Finland needs a strong and thriving metropolis. The growth and expansion of the region poses challenges for land use, environment and transport that will require wide co-operation amongst the authorities. The future structural development of the larger Helsinki area and its impacts on the ecological, socio-cultural and economic sustainability has been studied in a development project called METKA (Sustainable Structure for the Metropolitan Area).
The direst challenges of the Helsinki metropolitan area concern the need to harness climate change, especially by reducing the dependency on private cars, improving the global competitiveness of the metropolitan area and enhancing the quality of the living environment.
The aim is the sustainable development of Helsinki Metropolitan Area, according to the defined objective-oriented area structure. As an aid, alternative models, comparisons and influence estimations are used. The results are utilised in the making of Regional Land Use Plans and traffic system plans. As a final result, the developing paths are defined in the area structure plus the target area, which is illustrated by a visual map presentation.
The METKA-project was divided in three working phases:
- Analysis of present situation in the wider metropolitan area and definition of indicators for sustainability,
- Definition and assessment of alternative models for regional structure, and
- Creation and assessment of the METKA-model.
The process included two working seminars. The structure of the metropolitan area has been studied by combining the national information system for monitoring land use planning with regional plans and data on transport systems. The analysis is based on a specifically developed GIS-methodology that generates alternative regional structures and calculates their effects on sustainability.
The regional models that were generated represent typical directions that the structure of the metropolitan area can take: Sprawling “Old Way”, rail-oriented “Rail Necklace”, transport arteries-based “Strong Connections” and multi-centred “Balanced Centres”.
The “METKA model” defined in the project aims towards an ambitious but realistic densification of the current centres and the rail corridors between them. This kind of development will however need significant contemporary means of regulatory measures and co-operation. Nonetheless, the indicators show that the possibilities for large reductions in the greenhouse gas remain limited.
Therefore, to realise a sustainable regional structure in practice, the authorities have to increase the efforts for co-operation. The development of the metropolitan area has to be directed also towards other policies that support the measures for controlling the regional structure. Still, it is well understood that the regional structure is prerequisite to many other measures.
The sustainable model of regional structure prepares for the strong growth with efficient rail corridors and balances the growth between centres of the region. Sustainable development is an implementation path that leads towards denser metropolitan area based on railway transport. The regional structure becomes more sustainable by supplementing and condensing the existing urban areas and by directing new construction next to locations where good public transport services already exist.
Centralised and dense regional structure extends to sustainable directions along the existing railway corridors. Enhancing the level of service of public transport increases the accessibility of new station neighbourhoods.
The planning of land use and transport should happen simultaneously and in wide co-operation. The planning approach should be holistic over the municipal and regional borders. Well-functioning public transport and local centres planned for slow modes need to be realised also in smaller cities. Development resources should be directed to the implementation of well-balanced and multi-centred regional structure of knowledge-based metropolitan area and not to the municipal competition for new inhabitants.
The area and population densities are higher than current ones in an ecologically efficient regional structure. The infrastructure is in more efficient use and its maintenance costs are lower.
Behavioural changes and new technologies are needed for an ecologically efficient metropolitan area. Addressing climate change can also mean good living environment.
The overall effect of the regional structure on sustainability will remain too small unless other measures are also introduced. A sound regional structure is nevertheless prerequisite to other sustainable measures. Therefore the efforts should be continued by identifying efficient measures of sustainable regional policies and by considering the synergies of the regional structure with them.