Metropolitan regions must take an active role in developing the future of our world. Administrative boundaries should not be a hindrance to European cities’ pursuit to find the best possible solutions to building socially, environmentally and economically sustainable societies.

Many city regions have hard time trying to find common ground on what kind of strategic planning decisions should be made when discussing the future of the region. Different municipalities may have contradictory objectives and priorities, which can lead to internal competition and suboptimization instead of trying to find mutually agreed solutions with shared value for the whole region. When everyone is thinking about themselves, there is often no-one left to think about the metropolitan scale. 

The history of voluntary planning in Helsinki Region is long and has been developed in stages. First plan that focused on transportation was made already in 1968 and since then it has been developed to incorporate not only transportation but also land use and housing. The plan is updated every four years. The voluntary regional process (MAL) is not an official part of the juridical planning levels defined in the Finnish Land Use and Building Act, which makes it a more agile process when compared to legally binding planning.

We have just finalized our latest regional land use, housing and transport plan MAL 2019. It describes how the region should be developed by 2030 and 2050. The plan is a road map of how to react to the region’s pressure to grow, how to decrease traffic emissions and with what kind of investments the sustainable development of the region is ensured. The region’s top experts both from municipalities and from Helsinki Region Transportation Planning Authority HSL have prepared the plan. It forms the basis for negotiation with the Finnish state when major infrastructure investments and housing production goals are discussed.

The Helsinki region is growing rapidly; therefore managing growth sustainably is one of the main objectives of the plan. The MAL 2019 plan defines the primary development zones of the region, in which the majority of future housing production will be directed. Directing growth to the current city structure and especially to areas where public transport is a competitive option when compared with a private car is now a mutually agreed collective policy. There is a special focus on station areas and the enabling of infill development. We see heavy investment in rail transport and bicycle transport, and road traffic will be developed with goods transportation and public transport at the forefront. CO2 emissions from traffic will be reduced to half by 2030.

The value of the plan created out of the cooperation of the municipalities is not just in the implementation but also in the process itself. The regional cooperation, based on voluntary cooperation, supplements the planning hierarchy defined in the land use and building act and as a flexible and continuous process, enables the updating of the resilience of the regional vision.

It is not easy to change one’s perspective from municipal to metropolitan – but it is possible. It requires both continuous discussion and systematic building of common understanding among all stakeholders. 

Heikki Salmikivi
Deputy Head of Unit, Spatial Planning, Helsinki Urban Environment
Heikki Salmikivi
Deputy Head of Unit, Spatial Planning, Helsinki Urban Environment