Grrlscientist is glaring at me virtually, so I had better write something about Helsinki, for the Carnival of Cities blog festival she’s compiling. I’m a bit unsure about this, for the simple reason that I’m not sure Helsinki really counts as a city.

Here’s my problem:

This is the view from my bedroom window (by the afternoon, the snow had turned to rain – it’s as if I had never left England). Helsinki is full of trees. The fist day I arrived here, I formed a theory that under some definitions, the city could be defined as a forest.
Anyway, because of this arboreal fetish, the city council has plenty of land like this to look after:

It’s a small patch of forest about a minute’s walk away from my flat, on my route to the bus. Although it’s more pleasant than a row of concrete flats, I’ve started to dislike this. The problem is that I hang around with ecologists, and they have made me realise that as a forest this patch is rather sterile: the trees are all of a similar age and there is no understory to speak of. A “proper” forest should have trees of different ages, saplings, mature trees, old decaying ents, and lots of dead snags and logs, replete with fungi and polypores happily munching away at the cellulose.
But all is not lost. Some of those same ecologists have been working with the city managers and started to persuade them to change their approach. This has entailed resisting the urge to remove fallen logs, leaving scenes like this:

(it’s darker because I took this photo on the way home from work – it’s about a minute’s walk from my flat in the other direction). Leaving the fallen log there has allowed the vegetation to grow up around it, as well as allowing all those lovely decomposers to come in, establish, and have some fun.
Now, obviously the managers can’t leave every tree to fall – they have to keep paths and ditches clear, as well as making sure the trees don’t fall over and hit someone. But simply by not taking all the logs away, and leaving them, they can create a more interesting landscape, as well as helping with conservation, by leaving habitat for rare species to thrive (did I mention the fungi?).
I was chatting to one of the urban ecologists a couple of weeks ago, and he was saying that they are now trying to get money to work with artists to develop art installations that will look pretty and also improve biodiversity. I hope this happens, not just because I would like to see this guy kept in beer money, but also because it will be interesting to see how the artists fare. At one level, their task will be to mimic nature whilst at the same time replace her. I suppose this is what urban woodlands, and indeed all conservation efforts, are all about.

About rpg

Scientist, poet, gadfly
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7 Responses to Helsinki

  1. steffi suhr says:

    Very clever post – about a city but without a single house! What impressed me most the very first time I arrived in Helsinki by plane (it was busses and ferries otherwise) was seeing the luggage cart drivers at the airport powersliding through the snow, with the cart coming to a halt perfectly right next to the plane.

  2. Bob O'Hara says:

    Wow, Steffi. You must be really bored today if you’ve been digging this far back into my archives. 🙂

  3. steffi suhr says:

    Not bored, Bob – just a GoG.

  4. Henry Gee says:

    I’m puzzled, though. There have been quite a few comments recently on very old posts. Shurely shome explanation?????

  5. steffi suhr says:

    Henry, I was just inspired by the ‘origins of NN’ series on the NN team blog. Anyway, why did you comment?

  6. Henry Gee says:

    Cos I follow you in my snapshot, so I was intrigued to see what was going on …?

  7. Bob O'Hara says:

    Excuse me, madam, does this bus go to the station?

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