As Finland celebrated its centenary of independence in 2017, its capital scored 9th place for the second year running in the rankings of the most liveable cities in the world in the Global Liveability Report, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). A commitment to sustainable new residential communities and new cultural and recreational facilities, and progressive social policies are key reasons Helsinki continues to enjoy a high quality of life, along with its spectacular natural environment.
Like Finns throughout the country, Helsinki residents are rightly proud of the strong foundations of their society. Famously high tax rates mean the nation is well equipped to look after its citizenry with some of the world’s best healthcare and education. Despite the high excise on alcohol, Finns appreciate the reliable public transport and world-class universities, libraries and other infrastructure these same taxes afford. As with much of the world, the country is holding its breath as ageing baby boomers retire and it attempts to maintain high pensions.
In 2017 Finland became the first country in Europe to trial a basic universal income. The two-year pilot scheme provides unemployed Finns aged 25 to 58 involved in the trial with a guaranteed sum in place of their existing social benefits, which is paid even if they find work.
Preventative health measures are also in the frame, with Helsinki aiming to ban tobacco entirely by 2030 to become the world's first completely smoke-free city.
Finland's superior education system manifests itself in an extraordinary cultural output, and there's a strong emphasis on performance spaces, cultural spaces and public art throughout Helsinki.
Plans had long been on the table for Helsinki to construct a high-profile Guggenheim museum on the waterfront. The project was first proposed in 2011 and subsequently rejected. In 2013 a new plan was introduced, but costs saw it also defeated in late 2016, making international headlines. Part of the reasoning for the rejection was also that Helsinki already had a high concentration of museums. Indeed in 2018, the city's newest art museum, Amos Rex, run by the Amos Andersonin Taidemuseo, will open in an innovative new building constructed below ground in central Kamppi.
Southern Finland has encountered dramatically changed weather patterns, with much milder winters. The once-unthinkable prospect of a non-white Christmas in Helsinki is now a reality. Scientists in the Arctic are producing increasingly worrying data and it seems that northern nations such as Finland may be some of the earliest to be seriously affected. Though Finland will reap corn sown by bigger nations, its people and government are very environmentally conscious. Finland's own commitment to combating climate change is strong, having set a legally binding target in 2014 of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, and ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2016. A large nuclear-power sector is backed by an increasing percentage of renewable energy, and by 2030 the country will have a ban on diesel vehicles.
Helsinki's population is expected to hit 700,000 in 2030, an increase of around 70,000 residents from its population in 2017. The rapid rise is in large part due to the shift across the country from rural to urban life, with more jobs available in the larger centres, and Helsinki is planning ahead to house its new citizens.
Among the works currently in progress is the redevelopment of its former industrial port area Kalasatama in the city's west. Smart energy is a founding principle of the new residential district, and residents will be able to monitor in real time the energy consumption and water useage of their homes. Solar panels will provide renewable energy, and the system will allow for short-term power storage to even out peaks. Among other things, the grid will allow for every third car space to have an electrical charging point as the country moves away from fossil fuels.
One of the first projects completed in the area is, in true Finnish style, a sauna. Opened in 2016 on the former port's Hernesaari waterfront, the public Löyly Sauna is built from sustainable timbers and is entirely powered by wind and water.
International initiatives are also gathering pace. Most ambitiously, planning is progressing for the construction of a 92km-long tunnel beneath the Gulf of Finland linking Helsinki with Tallinn in Estonia. In 2016 the EU provided additional money for the project, which will see travel times reduced from the current two-hour ferry trip to a 45-minute trip by road. It's expected to be completed by 2035.