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Study: Helsinki bucks urban segregation trends

Helsinki beats Turku and Tampere in efforts to prevent rising socio-economic inequality, according to research from the Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Idän Basaari Turun Varissuolla
An ethnic food shop in Turku's Varissuo district. Image: YLE Turku

Helsinki has managed to stall urban segregation by decentralising housing and investing in education, according to a new joint study from Finland's National Institute of Health and Welfare (THL) and the URMI urbanisation research project.

The study confirms recent claims from Helsinki's Deputy Mayor Anni Sinnemäki that the capital city has managed to put a stopper in rising urban inequality among its districts.

The study examines the situation in the capital city of Helsinki and two other major southern cities in Finland, Tampere and Turku. Between the three of them, they account for over a million inhabitants, or one-fifth of the entire country's population.

Helsinki was found to be the most successful at keeping increased segregation based on income levels to a minimum. In the cities of Turku and Tampere, however, records show that growing numbers of middle-class professionals continue to flock to more affluent suburban enclaves. The study discovered that this kind of urban migration in Helsinki stopped already in 2007.

Helsinki keeps regional inequality from rising

The same study looked at regional differences between Finnish-born and foreign-born communities in these three Finnish cities, finding that ethnic and racial disparities in southwest Turku are clearly higher than in Tampere and Helsinki. Figures show that Helsinki has been successful in stopping regional inequalities for this demographic too, as no noticeable changes have occurred in the last decade.

The largest share of immigrants living in an area with the same postal code in these three southern cities was 33 percent in Turku, 31 percent in Helsinki and 19 percent in Tampere. In Turku, over half of the foreign-born low-income population lived in areas where the median income was the lowest.

Figures from 2014 indicate that 43 percent of the immigrants in these three cities lived in areas with low-income levels. This number drops to 17 percent for Finnish-born residents.

Turku struggles with concentrated immigrant housing

Turku had the most immigrants concentrated in certain areas.

"Immigrant housing has been concentrated in certain areas of Turku, and there are probably several reasons for this. For example, rental prices have fluctuated greatly within the city limits this year, which has some effect on where newcomers to the area end up settling," says Turku's development director Maarit Luukkaa.

Each of the three cities analysed for the study have certain areas where low-income immigrants tend to concentrate. In Turku, it is Varissuo, in Tampere, it is Hervanta, and in Helsinki, Kontula comes to mind. Unlike Turku and Tampere, however, Helsinki has managed to keep immigrant concentrations in these areas from getting any bigger.

Sinnemäki says the most important tools that Helsinki has used to combat rising regional segregation have been to invest in the quality of all its schools and secure good teachers across the board. It has also worked to decentralise housing, to make sure that homes based on different forms of ownership or rental policies are sprinkled equally throughout the city.

Tampere has fewer newcomers

Tampere's situation is different because there is a much smaller immigrant population there.

"Tampere's percentage of residents with an immigrant background is much smaller than in the capital city or Turku. The district of Hervanta has many multinational businesses which attract international workers. As such, it surely stands as the largest international area in the city," says Tampere's director of welfare services Taru Kuosmanen.

Each of the three cities that were included in the study say they take the issue of rising segregation seriously. As a trend that is familiar throughout the western world, it is recognized that increasing segregation can threaten the long-term social sustainability of cities.

Spatial isolation of low-income residents or people with ethnic minority backgrounds can lead them to become cut off from social networks and mainstream society, which can lead to social unrest.

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