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  • The Kalasatama district will be built into a model district of smart urban development, making use of data and testing ideas together with the residents and those working in the area. Photo: Jarmo Roiko-Jokela.

Editorial: Helsinki in 2013

Recent trends and new developments

There is a constant demand for comprehensive information and knowledge in running and developing a city. It is important to have accurate, timely and relevant data, statistics and research available on a number of urban phenomena, as well as on new issues affecting cities.

The City of Helsinki Urban Facts is a city department whose main tasks are, on the one hand, to provide data, information and also a deeper understanding about topics of priority to the city; and to acquire insights into new trends and challenges facing the city, on the other.

Topics of statistics and research include population and demography, housing and environment, democracy and inclusion, welfare and services, urban culture, and economy and competitiveness. Small area statistics, neighbourhood statistics and geospatial analyses are at the core of activities at the City of Helsinki Urban Facts. Information on citizens' perceptions also increasingly forms a part of the research agenda.

Of vital importance in acquiring new insights and knowledge about cities and their functional urban regions is the close cooperation of Urban Facts with universities and research institutions in our region. Participation in comparative urban research contributes significantly to an understanding of the dynamics, opportunities and diversity that explain and inform the development of cities – across time, continents and cultures.

We are currently in the process of reviewing both the statistics and research programme of the City of Helsinki and the joint Metropolitan Region Urban and Research Programme. The updated City of Helsinki Statistics and Research Programme will take us through 2015. The Metropolitan Region Urban Research and Cooperation Programme (KatuMetro), in which Helsinki participates together with the other cities and universities of the region, as well as government ministries, is to enter a new phase as its current programme period comes to an end in 2014.

A third guiding document important to mention here is the new Helsinki City Strategy Programme, adopted by the City Council in April and embracing the term of the current council (2013–2016). The five priority areas, each containing a number of objectives endorsed by the City Council, are: wellbeing for all residents; dynamic city; liveable and functional city; well-balanced economy and good management; and innovations in the field of democracy and participation.

The implementation of the strategy programme also entails new demand for information and knowledge to assist the decision-making. For instance, welfare and health differences will be monitored more closely than before. Population projections, which are carried out annually by Urban Facts for Helsinki, its sub-districts and the metropolitan region, will increase in importance as the city strives to further improve the efficiency of its service provision.

When strategies and programmes are prepared and implemented, the operational environment must be monitored closely. The main trends concerning the city of Helsinki and its operational environment include the following.

A growing population

Helsinki and the Helsinki Region are growing. The city of Helsinki is growing particularly rapidly, with 100,000 new residents expected during the next 20 years. One factor explaining the growth is the fast pace in which Helsinki aims to construct new neighbourhoods – and also a considerable number of new homes – in the forthcoming years. At the same time, net in-migration from the rest of Finland has increased. In recent years the natural population growth has also remained at a relatively high level.

The population structure remains young

The number of children and young people is growing. The working age population is also growing, though the share is diminishing with time. The population is ageing, but not as fast as in Finland on the whole. The foreign-language population is growing and clustering geographically.

A large number of small households

One-person households make up about half of all households in Helsinki. Single and two-person households account for almost 80 % of all households. Families with children represent about one fifth of all households. The share of lone-parent households is high.

Differentiation of neighbourhoods is part of the development of major cities

Helsinki and all Finland experienced in the early 1990s a recession that was the worst since the Second World War. Since then, socioeconomic differentiation and also spatial differences in terms of income, unemployment and education began to slightly grow. Sub-city level disparities are a part of the development of all major cities, but empirical findings indicate that these differences in Helsinki remain modest in international comparison.

Residents of Helsinki are satisfied with social, health and educational services

Helsinki's comprehensive and universally available services and well-functioning infrastructure have helped to keep the socioeconomic differences and spatial social differences at a modest level. Residents' satisfaction with the public services has been measured in national four-yearly Public Services Satisfaction Surveys since 1983. The findings of the 2012 survey in Helsinki indicate that service satisfaction has remained at a high level for two successive four-year periods and that changes in citizen satisfaction were noticeably smaller during the period 2009 through 2012 compared with the 2005 to 2008 period.

Municipal economy faces challenges

Uncertain economic conditions have persisted on all levels, while at the same time public services are more and more in demand. Developments in the population structure – the increasing numbers of children, on the one hand, and senior citizens, on the other – entail a growing need for specific services such as children´s day care, education and elderly services. The growing number and share of foreign-language population will also require efforts and support in terms of integration, including housing and education.

Structural changes in the economy

As is typical for major cities, the industrial structure of Helsinki and its surrounding region is strongly service-dominated. A good four out of five employed workers are occupied in some part of the service sector. Economic growth has been fastest in financing and business services. The Helsinki region has a strong profile of private services, expert work and management, but Research and Development is also important and explains the performance to a great extent. Information sector jobs in Finland are strongly concentrated in the Helsinki region and particularly in the core of the region. Regarding the very recent development we may add that the number of jobs has increased, the labour market has remained attractive, and commuting is growing and expanding. The Helsinki–Tallinn cross-border region is important and evolving.

