Chicago Boys in Riistavuori forest and senior centre
The third public rehearsal for IHME Helsinki 2023’s Chicago Boys – While We Were Singing, They Were Dreaming was held in the forest and the senior centre at Riistavuori in South-Haaga.
Riistavuori park is a valuable, diverse forest and rock area of almost 14 hectares. The park turned 70 last year, and has long been an important place, not only for the species that live there, but also for the local human residents, daycare children, schoolchildren and residents of the Riistavuori senior centre. Riistavuori park is one of Helsinki’s several endangered local nature areas. However, the city plans to replace the forest with a residential district, business premises and carpark, which many resident activists have opposed.
The day began with a guided tour of Riistavuori forest. Photo artist Sanni Seppo and resident activists Marja Keränen and Hanna Rinne, who have actively campaigned to save the local nature area, served as guides.
The guided tour started from the grounds of the senior centre, which is right next to the forest. Our first stop was beside the road about 50 metres from the centre, at a sign announcing the construction project for an English school. The guides emphasized that Riistavuori forest is an important habitat for flying squirrel. Despite the species being protected, flying-squirrel habitats have been greatly reduced in recent years, citing a section of the law that allows tree felling and construction on habitats important for the species if the construction project is seen as necessary and of general benefit. Seppo, Keränen and Rinne stressed that this is purely a matter of value judgements. No one has anything against building an English school in itself, but we can ask if there is a more suitable place for it, somewhere other than the nesting area of the flying squirrel, much of which has already been taken.
The major contradictions between well-intentioned construction projects, urban planning, urban forests, and the preservation of local nature were highlighted on several occasions during the tour. The city’s visions of an ecological, carbon-neutral Helsinki do not seem to be in line with its actions and planning of new residential areas. Due to the Jokeri Light Rail line running along Eliel Saarisen tie road, the edge of Riistavuori forest has already been cut down, and more will be felled if plans for a tram line running along Vihdintie road and an urban boulevard come to fruition.
Apartments for 2,500 residents are planned for the Riistavuori area. Of course, Helsinki needs more apartments, but the guides questioned the scale of the construction and wondered if the starting point of planning could be to save the nearby nature. Riistavuori forest also protects the residential area from noise pollution. At the same time as valuable urban forest is being felled on the other side of Vihdintie road, there is vacant office space in the Pitäjänmäki and Valimo area. Could that area be developed and the unused office spaces converted into apartments, instead of cutting down the last local urban forest?
Our guides pointed out that Riistavuori forest is one of the city’s five “green lines”: urban forests whose purpose has been to protect biodiversity and local nature areas for city dwellers. Now, however, this seems to have been forgotten by city planners. Only a small strip of Riistavuori forest is to be preserved, most of it rock. In addition to flying-squirrel nests, outdoor recreation, exercise and leisure areas important to residents would disappear beneath the new buildings. The positive influence of local nature on people’s mental health and capacity to cope have repeatedly been highlighted recently. This was also emphasized by members of the band and the audience. In the urban planning and construction in Riistavuori, the well-being of area residents is threatened, besides its biodiversity.
The importance of the local nature for residents of the area was further emphasized when we continued the Chicago Boys amateur band’s rehearsals at Riistavuori senior centre. For the centre’s residents, the proximity of the forest is important for amenity, exercise and peace of mind. The residents participated in the rehearsal according to their own abilities. During it, the amateur band’s repertoire increased by one song: Riistavuori Rock even got some of the participants dancing.
Next in the IHME Helsinki 2023 Commission, more of Helsinki’s threatened local nature areas and forests will be highlighted. This week, on Saturday 13.5, we gather in Stansvik forest and, next week, on Saturday 20.5, in the forest at Matokallio. The members of the band decide about the locations.