“Creative class” congregates in South Helsinki
By Marko Hamilo and Pekka Mykkänen
There is a group of people living in Finland who feel that the only decent workplaces are located within shouting distance from the centre of Helsinki. Experts refer to these people as the "creative class", who have packed themselves in great numbers to the south of Helsinki – the neighbourhoods of of Eira, Punavuori, and Ruoholahti.
For instance, more than 80 per cent of Finland’s film production is taking place in Uusimaa, and half of that is based in the south of Helsinki, says Aku Alanen of Statistics Finland.
Helsinki’s "creativity" comes at a price even on an international scale. Mari Vaattovaara, Professor of Urban Geography at the University of Helsinki, says that in a comparison with 12 other European cities Helsinki was in first place in the number of creative jobs.
"Helsinki was at the very top in creative and information-intensive professions, leaving Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Munich behind", Vaattovaara says.
Heikki Prokkola, a leading expert at the Workspace architectural office, says that young people who have assimilated urban values determine the direction that working life takes.
Young people who spend time in cafes with their laptops do not easily accept the rules of working life which members of the older generation see as self-evident. The most knowledgeable dictate their conditions to their employers – conditions such as where the workplace should be located.
For instance, many skilled professionals in the south of Helsinki would not want to go as far as Pasila to work, as it is too far from the beat and the atmosphere of the city, even though it is located only a few kilometres from the Helsinki Railway Station.
"Even I wouldn’t go to Pasila for any price", Prokkola says, who designs work spaces.
Heikki Prokkola enjoys sitting on the terrace of a kiosk-cafe on the Esplanade. He sometimes has his Mac laptop, or at least a smartphone with him so he can read any new e-mails that come.
It is a question of aesthetics. Prokkola is inspired by walking to his office on Unioninkatu through the green Esplanade Park.
For some trend-conscious people the very centre of Helsinki might seem a bit too conservative, and the truly creative class gravitates across the old demarcation line of Pitkäsilta ("the Long Bridge") towards the former working-class quarter of Kallio, for instance.
"Like attracts like", Prokkola says. For instance, technology jobs concentrate on Keilaniemi in Espoo, which an engineer can reach easily by car.
Within the creative class a class of "super-creative" people stand out both nationally and internationally. Their representatives tend to be designers and textile experts, for instance. They work, and often want to live, in city centres.
A fifth of the "super-creatives" live in city centres, and in addition to them, a third settle in other core areas.
In Helsinki one in eight people, 13 per cent, work in cultural, or information-intensive fields.
Alanen is careful about the terms. In his view it is all right to speak about the "creative class" and cultural fields. However, "creative fields" is an expression that grates his ear, because it excludes many kinds of people.
For instance, an economic researcher can be very creative, while the player of an instrument in a symphony orchestra will dutifully follow the conductor’s baton and his sheet music without actually creating anything.
Nowhere in Finland is it as easy to consume cultural products and services as it is in the centre of Helsinki and in the south of Helsinki. More than half of Helsinki’s bookstores are in the south of the city. The area also contains a quarter of the art and antique stores in the Finnish capital.
In addition to the actual creative class, the germ of urban values has also infected ordinary office employees.
The real estate company Vuokraturva was located on Kluuvikatu for years. "We worked in a room more than four metres high. The setup was magnificent and the building was one of Helsinki’s finest", says CEO Timo Metsola.
When the building went under renovation, the company decided to move to a more convenient location from the point of view of transport. Such a place was found in Pasila, in the old water tower next to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) and the commercial television network MTV3.
The new location made life easier for real estate agents who used their own cars to drive from place to place, but the office staff was not as enthusiastic. "They were accustomed to getting their latte from Aleksanterinkatu and to have an ice cream in the Esplanade Park during their lunch break."
In the months that followed the move, a few office employees changed jobs, and it turned out that the change in location was the reason.
Prokkola says that many employees would be willing to accept a commute that is 15 minutes longer if they could have a coffee break at Market Square, or pick up groceries from the Stockmann delicatessen.
For employers in more remote locations the best way to compete for skilful employees is to invest in the quality of the premises.
For someone moving from the countryside the prestige of southern parts of the city are easily seen as frivolous antics of city people.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 19.9.2012
MARKO HAMILO AND PEKKA MYKKÄNEN / Helsingin Sanomat