Filomena Nurmela and Ke’ahi  

Moving from the city to the sticks. 6D chats to two who have changed their life.

New York has her five boroughs, London its inner city districts, with the Thames bisecting the city into two. Paris has her 20 arrondisements circling the city, divided into historical neighbourhoods, with history dating back to Roman times. So what does the city of Helsinki have to boast about? What does she call the various neighbourhoods and districts within her borders?

Welcome to kantakaupungki, or the districts of Helsinki. But if one were to delve into this term a little deeper, the strict understanding of the term diverges. Most understand living in the area considered to be the kantakaupungki of Helsinki to be the areas connected by the network of trams that rumble through the city streets. The terms historically, however, came about in 1946 with the combining of municipalities and redrawing of official borders. As the city rebuilt itself after the ravages of war, blocks of apartment buildings went up to replace the bombed-out buildings and houses. And, unsurprisingly, up went the housing prices with it.

With the high demand for studio and two-bedroom apartments in the neighbourhoods close to the city centre, prices per square metre have never been higher. Yet, there is still a certain glamour to living within the nearby neighbourhoods of Helsinki city, but at prices that are becoming eye-wateringly expensive. It’s no surprise then that many foreigners are moving out of the city to live in suburbia. But what are these neighbourhoods like, and why would we want to live there?

A saving move

Annywl Hughes, a British-Finn, made the move from living in Sörnainen to the leafy neighbourhood of Pitäjänmäki. When asked what motivated the move, Hughes is forthcoming enough: “I made the move away from the city centre to save money.” Yet despite the fact that Pitäjänmäki, which sits on the border of Helsinki-Espoo, has a train line running through it, Hughes lives far away enough from the train station for it to be inconvenient, not to mention annoying. “I find that where I live is a bit impractical when it comes to public transportation. So yeah, I’m saving money but wasting time!” Yet, Pitäjänmäki does have its charms. There is the sea nearby, and green areas plus a golf course and tennis courts.

So is living in Pitäjänmäki all bad? Not always.

“What I like about my area is that you can clearly see old Helsinki here. Old houses with big gardens, old apple trees and garden sheds.” It’s certainly quieter than the party-all-the-time atmosphere of Kallio and Sörkka, which Hughes used to call home. But with all this space, Pitäjänmäki lacks a centralised hub with dedicated shops and places to socialise. Hughes did note that while there is cultural representation in her neighbourhood, Pitäjänmäki is still “not a multicultural area, I guess that’s because a lot of people live here or work here but they don’t hang out here. There’s a lack of nice restaurants and cafes and small businesses.”


Annywl Hughes made the move from living in Sörnainen to the leafy neighbourhood of Pitäjänmäki.  

Moving for space

Transversely, Filomena Nurmela and her family moved out of the city because they tired of the faceless hustle and bustle of Helsinki. The American-Finn mother of one explained it thus: “When we found out we were going to have a baby, we decided to move out of Helsinki.” Needing more space and a more child-friendly environment, they chose Espoo.

“The more we live in Espoo, the more we realise how practical it is. It’s easier to let your child explore their surroundings when you’re not surrounded by busy streets with trams, metros, buses and so on.”

How has Ke’ahi, her toddler of almost two years, found life in Espoo? Mum smiles and says, “People in general aren’t so busy or rushed, so there’s the friendly acknowledgement as you pass by, maybe even a little conversation. And I would want Ke’ahi to grow up being friendly and polite to everyone, not too busy with technology or other stuff. I want him to show decency and respect that any human deserves.” That makes Espoo sound like the place to live – but what about multiculturalism and access to extra services?

“Well I see more cultural differences in Espoo; lots of people from different backgrounds. That probably has to do with the cost of living too – and you really see multiculturalism in certain areas of Espoo.” Family Nurmela has also been very happy with the pre-natal care and healthcare services in Espoo, not to mention the numerous green areas, such as Nuuksio National Park that is accessible by bus from Espoo Centre, and the various shopping centres, which makes the weekly shop easy.

The truth of the matter is that while Helsinki is expensive, in comparison to London or New York prices are still manageable and the excellent public transport system connects all areas with great efficiency. That means even if you lived in the outer reaches of the city, or in Espoo, or even in Vantaa, your daily commute would only expand to an hour daily. Living in suburbia is not as big a deal as it used to be but just a matter of mind over matter. While it is luxurious to cycle your bike to work, is it worth the extra 200 euros in rent? As they say, “You get what you ask for.”

Writing you this from the suburbs of all suburbs, Kauniainen, I have to say, the city is all right for the kids, but if you want to live? Suburbia, that’s where it is.

Tania Nathan