A view over southern parts of Helsinki into the Baltic Sea on 31 December 2023. Councillors at the City of Helsinki have submitted an initiative to increase the number of residential units in central locations, saying it is a key means to boost the vitality of the city centre. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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COUNCILLORS at the City of Helsinki are urging bureaucrats to take “determined action” to increase housing in the downtown area and its immediate vicinity, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

Osmo Soininvaara (Greens) and 31 of his colleagues argue in their initiative that increasing housing in the area is a means to revitalise the area in the face of rising remote work, growth of e-commerce, completion of new shopping centres, scattering of nightlife activity and disappearance of visitors from China and Russia.

“Residential is the only type of floor space that has not seen a decline in demand,” they wrote according to the newspaper.

Officials at the City of Helsinki highlighted in their response that the city has looked into the possibility of increasing the number of jobs and residential units downtown, but also pledged to be more open to proposals to convert buildings to new uses.

They identified rejuvenating the number of visitors, demand for services and overall vitality of the downtown area as their primary objective.

The Helsinki City Board will discuss the initiative in its meeting in mid-January. The final decision will be made by the city council.

Concerns about the appeal and vitality of the city centre have lingered for some time, with many pointing to the effects of hybrid and remote work on the utilisation rate and vacancy rate of office space and demand for services.

While Mayor Juhana Vartiainen (NCP) has proposed that converting office space to residential units be made easier, the city has traditionally been lukewarm about the idea of increasing the number of downtown residents. Instead, it has viewed the area primarily as a concentration of offices and services.

It appears that the stance has not changed dramatically, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Downtown Helsinki and its nearby areas are indeed a substantial concentration of jobs. Depending on the geographical definition, the downtown area has roughly 100,000 jobs compared to the roughly 250,000 in the entire city centre. Officials have also pointed to market studies suggesting that office space in the centre continues to appeal strongly to companies.

Southern Helsinki lost around 250,000 square metres of operational floor space to conversions in 2015–2021. Simultaneously supplemental construction and zoning conversions increased housing and accommodation in the area.

Roughly 2,500 permanent residents are living in the over 40 converted buildings in the city centre. Although the residents increase demand for nearby services, the decline in jobs caused by the conversions can have the opposite effect, the officials noted.

New residential projects in the centre have also been hindered by the lack of space for the public services the residents would need, such as kindergartens and schools.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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