In view of its significant population growth, the City of Helsinki, Finland had set five objectives for its city master plan:
- Extend the inner city
- Develop new transverse rail connections
- Create lively suburban centres
- Support the operational preconditions of economic life
- Enable the widening of urban Helsinki
One key requirement to meet these objectives was the development of city boulevards. This implied that existing motorways and motorway-like roads would be turned into urban city boulevards with new mixed neighbourhoods of housing and workplaces built around them.
The study examined the effects of modifying radial motorways leading to Helsinki city center into city boulevards (“motorway downsizing”), providing additional possibilities for development along the road corridors. The point was also to validate whether city boulevards supported the city master plan objectives.
Our responsibilities included the impact assessment of Helsinki’s new city plan. The assessment covered the definition of transport conditions in 2050, the impacts on traffic and transport, the urban structure and its benefits, commercial services, accessibility as well as on health and economic development.
With the ‘Back to the Future’ Lens
Two scenarios were defined. In the first scenario, urban boulevards were developed with new housing along the way. The alternative scenario maintained the status quo (“business as usual”), ignoring various challenges resulting from expected changes in demographics, traffic, economic growth and employment as well as related impacts on urban development and city structure.
The assessment was carried out using a backcasting technique. Traditionally, the assessment begins with traffic forecasts and planning according to the predicted traffic volumes.
In this case, the starting point was the assumption that the city boulevards were developed and the analysis was based on what else needed to be done in order for them and the entire community to operate.
Assessing Urban Capacity
The study’s main results revealed:
- A significant part of city growth would focus on expanding the inner city. This means that the average distances travelled would get shorter, making a greater portion of them accessible by foot or bicycle. Also, the modal share of public transport would increase.
- The population and workplace densities along the city boulevards would create new urban areas in Helsinki.
- Most remarkably, housing along the boulevards would foster the creation of new businesses. This would not occur if the same amount of new residents lived sparsely in neighbouring municipalities.
- A shift towards city boulevards would support economic growth, employment and the development of a new urban structure (new blocks and street connections), which would further benefit the economy.
- Boulevards will also support the use of public transport, and encourage walking and cycling within the central areas of Helsinki. Although road charges are scheduled to be applied in the Helsinki region by 2050, regardless of the boulevard development, these will help keep car traffic flowing despite the reduction in road capacity.
- A new concept to assess “urban capacity” and the methodology to calculate it was created during the project. Known as CITYROI, this methodology is now being applied to several other projects.