My intention when starting this blog was to record the variety of urban form, reflecting on what works and considering how this can help us to consider contemporary urbanism. Hence, I thought it appropriate that on my recent skiing trip to Levi in Finland, I should record my impressions of the place.
I don’t claim that Levi is any sort of exemplar, but I do think it illustrates diversity and how urban form is shaped by its context.
Finnish Lapland is very cold (typically -20 to -30 degrees centigrade in winter), sparsely populated, has little winter daylight (just an hour and a half at New Year) and outside of tourism is a difficult place to scratch out a living. It’s perhaps unsurprising that such a potentially inhospitable place to live should produce a fairly unique morphology.
On first inspection, it is notable that the built form of the area is all arranged in loose, strip developments along large main roads. No two developments are located close together, and our hotel, surrounded by large open spaces and widely distributed cabins, exemplifies this. Even when we ventured out of town, is notable that no two houses were closely located. This is a place where are people are used to living with space.
However, if you look harder you will also find a network of tracks which run beneath this road network, and which are well used by cross country skiers and snowmobiles. Despite the rather sprawling nature of much of the areas development, it was interesting that it was not entirely car dominated; snowmobiles were parked outside a supermarket and I also saw an old lady pushing Zimmer-frame-come-tartan-shopping-trolley-sled, which seemed a highly efficient way to get your shopping home.
Across another large, arterial road from our hotel wass the new tourist centre for Levi. It struck me that this compact, high density centre feels pretty contrived in this context and it is clearly there for the benefit of tourists, rather than the locals. It interests me that whenever there is any sort of list for how we should live more sustainably, a more compact urban form is always near the top. But in this part of the world, I can’t see it catching on anytime soon.
Despite this, it seems to me that they already have a better understanding of sustainable living than we do in the UK. Even with the constant freezing temperatures, I never went into any building that wasn’t warmer than my terraced house at home. Similarly, there is much evidence of widespread efforts to conserve resources, including money back recycling stations for all sorts of packaging at the supermarket. I also heard a nice story of how the area built up an industry for berry juice, to improve diets in an area where fresh food is often scarce.
Even amongst the alpine kitsch of the new centre, I saw glimpses of a more contemporary Scandinavian style, which elevated the place beyond the usual ski resort styling. Our hotel room was particularly tasteful, with well designed modern furniture and wallpaper that I really wanted to take home with me. You may be able to see this wallpapers influence on this site!