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  • Ulla Holma

Where are we at with urban planning?

Updated: Sep 30


Urban planning is everyone's business.

Honestly, I haven't done much work related to urban design. However, many of my projects have indirectly linked to urban design. My studies, motivated by personal interest, in urban design have been an immeasurable help in my working life. I have also worked as a visiting urban design and strategic planning teacher at LAB University of Applied Sciences in Lahti.


It is important to me to follow and influence the development of the cities, especially my beloved hometown of Helsinki, and I hope to be able to focus on it even more deeply in the future.

Cities, specifically the construction industry, are under tremendous pressure to mitigate climate change. About 50% of the earth's natural resources and about 40% of unprocessed energy are used in buildings and construction. The construction sector generates about 35% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 30% of waste (source: Ministry of the Environment).


Increasing attention is paid to high-quality and long-term construction, and buildings are well maintained. The demand for quality and craft is finally rising in the construction industry. The amount of new construction is only about two percent of the total building stock. The share of the overhaul will rise further - this is how timelessness in construction has come to stay.

As an opportunity to solve the complex challenges of the construction industry and the cities of the future, the range of design and working methods can be raised.

I was pleased to note that the City of Helsinki is joining the Placemaking Europe network. The Placemaking Europe network is likely to stimulate co-development in cities. The network also provides examples of innovative experiments in urban spaces.

Functional, sustainable, and habitable cities are built for needs and people. Cities are basically built for residents, workers and tourists. Therefore, needs dictate urban development, which is increasingly done in terms of pedestrians and light traffic, and considering the requirements of sustainable development in all planning. Only after people, and pedestrians, are cars and buildings taken into account. In principle, the city must support the urban way of life sustainably.


Co-development at the heart of urban design encourages and empowers residents to express their opinions, enabling the best outcome to emerge.

Urban planning is everyone's business. Urban design, innovation, and experimentation have created successful developments in Europe and internationally. Today, municipal and provincial development strategies enable modern urban spaces that support various activities and uses. Areas are no longer zoned for business or residential use alone. The aim is to mix activities so that the city supports needs-based development.

In urban space design, compactness and flexibility are big themes that support the design. The urban space and the buildings planned for it must be diverse and usable now and in the future. Urban space and buildings must adapt to doing work, living, hobbies and studying. The urban space must also support diversity by increasing tolerance. The space must be attractive to people of all ages and incomes, so that community, sociality, inclusion, activity, accessibility, security, sustainable development and creativity are possible.

Accessible and equitable public transport, employment, technological infrastructure and the Internet are enabling new types of urban space. The dense urban space allows for the much-talked-about fifteen-minute cities where everyday life rolls easily with short distances and a good network of services. The equity of public transport cannot be overemphasized in urban planning. That is often the key to success.


The importance of green spaces, parks and light traffic in urban space design is growing worldwide. Paris plans to plant 170,000 trees over the next four years in the city center and its immediate vicinity.

The trees ease the heat waves in the city, bind water during heavy rains, and purify the air. Due to global warming, trees make Paris a tolerable place to live, even in the summer months.

Paris also serves as a great example of considering light traffic and cycling in urban planning. By the end of 2024, the entire old city center of Paris will be closed entirely to car traffic passing through. You can drive to the city center if there are things to take care of, but the city center should no longer be used as a shortcut. A similar development has already taken place, for example, in Madrid, Turin, and Milan.


In downtown Madrid, there is a 12-block private car-free zone. With this action, cities want to reduce noise, pollution, and congestion while allowing for better cycle paths, sidewalks, and green spaces. Urban nature and easy access to nature have been found to have undeniable health effects. They increase community spirit and reduce stress. The common communal area has also been shown to reduce inequalities.

We are on the verge of exciting things in urban planning. Urban planning is no longer just about zoning and construction - but increasingly the joint planning of professionals in different fields to create homes and jobs for all of us.

Urban planning is everyone's business.


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