Ah! Summer in Finland. The sizzling of barbecues, the long light evenings, the smell of burning birch wood warming the sauna… and the construction sites messing up all Helsinki’s prime tourist spots.
As a keen cyclist I spend much of my Finnish summers on two wheels. I know some of the routes around Helsinki like the back of my hand but I wouldn’t risk trying them blindfolded – there’s too big a risk of pedalling into a freshly excavated hole. This spring they chose my own street for a massive sewer pipe renovation, employing an impressive “no-dig technology solution”. No holes to cycle into, then, just a huge black pipe running down the middle of the street.
Of course, I know that much of the street renovations have to be done when the ground is not covered by snow and frozen hard. I also know that all this frantic construction and renewal that has hardly paused since I first moved to Finland 30 years ago is a symptom of comparative economic health. I dare say the citizens of Spain and Greece would welcome more holes in the road if it meant that their utility companies and governments had the funds for renewal.
Moreover, when the projects in Helsinki are complete, there are usually conspicuously positive results. The seemingly endless building that went on around the site of the new Music Centre was a blot on the landscape for many months, but the landmark that sits there now already feels agreeably irreplaceable. Likewise the pedestrian street of Keskuskatu, one half of which is covered by a vast ugly tent this summer but which will be a welcome addition to the traffic-free zones of the capital in future summers (and winters) when complete.
Helsinki Airport has also been the site of some high-profile construction projects recently. The long-overdue new rail link between central Helsinki and the airport has caused some disruption and a lot of ground-shaking but nobody will complain when the trains start running in 2014. And soon, this summer Finnair will be moving to a smart new high-tech Head Office near the airport.
The new building, known as HOTT, or House of Travel and Transportation, has a total floor space of 70,000 square metres and is located next to the current Finnair head office building in Tietotie. The big move about to take place is also nicely timed to coincide with this year’s 90th anniversary of Finnair’s founding in 1923, when the airport was not much more than a shoreline quay. Most of Finnair’s functions will be in the same location, a move intended to increase cooperation and communication between different units.
The new office building also includes all kinds of eco-friendly features, so in terms of temperature, it will probably not live up to its HOTT label. For Finnair staff it should represent a big improvement in terms of working environment and facilities. Next time I start to curse as my cycle route takes a detour round a new building site this summer, I must remind myself of the benefits of this annual construction activity.