Sustainable infrastructure

Sustainable infrastructure is the foundation of the city, and this is particularly linked with SDGs 11 (Sustainable cities and communities) and 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure). In these goals, Helsinki should still invest especially in environmental health, climate-friendly and adaptive planning, promoting clean technologies and nature-based solutions. In Helsinki, the infrastructure is functional and good development takes place all the time, in construction and traffic planning.
SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Helsinki is growing into a dense city

The master plan is a long-term land use plan that guides the development of the city’s community structure. It affects what Helsinki will be like in decades from now. A new master plan is drawn up in Helsinki approximately every ten years, and it guides the zoning.

The 2016 master plan enables Helsinki to grow into a dense city with several centres connected by rail traffic: the metro, trains and light rail lines. Construction has been specifically targeted at rail traffic hubs and around major stations. For example, Malmi, Itäkeskus, Kontula, Herttoniemi, Kannelmäki and Malminkartano can grow into new centres with diverse housing, services and jobs.

According to the master plan, Helsinki is still a green city whose strengths are urban forests and cultural environments. Important new areas for recreation and tourism are planned for islands no longer used by the Finnish Defence Forces.

As regards traffic planning, Helsinki has invested in sustainable traffic planning by, for example, investing in public transport, especially in the development of rail traffic, and cycling. Promoting cycling as a mode of transport improves and extensively develops the comfort and vitality of the city and the functionality of the transport system.

Accessible Helsinki

The Accessibility Guidelines of the City of Helsinki serve as uniform general guidelines for the whole city and all the administrative branches in accessibility work. The accessibility guidelines are divided into five focus areas: zoning and traffic planning, buildings, public areas, living environment and services.

The accessibility guidelines apply to all the administrative branches whose activities are linked to the entity in question. The accessibility of public areas and buildings in Helsinki is progressing in the right direction, but the progress has been considerably slower than originally thought.

Among the successes in accessibility, we could mention the accessibility recognition given to the Lammassaari duckboard path by the Council on Disability and the National Accessibility Award given to the Hämeentie street renovation project by the Helsinki and Uusimaa Visually Impaired Association.

Various guides have been prepared to promote accessibility, including guides for schools, day-care centres and indoor swimming pools, and separate accessibility requirements have been added to the quality requirements of social and health care facilities.

Developing the sustainability of living in blocks of flats

In addition to regional energy systems, the city’s main instruments for planning a carbon-neutral city include zoning, plot allocation conditions and land use agreements. In 2019, the city’s plot reservation terms were tightened to the strictest level in Finland, the A2018 energy efficiency level became mandatory in quality and price tender competitions, and carbon neutrality also favours plot reservation on other plots.

In December 2019, Helsinki joined the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. The city commits to making the energy use of all buildings controlled by the city carbon-neutral by 2030 and to developing its construction guidance towards carbon-neutral buildings by 2030.

Six new projects were approved in 2019 for the Re-thinking Urban Housing programme aimed at improving the quality of living in blocks of flats in Helsinki. The development theme in all six projects is sustainable construction. There will be three buildings in the same block in Oulunkylä: Sustainable Apartment Building, Living Building and Wooden Apartment Block of the Future.

In Helsinki, developers have been encouraged for several years to build energy-efficient buildings by offering a 30% discount on the building permit fee for a residential building project if the site is designed for a low energy level. In 2019, a policy was also made to abolish the permit fee for smaller geothermal heating systems that are drilled to less than 300 metres.

Re-thinking ​Urban Housing

86% of housing units in Helsinki are located in blocks of flats. The aim of the City of Helsinki’s Re-thinking Urban Housing programme is to increase the quality and appeal of living in blocks of flats and integrate new personalised solutions into it.

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Environmental health – good water quality, major challenges in air quality

Helsinki’s environmental health is at a good level on the global scale. Drinking water and also swimming water are of good quality, with the exception of occasional outbreaks of blue-green algae. The health risks associated with waste and chemicals are also low.

The main causes of health risk are air quality and noise. In particular, indoor air involves many challenges, also in the city’s service buildings. The problems with indoor air are caused by, among other things, the repair backlog and the risky structures of old buildings. Helsinki has developed a ten-year indoor air programme to help solve indoor air problems.

The air quality in Helsinki quality has improved in recent decades and is relatively good on the international scale. However, the health-based annual limit value for nitrogen dioxide in the EU Air Quality Directive is still being exceeded or at risk of being exceeded in the street canyons in the city centre.

This is due to exhaust emissions from traffic, especially diesel vehicles. Respirable particles, i.e. dust, also reduce air quality, especially in spring and in the vicinity of large construction sites.

Noise problems caused by road traffic

In the case of street dust, too, there is still a risk of exceeding the limit value. In dense single-family house areas, air quality is decreased by residential wood burning in fireplaces and sauna stoves. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, particulate emissions from fireplaces are even higher than those of traffic. In addition, black carbon from wood-burning smoke warms the climate. The city’s Air Quality Plan aims to reduce emissions that are harmful to health.

Environmental noise is a significant factor reducing the quality and comfort of the living environment in Helsinki. Strong continuous noise also causes damage to health. The biggest noise problem is caused by road traffic. 37% of Helsinki residents live in areas where the noise level caused by road traffic exceeds the reference level of 55 dB during the day. Noise is also caused locally by, for example, construction and renovation work, public events and restaurants. The City of Helsinki’s noise abatement work is guided by the noise abatement action plan for 2018–2022. Noise problems are prevented by land use and traffic planning.

Successes

  • Safety of the transport system: no traffic deaths in Helsinki in 2019.
  • Energy efficiency in new construction has improved considerably.
  • Taking accessibility considerations into account in planning has improved, and Helsinki has received awards for it.

Development targets

  • Noise, air pollution and dust reduce comfort and threaten health.
  • Indoor air problems in the city’s service buildings.
  • Improving the energy efficiency of the existing building stock.