English! It’s turned out to be so rare in this blog that it feels both great to finally do it and retarded that I haven’t. But a promise is a promise so I’ll at least try. Because I have been writing about a number of issues in Finnish and really none in English I figured I should put together a short summary of my thoughts on a few things.
Because, yes, I realize that immigrants care about things other than immigration issues. They – or you – are residents of this city and obviously care about what happens in it. Nothing is going to be in a particular order so pay no attention to that. This is just a collection of ramblings so that you can get a quick handle of what I think about stuff.
Traffic – trams and bikes
First things first, I support the tramway system that was approved in last november is just about to start construction. Of course it will be expensive but that money is not diverted away from anything else and the investment is projected to more than pay for itself. So by the time the initial debt is paid off the city may actually be on the plus side. The math isn’t obvious or simple but it has a lot to do with lower commute times, rising land values, lot sales and increasing demand. All in all it seems to be a good deal even financially.
There are very obvious parts too. Several of Tampere’s major bus lines serve primarily the same areas/routes, for example city center – Hervanta. A tram can fit 4 to 5 times more people per unit than a bus so replacing these routes with a tram gives us the same capacity with fewer drivers. Also, a tram unit has a service life expectancy of about 40 years as opposed to the 10-13 years of an average bus. Electricity costs vary but will in the long term certainly be lower than fossil fuels.
The tram does not pollute, is cost effective, is very accessible and with its high capacity it actually frees up more space for other vehicles on the road. What’s not to like?
My favorite mode of transportation, however, is bicycling. I have never owned a car in my life. I live in the center so if I’m not going far enough to need a bus, I either bike or walk. Usually bike because it’s faster. When I moved here 14 years ago Tampere was far from a biker friendly city. There is much work left but I’m delighted to say things have improved a lot.
The plans for the new Hämeenkatu (after the tram project gets done) are looking very good. Finally bike lanes (or bikeways, not sure about the terminology here) on the main street! This has been an abysmally bad place for biking forever. The 2-year experiment with bike lanes was ok but this will actually be good. Now we just need goog bike lanes all accross the city. They should be almost as abundant as roads for cars. In the very least they should connect the same areas.
There is also a proposal to introduce shared-use city bikes to Tampere. Similar attempts have mostly failed in the past in major Finnish cities but the latest endeavour in Helsinki has been a massive success. They are expanding their bike fleet to 1400 bikes and 140 stations next summer. It seems that the key was implementing a (low) fee to using the bikes and a easy-to-use technology for paying without the need for cash. A similar system might work just as well in Tampere and is definitely worth at least experimenting with.
Building and un-building
Those that know me well know that I am very much what you might call an urbanist (is that a word?). I prefer denser and taller cities and filling inefficiently used gaps in or near the city center. In short, I prefer something we don’t see in Finland almost at all. Ok, so I want Blade Runner style mile-high skyscrapers. How is that green?
The answer is two-fold. First, building denser and higher puts the same amount of people in a smaller land area, which means we require less extra space from outside the current city structure. Hence, nature gets saved. Second, building denser and higher puts the same amount of people in a smaller land area, which means shorter travel distances. When people live close to their jobs and services they either don’t (mostly) need to rely on their personal car for transportation or if they do they can drive it less. Nature wins again. And this is not even mentioning all the other benefits that a good population density affords.
This being said, there is the question of building new over old. As a general rule I have no problem here. Sometimes there is a good reason to demolish or otherwise significantly alter the existing building base. But othere times not. Finland has a grim history – mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s of demolishing beautiful old buildings in the name of progress and efficiency. We have mostly learned from these mistakes but sometimes the old habits raise their ugly head.
This very nice almost 100-year old building is about to get the hammer in the near future.
The reason is a mold/fungus infestation that is claimed to be too severe for removal. Now, I am not saying this is necessarily untrue. But with our history in mind it easily sounds more like too expensive for removal. I am all for adding extra floorspace to old city blocks like this. There is space in the middle of the block for a whole new building if parking goes underground or the building could even be raised by a few floors. This goes for many many blocks around and near the city center. So we should at least make really really sure if the building or its exterior walls can be saved before we put the hammer to it.
I could keep writing but I suppose this is as much as most readers are willing to handle at once. I’ll try to put at least one more of these together before the election gets too close. I know non-Finnish readers cannot possibly be satisfied with how little I’ve provided so far, so if any questions are raised or you just can’t seem to make up your mind about a candidate, please feel free to contact me.
Tamperelainen toimittaja ja ehdokas kaupunginvaltuustoon kuntavaaleissa 2017.