Pedestrians in rainy Helsinki on 11 October 2023. The vitality of the city centre has long provoked concerns among locals and decision makers. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)


THE CITY of Helsinki has unveiled the first results of the trial that has provided more space to pedestrians on Esplanadi, one of the thoroughfares in Helsinki.

The results can be described as conflicting: Business owners in the area argued that the trial has been a failure because the increase in visitors has not translated to an up-tick in sales. Residents contrastively touted the trial – especially its impact on attractiveness – and voiced their hope that the area be changed permanently.

The City of Helsinki revealed a week ago that 38 per cent of businesses in the area reported no change in their sales, 35 per cent a drop in sales and 24 per cent an increase in sales. The trial was assessed to have had a positive impact especially by cafés and restaurants and a negative one by retail businesses.

The study did not take into consideration how sales may have been affected by other factors, such as inflation, the economic recession, the increase in remote work, the decline in tourists and the increase in e-commerce.

“The services and events that businesses organise are significant reasons for people to go to the city centre. That is why we value the opinions of businesses and the city has to hear them, take them seriously and involve them in developing the next stages of the trial and the area,” acknowledged Marja-Leena Rinkineva, the director of economic development at the City of Helsinki.

“Based on the results obtained so far, it cannot yet be said that the trial has increased vitality in the area.”

Set to continue until the end of next year, the trial has removed two car lanes from the boulevard in order to set aside more space for pedestrians and vegetation. The objective is to enhance the attractiveness of the area and, ultimately, boost the waning vitality of downtown Helsinki.

Helsingin Sanomat reported last week that local politicians are also divided on the results.

While the survey did find an increase of three per cent in transactions in the area, the newspaper pointed out in the same time period transactions rose by 12 per cent in the area surrounding Helsinki Railway Station.

“These results aren’t surprising,” said Maarit Vierunen, the leader of the National Coalition on the Helsinki City Council. “The survey was conducted in summer time, so I think the results will be even worse when autumn and winter come.”

Amanda Pasanen, her counterpart from the Green League, interpreted the early results as positive.

“This is clearly meeting its goal, as the trial has increased the area’s attractiveness in the minds of people. The other effects should be examined against the economic situation and other ongoing changes,” she noted to Helsingin Sanomat.

“Taking inflation and the recession into consideration, the fact that consumption didn’t decline is a pretty good result. I do believe that the increase in attractiveness will also be visible in business sales in the long term.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT