Who would defend the cultural heritage of Mustalahti Harbor?

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“Tampere City is also committed to development in accordance with sustainable principles, balancing ecological, social, cultural, and economic perspectives. Sustainable development is taken into account in the city’s activities and decision-making, and it is a cross-cutting theme in the city’s strategy.” (Tampere City’s Sustainable Practices)

Fine words that look good in program declarations and brochures, but what do they mean in practice? It’s probably quite case-specific Emphasizing ecological sustainability is currently fashionable, but nurturing cultural sustainability in the city seems to still be at the level of the 1970s. Let’s take an example from Mustalahti Harbor.

Tampere’s only passenger harbor on Lake Näsijärvi, Mustalahti Harbor, is currently being planned for a bridge that, if realized, will cut through the harbor in the middle. In the broader development of the Särkänniemi and Onkiniemi area, the bridge may be a small detail, but it is a highly significant factor for port operations and cultural heritage/environment.

I understand that not everyone sees the traditional harbor scene as cultural heritage – ‘what’s the importance of a few old boats?’ However, it’s good to remember at this point that many considered the Tampere Market Hall’s administrative building in the 1970s as nothing more than a worthless shack worthy of demolition. At one point, even a highway was planned for Pyynikki conservation area in the fervor of progressive thinking. Fortunately, these follies were not realized when defenders were found for these sites. Where could we find such advocates for the heritage harbor of Mustalahti?

I have expressed my concerns about the bridge planned for Kortelahti already during the planning phase in public events (on October 3, 2017, and November 22, 2018). I have pointed out that the bridge is 1) an unnecessary obstacle for maritime traffic in the harbor and 2) a significant negative change to the cultural environment. If realized, the bridge would disrupt the row of heritage vessels on both sides of the harbor and divide the passenger harbor in the middle. The notes written on nice post-it notes and the comments drawn on maps were certainly welcomed, but that’s where it ended. As for the bridge, the exact same plans keep popping up over and over again.”

It mainly brings to mind two options: Either a) it hasn’t been understood or b) there’s been a lack of concern about what the plan does to the traditional harbor.

At the end of January, I once again raised my concerns about the planned bridge over Kortelahti, which, if implemented, would cut through the traditional Mustalahti Harbor in the middle. At the same time, I sent an email to all members of the Tampere Planning Committee (yhdyskuntalautakunta). In it, I explained why building the bridge in that particular location is a bad idea and how moving the bridge by 70 meters could achieve a compromise that would satisfy a significantly larger number of people.” For maritime traffic on the lake, the relief caused by moving the bridge would be significant, and the bridge would also not cut through the traditional harbor as severely. Yet, a significantly better pedestrian and cycling connection could still be easily achieved over the harbor basin. The need for the entire bridge could, of course, be questioned, but since there seems to be a strong desire for the bridge, I have naively believed in the power of compromise.

The Planning Committee has indeed discussed the zoning proposal on several occasions: the points of contention were precisely the bridge and the fate of the parking spaces on the Särkänniemi side.” After a few postponements, the zoning proposal, with almost no changes, was approved in a close vote (6–7) on March 9, 2021. Thank you once again to the parties that defended the matter and to the listeners who were present in the committee. “In any case, the zoning proposal is now available for public viewing, and anyone can provide comments on the plan.

Yes, one can certainly provide comments, but the comments probably won’t have any impact on the actual matter. I personally thought, and still think, that the Planning Committee should have sent the plan back for further preparation because the influence of an ordinary citizen through commenting or submitting opinions seems to be minimal in this matter as well. The ‘participation’ process of this plan has indeed provided quite strong indications of that.

The observations presented in public events have not led to any changes, and contacting the planning department has also made it clear that hoping for modifications is not worthwhile. The bridge is coming, and that’s final. The other harbor activities can then be ‘developed’ in further planning. Allegedly, the zoning relies on ‘experts’ regarding maritime traffic, so my concerns are ‘unnecessary’. “Cultural and environmental values, and their safeguarding in further planning, have also been taken into account in the zoning solution” (email to the writer). Everything is in order – at least in a parallel reality.

Personally, I find it quite peculiar, in terms of considering cultural and environmental values, that a 200-year-old harbor site and the Kortelahti basin, which has been essentially in its current form since 1909, are split in half just because the decision-makers have the power to do so. Because we can. Great exercise of power.

I haven’t received any convincing justifications for why the location of the bridge couldn’t be moved. Of course, I have heard the city’s representative argue that moving the bridge would damage everything else already planned so much that the entire plan could collapse. This makes the bridge one of the most important bridges in the world! Well, it might be that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will appear immediately on the scene when the dashed lines of the bridge are moved a few centimeters on the computer screen.

The entire process also raises the question of how, in the 2020s, it’s possible to conduct such zoning where decisions are made beforehand before the zoning proposal is even made available, and participation events are entirely superficial? Shouldn’t these things, if anywhere, be reconsidered on the planning table? If the zoning proposal and the marked location of the bridge have been approved, it’s quite challenging to ‘develop’ the part of the harbor that no longer exists.

It mainly brings to mind two options: Either a) it hasn’t been understood or b) there’s been a lack of concern about what the plan does to the traditional harbor. It’s probably a bit of both. Tampere, Finland’s busiest inland water city, has long forgotten its water traffic, and history seems to be repeating itself in a peculiar way: A significant part of the Mustalahti basin was filled during the construction of Paasikiventie (road) in the 1970s, despite strong opposition from boat clubs and representatives of water traffic (see, for example, Helsingin Sanomat 11.8.1975). Now, the parties and interest groups pushing for similar policies are different (in the 1970s they were representatives of car traffic), but the end result is the same: water traffic and cultural heritage are once again forgotten. Progress and ‘development,’ those power words of technocrats, roll over regardless of the decade.

Although the opportunities for influence in the zoning process seem small based on my experiences, I recommend interested parties to provide feedback on the plan (March 11 – April 12, 2021) at the address kirjaamo@tampere.fi. The feedback must include the reference number of the plan (TRE:5229/10.02.01/2016). Perhaps the feedback from someone influential enough could indeed carry some weight. Who would take ownership of the matter concerning Mustanlahti Harbor?

And to end with a bit of repetition: I definitely do not oppose the development of the area, and I find other plans reasonably good, except for the proposed location of the Lake Nature Center in the backwaters of the harbor. For some reason, the planned location of Särkänsilta has become a peculiar principle issue and obsession for the designers, even though it shouldn’t be such. The harm caused by the bridge significantly outweighs the benefits, which could also be achieved with the earlier proposed relocation, minimizing the drawbacks. So, you won’t get an uncompromising opponent from me. Through this process, however, I have come to understand even better the frustration that arises from similar top-down dictated processes. It would be quite remarkable if in the 2020s, one wouldn’t have to experience situations like this anymore.

PS. The walking distances to the other side of the bay measured under the railway bridge in different alternatives are as follows:
1. Current situation: approx. 420 meters.
2. Bridge in the location I proposed (70m to the southwest): 270 meters
3. Bridge in the zoning proposal: 170 meters.
Does a 100-meter walk ruin the entire plan?

Article image: Gustaf Adolf Welin, early 1930s, Finnish Heritage Agency. CC BY 4.0