Representations of Nature - the Shift from Forest Town to Compact City in Finland

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Nature in urban planning is a constantly fluctuating concept, which is manifested in attempts by designers to define a good living environment and its green spaces. The transition from the Finnish forest town to the compact city between the 1950s and 1970s represents a paradigm shift which epitomizes a change in the notion of nature. Although the concept of both the forest town and compact city pursued wellbeing and quality, the ideas about appropriate methods for urban planning varied substantially. The forest town of the 1950s fostered the idea of preserving the landscape in its natural state, and landscape design introduced the aesthetic and social values of nature to urban structures. In the compact city phase in the late 1960s, the constructed urban green and networks of social contacts in efficient grid plans replaced the natural environment. The site-sensitive approach of the forest town was replaced by quantitative instructions on green spaces and requirements for playgrounds.In Finland, post-war residential planning has been mainly studied from the perspective of urban planning and architecture. However, less attention has been paid to how forest towns and compact cities relate to nature and landscape design, or to the contributions of the landscape architects who worked alongside the architects. Nevertheless, nature and green spaces are an integral part of these urban ideals. Our article explores landscapes in forest towns and compact cities, and examines meanings and their societal contexts assigned to nature by urban planners and landscape architects. How was the welfare state and its urban planning ideals conceptualized and materialized in landscape design? Using two case studies in Helsinki – Keski-Vuosaari forest town and Itä-Pasila compact city – we examine these two urban ideals that appear contradictory in numerous ways. We aim to diversify the understanding of these concepts and elucidate the interpretations, in both eras, of nature as a source of wellbeing. We demonstrate that the representations of nature in sparse and dense cities are not contradictory and mutually exclusive, but complementary. We also discuss how the transition from forest town to compact city is reflected in today’s urban planning discourse and in the current struggle between sparsely and densely built urban structures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-62
Number of pages19
Issue number76
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


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