Current trends in Finnish suburbs

This blog contains a number of posts about American suburbs but I am also interested in learning more about suburbs in other countries. Here are some insights into the changes taking place in Finland’s suburbs:

Urban geographer Venla Bernelius says that the same process that took place in other parts of Europe is now under way in Finland. A previous low level of immigration, combined with relatively small income disparities has delayed the phenomenon.

“The direction appears clear. Differentiation is increasing all the time.”

Experiences from other parts of Europe and North America suggest that it is very difficult to reverse a process of ethnic differentiation. Bernelius says that the time to act is now.

At present, conditions in Finnish suburbs are nowhere near those of slums or ghettoes in other countries.

However, Matti Kortteinen, professor of urban sociology at the University of Helsinki says that isolation from the population at large makes it more difficult for immigrants to adapt to Finnish society.

“The development harms people’s overall well-being”, Kortteinen says.

One reason for the trend is that immigrants often end up living in areas where there is much municipal housing. Many Finns who are long-term unemployed also live in these areas.

“The issue is not only about ethnic differentiation. The worst-off Finns and the worst-off immigrants live in isolated suburbs”, Bernelius says.

It might be helpful to compare these trends with what is taking place in American suburbs. To start, more minorities and immigrants are moving to the American suburbs (just as it sounds like Finland). More broadly, the American suburbs contain a variety of communities and suburbs, some very wealthy and some quite poor. But, the suggestion here is that immigrants and minorities become isolated in Finnish suburbs while we would tend to think the opposite in the United States. If people have “made it” in the US or have certain income levels, they tend to move to the suburbs. A more general European pattern works in reverse: the poorer segments of the population, immigrants and natives, live in suburbs away from the city and its wealth.

It will be interesting to see how Finland, and other European nations, adjust and respond to this kind of suburban population growth.

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