Chicago Boys at Matokallio and Myllykylä village hall
The fifth public rehearsal for IHME Helsinki Commission 2023, Chicago Boys – While We Were Singing, They Were Dreaming, took place in Matokallio forest and Myllykylä village hall on Saturday, 20 May, 2023.
The rehearsal began with a tour of Matokallio forest. Matokallio, between Puotinharju and Myllypuro, is a precious old-forest and rocky area. The forest has been described as the core of the regional forest network connecting Viikki and Mustavuori, which maintains the biodiversity of all the forests. Matokallio is also the only remaining local forest in the area and is thus an important outdoor recreation and learning environment for daycare centres, schools and residents in the area.
Nevertheless, a plot of land in the forest has been designated for an indoor speed-skating rink and carpark, with Helsinki City Council deciding to extend the “development reservation” for it at a meeting on 17 April 2023, despite great opposition. The decision has been criticized from the point of view of urban ecology. The reservation is valid until the end of the year. Matokallio’s defenders will fight for their local forest until the end.
Marjaana Paju and Tiina Autti, activists in the Save Matokallio movement, were our guides on the Matokallio tour. Right at the start, Paju and Autti talked about other construction plans for the area, which include a daycare centre for more than 300 children and a plan for a second sports hall to be built on the site of Helsinki Upper Secondary School of Languages, which is to be demolished in the near future. There are already a primary school with more than 400 pupils, a newly built sports hall and the old Myllypuro ice-skating rink in the area. The planned speed-skating rink would take up more than half of Matokallio, and thus make the area a cluster of big halls with almost no nature.
Attempts have been made to build a speed-skating rink there for more than 20 years. The hall is being promoted by Myllypuron Jääurheilukeskus Oy, behind which are Finnish Ice Skating Federation and Finnish Figure Skating Association. Finnish Olympic Committee supports the project. As in other local nature sites visited by the Chicago Boys, the construction of a hall on a site with forest and rock is being justified by access to good public transport connections, and using this to appeal to ecology. At the same time, however, a large parking area is planned adjacent to the hall.
Paju and Autti pointed out that, from the point of view of the Matokallio movement, the speed-skating rink would not be for people living in the area, but for skating enthusiasts who come from other places and go elsewhere after practice. Thus, they doubt whether public transport connections would make the hall any more ecological or serve the residents of the area any more than the diverse local forest. The Matokallio movement is not against the building of the speed-skating rink per se. They support moving the project to the already built-up area of Vuosaari sports park.
Matokallio is 28 metres above sea level. If the speed-skating rink is built, the peak and the forest on the north side of the cliff, which has been found in a forest survey to be a valuable natural site due to the presence of several rare plants, would be saved. The same has also been found for the forest on the south side, which is now threatened by construction. The area contains endangered mosses, such as decay moss (Buxbaumia viridis), bladder moss (Nowellia curvifolia) and a crust fungus known by its Latin name Phlebia centrifuga, as well as dwarf fungi such as the willow bracket (Phellinus nigricans) and Smooth Bristle Bracket (Phellinus laevigatus). The seven-hectare area accommodates both deciduous forest and dry coniferous forest, as well as Scots pines and decaying trees.
The forest has foxes, hares, and an ant colony. Birdsong is all around you as soon as you enter it. Matokallio is thus important for many other species whose habitats in the area between Puotinharju and Myllypuro have already been reduced by numerous previous construction projects. It is impossible to miss the views of the metro depot from the top of Matokallio or the noise of the cars on the Itäväylä highway. But the noise is forgotten when walking through the forest to the peak and focussing on the surrounding nature and its sounds. On the other side of the rock is a cliff, beneath which the noise of the Itäväylä fades completely.
During the tour, Paju and Autti brought up a glaring contradiction between the strategy of the city of Helsinki and the ice-rink project. The city’s strategy emphasizes greenery, planting trees, protecting forests, and ensuring that every citizen lives close to nature. Considering this strategy, it is somewhat absurd that the city has granted a development reservation that will reduce the local nature for residents of Puotinharju and Myllykylä, and destroy more than half of the valuable old forest that protects the diversity of urban nature.
The tour ended at the side of the grove, where we also discovered a spring rising from underground. After the tour, we gathered to continue the rehearsal with food and music in Myllykylä’s village hall. There was biriyani for everyone, made according to Hiwa K’s recipe, and the audience actively participated in the music. The audience discussion about the importance of Matokallio contemplated how often even people to whom nature and its proximity are not very important should remember that local nature and its microbes and other organisms are irreplaceable for the health of mankind. The rehearsal ended with Matokallio Rock and a Kalevala-inspired song for endangered mosses.
IHME Helsinki Commission 2023 culminates in the last public rehearsal, from 17:00 to 19:30 on Saturday 27 May at Stoa Cultural Centre. This rehearsal will bring together the entire six-week project, show a video message from the project’s counterpart in Sulaymaniyah, discuss urban planning in the era of climate crisis and biodiversity loss, and together play the music that the band has chosen during the project.
English proof reading: Mike Garner