Mipim

Introducing: Soft City

City of Turku and Senate Properties are developing new Pihlajaniemi district with focus on softer values and better quality

artikkelikuva: Introducing: Soft City

Photo: Jussi Vierimaa


The first capital of Finland, Turku, is on the verge of exciting new development as Finnish military relinquished – in part – its hold of the Pihlajaniemi area. Featuring 30 hectares, the new area consists of fields and some buildings, meeting the sea in the south. For the City of Turku, the area is a real gem, since it’s located just a couple of kilometers from the city center, and could, conceivably, be a home for thousands and thousands of residents in the decades to come.

Senate Properties – known as the real estate asset manager of the Finnish Government – is the owner of the Pihlajaniemi area and working in close cooperation with the City of Turku to get the ball rolling. Otto Virenius, Real Estate Development Manager for Senate, calls the planning of the new district a “diverse and demanding” undertaking, since the neighborhood- to-be needs to be properly integrated into existing city structure. Furthermore, the needs of the military must be taken into consideration in the future, too, since the Heikkilä garrison will continue its operation.

“We are confident that through collaboration we can create a modern, urban community that is attractive and exciting from the point of view of the residents,” says Virenius who has been working with the project since its true kick-off in January 2019.

“The general land use plan for the area has been approved. The first zoning plan draft will be composed of the northern part of the area,” Virenius says, pointing out that Pihlajaniemi is so large that development is undertaken in phases.

Total Package Available

According to Senate, Pihlajaniemi is really something to get excited about: the great location within the Turku city structure, abundant nature and access to the shoreline offer great prerequisites to build something truly special here. The planning phase will also take into account the climate targets of the city, with an objective to, for example, promote sustainable transportation in the district.

The next step for the project features a competition for the prospective developers next year. Virenius believes that the area is highly attractive from real estate development companies’ perspective.

“Furthermore, the area is so big that several developers can work side by side on this,” he adds.

After planning is done and zoning confirmed, the construction of infrastructure could kick off in 2021, if everything goes well. “Under this preliminary timetable, residential construction could start in 2022 and first residents could move in in 2023,” Virenius sketches the tentative timeline.

Open the Gates!

Päivi Siponen, city planning architect for Turku, says that since Pihlajaniemi has been closed from the general public for so long, there is a lot of interest towards the area.

“Now that the area opens up for development, we want to make it human scale and something that the local residents can really appreciate and enjoy,” she says.

To make sure that everybody’s voice was heard, there was citizen survey in January- March 2019 which asked for people’s opinions about the best way to utilize the area.

“There were 1,700 responses made by people which is quite extraordinary,” Otto Virenius describes the high level of interest. “Clearly people appreciate the fact that they can come forward with their suggestions and that those ideas can be used in the actual planning effort.”

Playbook for Success

Shifting through the citizen feedback, a plan for action started to take shape: the north part of the area – closest to the city center – is where the services should be and the shoreline should be reserved for public recreation.

“There are no plans for privatizing the shoreline,” confirms Virenius. “The shoreline is to feature, instead, a boat harbor, swimming places and cafés, for instance.”

According to the plans, the area is to feature a Promenade – running from Market Square (in the north) to Harbor Plaza (in the south). On the west side of the Promenade, there will be a lengthy park, which will utilize stormwater to create a nice stream for the community.

The Stormwater Park is supposed to the “lungs of the neighborhood” and divided into various sections with different types of vegetation and activity. As the park is to be built already in an early development phase, it can become an anchoring landmark for the district and a real asset for the first residents of the neighborhood.

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Photo: Senate Properties

Design Excellence

Planning the district, there are two architect agencies, Ajak Oy and Gehl Architects, with Urbanity Oy serving as a zoning consultant. The Danish Gehl Architects has a lot of international experience in making top-notch urban environments with human appeal, and Virenius is delighted to have the company onboard for this ambitious undertaking.

“With Pihlajaniemi, we want to create a strong international benchmark and Gehl has a wealth of expertise we can tap into.”

Gehl is assisting Senate and Turku to create a new district which has public spaces at its core, enables living with green surroundings and ensures high quality urban living all around. But what does all this mean in practice, then? – Otto Virenius explains that one of the development anchors in the area will be the utilization of 2–8 storey mixed perimeter blocks, or the so-called closed blocks.

“Mixed blocks have a lot of benefits from an urban quality perspective and can be used to boost diversity, with stores on the street level, for instance.” A mixed block is considered to be a robust, flexible framework that can deliver also high density.

“It is a very effective solution which is likely to enhance the appeal of the overall urban environment also here,” Virenius believes.

Blueprint for Future Living

David Sim – partner and creative director at Gehl as well as the author of the recent book Soft City – says that Pihlajaniemi offers that rare opportunity to develop a neighborhood that is centrally located in a city which is undergoing an urban transformation, attracting people searching for a softer lifestyle.

“We acknowledge being close to nature, living an urban lifestyle and having the city easily accessed by bike or public transport as important aspects for a high quality life, and this we embrace in the project,” says Sim. In fact, Sim believes that with high ambition and vision – shared by the city and the developers building it – Pihlajaniemi has great potential to evolve into something unique.

“Pihlajaniemi could become Finland’s, and perhaps even the world’s, first ‘soft city’ neighborhood,” he says

kuva
Photo: Katri Lehtola / Keksi

Built for Families

As an international benchmark, Pihlajaniemi deploys Bo01, located in Malmö, Sweden. “Similar to the situation that Turku is in now, Malmö saw the need to attract more families to live in the city,” explains Sim.

The same “soft touch” is now in the cards for Turku, confirms Otto Virenius. “We have the chance to achieve something remarkable here and are determined to make it work,” he sums up.

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