Helsinki is embracing change in its urban landscape, adapting to evolving trends such as increased remote work, shifting consumer behavior, and a growing demand for experiential urban spaces. To address these shifts, the city, under the initiative of Mayor Juhana Vartiainen, has launched efforts to update the principles guiding changes in building usage, particularly the conversion of commercial spaces into residential units.
"We need more housing in the city center. It's a clear and long-term trend that the business world and offices require less square footage. Simultaneously, in all major cities, we are pondering how to attract people back to the city center. One essential means to achieve this is by increasing residential options in the downtown area. It's high time to kickstart this work and move swiftly towards implementation," Mayor Vartiainen emphasizes.
In the initial phase, the City Planning Department will initiate a study aimed at providing economic insights into the current ratio of commercial and residential spaces in Helsinki. This study will also explore how city policies can concretely influence this ratio.
The ultimate goal of this effort is to facilitate changes in usage while promoting residential development in the city center. The information generated will also inform broader strategic urban planning initiatives, including potential updates to the general plan and the development of specific zoning regulations related to conversion of spaces.
This work will be conducted over the remainder of 2023. Following this initial phase, there will be an analysis of how the City Planning Department's guidance affects the realization of changes in usage. Consideration will include factors such as general and detailed land use plans, guidelines for downtown development, and principles governing the conversion of spaces.
The guidelines for changes in usage will be updated and presented as proposals to the City Planning Committee and subsequently to the City Board for approval. Simultaneously, this effort will improve the capacity to assess the need for updates to the general plan from this perspective.
Starting in the fall of 2023, the City Planning Department will ensure that conversions from commercial to residential use in downtown areas are approached with greater flexibility and case-by-case consideration, fostering a more adaptable and responsive urban environment.