The amount of land zoned for office use in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area in recent years is enough to last several decades, and new office construction clearly exceeds demand. What makes this trend problematic is that it results in more vacant old office buildings and a continuously worsening shortage of housing.

Concentrating commercial development in key areas has several benefits

At the beginning of the 2000s, there was a shortage of office premises in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. Since that time, however, the construction of new office properties has clearly exceeded the current demand. As the urban structure and the needs of residents and businesses are constantly changing, making zoning decisions based on needs assessments looking decades ahead does not seem rational.

With office construction not tightly regulated like shopping centre construction, land has been zoned for office use and office buildings erected in a decentralised manner around the metropolitan region. While I understand the aim of cutting down on commuting by taking jobs close to residential areas, I don’t believe this can realistically be achieved in practice.

I am not calling for more regulation but, in the big picture, there is no justification for having office properties located in a decentralised manner. In my opinion, office construction should be concentrated in the most attractive areas while ensuring that these locations also have diverse and effective transport links and services. Leppävaara, Ruoholahti and Aviapolis are excellent examples of such clusters.

Vacant office premises and a shortage of housing

New office buildings have found occupants, but oversupply has left a substantial amount of older office premises vacant. Knowing that the Helsinki Metropolitan Area suffers from a severe housing shortage, you can’t help but wonder whether some office buildings could be converted to residential use or replaced by new residential buildings.

However, achieving the required zoning changes has proved difficult, and few developers have gone down that road. One good example of a successful zoning change is found in Lauttasaari, where an old and declining office cluster on the southern tip of the island has found new life in residential use. I believe that many similar office clusters could be converted into functional and vibrant residential areas by making the required changes in zoning, and I hope that there will be more flexibility for zoning changes in the near future.

Any zoning decisions in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area must also take into account that the number of private cars on the roads is unlikely to decrease in the coming decades despite the completion of the Western Metro Extension. Concentrating office construction in key areas facilitates the planning and implementation of effective traffic solutions for public transport, private cars and even those who run or ride a bicycle to work.

Kari Inkinen
CEO of Sponda