  For example, Stockholm’s parks have been frequently analysed in terms of their ecological and social value, where as in Prague most publications about parks are historical studies charting their growth and development. Given the variations in green space studies in these cities, it is proposed to extend this literature review to other European countries, as a wider scope and sample will help inform the methods and analysis of this project’s primary investigations in Helsinki.  Further, it will integrate the results of these Finnish studies into a trans-national overview of open space research, building upon the findings of the current literature review to explore the similarities and the contrasts in green space work across Europe. The intended cities of study are Berlin, Turin, Dublin and Marseille.  They have been chosen both because of their distinctive urban landscapes and institutional research cultures which should result in a plethora of diverse green space research to collect and evaluate.  The broad research questions are as follows: How far do green space studies in these four cities relate to this project’s primary research on green space and immigration, green space and the recession, and the infilling of private gardens in Helsinki? To what extent can there be said to be a European-wide green space movement, and how does our Helsinki-centred work connect to this? Does the type and amount of green space in a city have an effect on the type and amount of research conducted on it?

Project Documents

Green Space Issues and the Metropolitan City 1990-2012 - Final Project Report 2012 (pdf).

Further Information

See here for the description and results of previous phase of the project:
“Green Space Issues and the Metropolitan City 1990-2011”