Sometimes when cities expand, the rapid growth is a two-edged sword. On one hand, thriving industries and healthy populations of residents are great. But when many new buildings are made at a quick pace, the end results tend to favour function over form. What you’re left with is a concrete jungle of grey boxes, devoid of colour and life.
This is where street art can play a huge part in bettering a city. When cities allow – or better yet, commission – artists to paint murals on their grey concrete boxes, so much character is added. Art makes both private and public spaces so much more inviting. It can totally change the vibe of a neighbourhood for the better. Below are two cases of street art doing just that in the Helsinki area.
Pasila is pegged as the “second centre” of Helsinki, and by many accounts, that moniker is very appropriate. All commuter and long-distance trains leaving Helsinki Central Station stop in Pasila. The neighbourhood in northern Helsinki is also the location of the Messukeskus (convention centre) and Hartwall Areena, an arena for big-ticket music acts and sports games.
Pasila started off very different than it is now. It began as a suburb offering housing to workers around the turn of the 20th century. At that time, Helsinki was rapidly industrialising and expanding. Pasila used to be a very leafy green village full of wooden houses where everyone knew each other. In the 1970s-80s a vast reconstruction took place, tearing down the wooden houses and creating an area full of concrete towers. Pasila attracted businesses and became more of a business and industrial centre than a housing area. There are still a lot of residents in Pasila, and the west side of the neighbourhood still has some greenery in it. But all in all, the impression Pasila gave off was one of sterile buildings and railroad tracks.
This dull grey veneer has begun to lift in recent years with the additions of street art at almost every corner. There are pieces by well-known artists such as JussiTwoSeven, who created “BUBO BUBO” under an overpass in 2015. The large realistic owl, done in Jussi’s signature style, casts a steely gaze over all passersby.
Another highlight in Pasila’s street art is the presence of characters painted by Estonian artist Edward vo Lõngus. He paints the monochrome characters as part of his Restart Reality project. In the words of vo Lõngus, the stencilled characters are Estonian time-travellers from 100 years ago. They come alive when viewed through a free augmented reality app for smartphones. Vo Lõngus’s street art pops up all around Europe, so these time travellers must be able to travel through space too!
There are many more artists who have added their touch to Pasila’s walls. Their works range from low-poly-style fish to colourful political satire. Some guys are even seen riding a wolf and a moose near a happy cartoon ice cream cone!
Myyrmäki isn’t technically in Helsinki, it’s right over the border in Vantaa. But Myyrmäki is geographically closer to the city centre than some neighbourhoods which are within the borders of Helsinki. It is also the most populous neighbourhood in Vantaa and culturally very similar to Helsinki.
Myyrmäki, as it stands today, has only been a neighbourhood since the late 1960s. But if you dig deeper (literally), signs of life from as early as the Mesolithic stone age are present. These 7000+-year-old remains of dwellings lie in an area which is today the third largest market square in greater Helsinki.
Street art in Myyrmäki also goes as far back as the late 1980s. Recently though, the collection of murals and painted underpasses has grown. Today there are 14 underpasses in Myyrmäki which are completely covered in paintings. Local students have created most of these paintings. Students and other young people in Myyrmäki also take full advantage of the neighbourhood’s public graffiti walls. One 120-metre-long wall surrounds a temporary event venue. The local skatepark houses another smaller wall.
Local commuter trains make two stops in the Myyrmäki area. The Myyrmäki train station was recently rebuilt and reopened in 2015. It went from a crumbling and dirty outpost to an oasis of street art that would make other train stations jealous. Murals cover both the interior and exterior walls of the station. The artist group Multicoloured Dreams painted the interior murals. Chilean group Un Kolor Distinto provided their art for the exterior walls. The exterior murals pop dramatically from the walls with their bright colours, and they can be seen from the train as it pulls into Myyrmäki station.
Hopefully other corners of Helsinki which are in need of sprucing up get this treatment in the future. There are so many talented artists eager to add their touch to public spaces. Pasila and Myyrmäki are testaments to how successful their efforts can be.