Helsinki is developing as an open and engaging city

The City of Helsinki has invested considerably in developing open data in cooperation with the other cities in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Open data plays a major role in promoting civic participation, access to information and new forms of collaboration. The open data service titled Helsinki Region Infoshare (HRI; has been running since 2011. See Ville Meloni's article in the present issue of Helsinki Quarterly for a more detailed description of the HRI project and web service.  

In international comparison, Helsinki resembles in many ways the other Baltic Sea metropolises. In about one third of the European regions, GDP per capita is higher than the EU average. Helsinki-Uusimaa ranks at 17 with a GDP per capita 1.5 times higher than the average. Hamburg and Stockholm belong to the top ten while Copenhagen ranks 19th. There is a clear positive correlation between the GDP per capita and population growth in the European regions. The regions with GDP per capita above the EU average tend to have a positive rate of total population change.

The employment rate (share employed of population aged 15 to 64) ranges from over 80 % in Swiss regions to around and below 40 % in Southern Italy. Many of the German, Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish regions belong to the top regions with respect to employment rate. Oslo and Stockholm both have 77 % of their working age population in employment while in the Capital Region in Denmark and in the Helsinki Region the share is 74 %.

According to the outcome of the Urban Audit Perception Surveys (2010 and 2013) carried out in 75 to 79 European cities, Helsinki residents are content with their city’s cultural services and outdoor recreation opportunities. In the same survey, the residents of Helsinki also found their city and neighbourhoods safe and secure places to live. They are also fully satisfied with public transport services. Accordingly, Helsinki Region Transport (HSL) ranked on top for the third year running in the international BEST survey in 2013.

In various comparisons, Helsinki stands out to its advantage in terms of overall quality of life, safety, and functionality of public transport.  In Monocle´s 2013 survey “The world’s 25 best cities in terms of quality of life” Helsinki takes third position while Copenhagen is 1st, Melbourne 2nd, Tokyo 4th followed by Vienna, Zürich, Stockholm and Munich. In another liveability ranking, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Helsinki ranked 8th, with Melbourne, Vienna and Vancouver in the top three.

Dynamic and self-reflective city

Successful cities and regions appear to have the ability to generate and use innovation, to seize first mover advantages and to identify the key drivers of competitiveness and to adapt them to the changing environment. In Europe, cities and urban regions are crucial to national and European competitiveness. Although the international city comparisons cited above also identify some room for improvement and development, the results can be generally summed by stating that Helsinki is a good place to live.

Helsinki is one of the fastest growing metropolises in Europe. New areas for living and business are rising especially in areas formerly occupied by logistical and industrial functions. The recent construction of a new cargo port in the eastern suburbs has offered the opportunity to develop the inner-city site of the old port and railway yard area for other uses.  In the forthcoming decades, Helsinki will expand faster than ever before, both by densification of old districts and creation of brand-new ones.

Many of the new residential areas will be attractive waterfront districts. Forward-looking planning solutions such as the largest wood-built urban quarter in Finland and the experiments with Smart City functions, together with strict quality requirements for construction, will contribute to a high quality urban living and sustainable urbanism in future's Helsinki. Helsinki uses data, information and expert knowledge in order to be able to reflect on its activities, successes and failures, and this self-reflective capability helps build an even better city.


City of Helsinki. The Helsinki City Strategy Programme 2013-2016.

City of Helsinki Urban Facts. The Statistics and Research Programme for the City of Helsinki 2011-2015.

City of Helsinki Urban Facts. Helsingin tila ja kehitys 2012.

City of Helsinki Urban Facts. The population projection Helsinki and the Helsinki Region 2014-2050.

Helsinki Quarterly 3/2011. Accessed online 9 Oct 2013. URL:

Helsinki Quarterly 4/2012. Accessed online 9 Oct 2013. URL:

“HSL  public transport top in Europe”. Accessed online 9 Oct 2013. URL:

Keskinen, Vesa. Tasaista menoa. Helsinkiläisten tyytyväisyys kuntapalveluihin 2012 ja 2008. (”Sailing Smoothly. Public Services Satisfaction Survey in Helsinki 2012 and 2008.”) City of Helsinki Urban Facts, Research Series 2013:1.

Laakso S., Kostiainen E. Alueellisesti eriytynyt Eurooppa. Helsinki ja Itämeren alue Euroopan alueiden verkostossa. Kvartti 2/2013. Accessed online 9 Oct 2013. URL:

Metropolitan Region Urban Research and Cooperation Programme 2011-2014.

Monocle 2013 Quality of Life global survey. Accessed online 9 Oct 2013. URL:

Nordstat database.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) most recent liveability ranking.

The Urban Audit Perception Survey. Accessed online 9 Oct 2013, URL: and 

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