Ideals and implementation. Urban renewal of the wooden city district of ”Puu-Kallio” as a modernist project

This article examines the period of urban renewal that led to the demolition of a traditional working class quarter of Helsinki called ”Puu-Kallio”. This process took place between the 1930’s and the 1970’s. We focus on the rise of modernism as a dominant ideology in urban planning and architecture. We also understand modernism as a wider conception of how the society was to be organized. Through our case study, we will show how the process of urban renewal was carried out from the phase of initial planning until the concrete implementation including the demolition of old wooden tenements and replacing them with modern multi-storey buildings. Firstly, we will shed light on the objectives off the planning authorities presenting their renewal schemes for the area. Secondly, we will show how the urban renewal affected local people and what its impact on the social structure of the area was. We argue that while the urban renewal radically remodelled the urban landscape of the area, it also resulted in the replacement of the original population by a new one. Our major finding is that in the professional planning discourses, there were very few arguments raising up the question of the presumable social consequences related to the implementation of the urban renewal plans. Relying on this finding, we suggest that the official urban renewal argumentation, emphasizing the open space and other aesthetic aspects, may incorporate hidden ambitions reflecting the attitudes towards the urban population inhabiting the old wooden blocks. Therefore, urban renewal may, in some cases, be used as a tool of social control.

Keywords: modernism, urban renewal, social structure, gentrification, working class housing

Mika Mäkelä

MSc, MA, PhD Student, Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki.