Ruoholahti (Grass Bay) is the closest Helsinki, Finland comes to places like London's Canary Wharf and Tokyo's Odaiba. Like those two, Ruoholahti used to be a seaside island of derelict warehouses, which has been completely revamped in less than ten years.

History

The island was originally built in the 1910s -- and yes, I do mean "built", much of it is reclaimed land between and around the islands of Hietasaari and Jätkäsaari -- to house Länsisatama, the "West Harbour" that has been Helsinki's main cargo port ever since. A then obscure rubber company named Nokia built a large cable factory in the 1940s, and the state alcohol monopoly Alko also moved its headquarters nearby.

And that was about it as far as other companies went, but the port continued to grow. Upgraded in 1977 to handle container traffic, it became a passenger port as well when the ferries to Tallinn also moved to West Harbour in 1995. However, since all cargo traffic in Helsinki will soon be moved to the new port at Vuosaari, the city of Helsinki will soon have several square kilometers of central seafront property on its hands, and Ruoholahti is the first phase in the rebuilding operation.

Renewal

The area turned into a giant construction site in 1991. A year later the first inhabitants moved in, and in 1993 the Helsinki Metro grew from Kamppi to Ruoholahti, its current terminus (although that will change once the extension to Espoo is finished). Nokia's cable factory (Kaapelitehdas) was turned into a gigantic cultural center that, unlike most of such beasts, actually serves Helsinki's inhabitants: it is now home to a large number of museums, art galleries, workshops, restaurants and even hosts raves every now and then.

Residential construction was complete in 1998, but the construction of offices only really started to get under way at this time: Ruoholahti now hosts the massive Helsinki High Tech Center (HTC), home to my employer First Hop among many others. About the only loser in the game was Lepakkoluola ("Bat Cave"), an abandoned warehouse taken over by radicals in the sixties and turned into a radio station and venue for all kinds of music from punk to techno via industrial. Nokia, by now a telecom giant, bought the lot, put up a bunch of big blue cubes, and then decided it didn't want them after all. At time of writing they remain empty.

Future

The core of Ruoholahti is more or less complete, now that even Alko's former bottling plant has completed its transformation into a shopping center. However, once the underground coal storage facilities of the nearby Salmisaari power plant are complete (est. 2004), another city block's worth of buildings will be added. In 2008 or so, the Vuosaari port should be operational, and the construction of the adjoining areas of Saukonpaasi and Jätkänsaari will start.

References (in English!)

http://www.hel.fi/ksv/English/projects/westharbour/ruoho_eng/ruohol_eng.html
http://www.hel.fi/ksv/English/projects/westharbour/westharbour.html

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