People in downtown Helsinki on 18 October 2022. Measures are needed to restore the vitality of central areas of the Finnish capital, believes Pia Pakarinen, the CEO of the Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce. (Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva)


ALARM BELLS are ringing about the vitality of downtown Helsinki.

Helsingin Sanomat on Thursday reported that three indicators have emerged about the deepening struggles of companies operating at the heart of the Finnish capital: a decline in revenue, an increase in vacant commercial premises and the disappearance of services.

The Helsinki City Executive Office has commissioned a vitality assessment that drew attention to the profound problems of downtown companies. The Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce has revealed that the revenue of companies operating in downtown areas remained 20–30 per cent lower this autumn than before the coronavirus pandemic, in 2019.

The assessment pointed also to an increase in the share of vacant commercial premises and a decline in the number of shops open on Saturdays. The share of vacant commercial premises in the city stood at nine per cent in the first half of 2022, an increase of 0.9 points from 2021 and 3.5 points from 2020.

While fewer shops are open on Saturdays, no such decline has been recorded in the number of cafés and restaurants.

Pia Pakarinen, the chief executive of the Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce, admitted to Helsingin Sanomat that the situation is serious on Aleksanterinkatu, the main shopping street in Helsinki.

“Many companies have folded,” she said.

“Things are looking bad in central blocks of the downtown in that there are longer stretches where new tenants can’t be found immediately.”

Pakarinen interpreted the situation partly as a sign that the downtown has yet to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, partly as a sign of the changing world, with the up-tick in remote work reducing the number of people in the city centre.

“Purchases that you used to make after work or at lunchtime have decreased,” she told.

The number of visitors to the city has similarly yet to rebound even close to the pre-pandemic levels. Local decision makers should weigh up measures to revitalise the area in collaboration with businesses, according to Pakarinen.

“The city could accomplish quite a lot with its own measures. You could be more bold about giving licences to companies and giving greater freedom to experiment with revitalising the streets. There’s no shortage of space on, for example, Keskuskatu. You could develop all sorts of things there,” she commented.

She also expressed her support for the idea of covering the street, possibly even Aleksanterinkatu.

“I think covering streets is a very good idea at this latitude and in this climate so that you could move about in the centre also in bad weather,” she said to the newspaper.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT