is a central suburb
a few kilometers to the north of the city center.
Located in a wide valley between two gentle hills,
the valley itself is known as Central Pasila while the hills
are known as West and East Pasila.
Central Pasila (Keski-Pasila)
Central Pasila is first and foremost a railway junction, as all train
tracks coming to Helsinki -- be they from Turku in the west,
Oulu and Tampere in the north or St. Petersburg and
Moscow in the east -- join up in the valley of Pasila for the final
stretch into the center of city.
Consequently, the central part of Pasila has always been the
property of VR, the company formerly known as Finnish
State Railways (Valtion Rautatiet). Pasila has
massive facilities for cargo handling, train construction
and repair, and all things locomotive; even the street names
(esp. in the east) are all train-themed.
The modern centerpiece of the area is Pasila Station, suspended
across the valley as a part of the massive Pasila Bridge
connecting the two hills to each other. Originally, the station
was supposed to supersede the Central Railway Station entirely,
so that long-distance trains would terminate in Pasila and
only local trains would shuttle the final few kilometers into the
city. Fortunately, common sense prevailed (for once!) and, while
all long-distance trains do stop at Pasila Station, they all
continue onward to the center.
The role of the railways will be diminishing soon though, as most
heavy cargo operations will be moved to the new harbor at Vuosaari
by 2010. Many plans are thus afoot for utilizing the space thus
freed, perhaps including even Helsinki's first skyscrapers.
The initial northern terminus of the planned new Töölö line of the
Helsinki Metro is also Central Pasila.
East Pasila (Itä-Pasila)
Still, the most notorious bit of Pasila is the eastern half, a
colossal failed experiment in prefabricated concrete
housing and the separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
(Merihaka in Hakaniemi also tried the same model, with equally
The tightly packed grid of 10-15 story unpainted concrete apartment
blocks would not be out of place in much of eastern Europe, but
what makes it unusual is the way the buildings are connected:
the roads for motor traffic are dug into the hills, while pedestrian
traffic is on concrete bridges above the roads. You can walk all
the way across East Pasila, from Pasila Station to Vallila at the
eastern edge, without ever crossing the path of a car -- in theory,
In practice, things didn't go quite according to plan. People need
cars on the pedestrian level to lug stuff into their apartments,
so you still have to watch out,
and they need to walk around on the lower levels as well to reach
parking garages and bus stops. Of course, there were no pedestrian
crossings, because pedestrians weren't supposed to cross the
but if you have to choose between running across a 5-meter road and
backtracking 50 meters, going up stairs, across the bridge and
back down again, which would you choose?
The other problem was that East Pasila's housing was nearly entirely
of the cheap government-subsidized rental sort, resulting in a
relatively poor population with the resultant disproportionate amount
of societal problems (alcoholism, vandalism, etc.) No, there
are no slums in the big-city sense of the word anywhere in
the Nordics, but places like East Pasila are about as close as they
Still, I lived in East Pasila as a kid, too young to realize (or be
afraid) of the place's reputation, but old enough to appreciate
its three-dimensional maze of bridges and mysterious tunnels,
perfect for countless spy and detective games. I still leap to
defend my old hometown whenever I hear it disparaged -- but these
days I'd be a little nervous if I had to walk through it in the middle
of the night.
In addition to the residential bit, there are a large number of
government agencies and two larger buildings: the
Helsinki Convention Center (Messukeskus) and, a bit further
out, the spanking new Hartwall Arena, site of many an ice hockey
West Pasila (Länsi-Pasila)
So for the west half, constructed ten years later, the city planners
realized their mistake and went for another tack. This time the
theme was red brick and larger apartments, laid out semi-haphazardly
on distinctly non-perpendicular streets -- and at the same level as
the cars, although there are many pedestrian streets and parks as well.
The end result is still a bit dull, but quite a bit more pleasant
West Pasila's landmark is the Pasila TV Tower, located right next to
the headquarters of the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE.
Probably the only thing in the area made from raw concrete, the
strictly functional and satellite dish-encrusted tower is not open to visitors,
but the slowly rotating strobe light atop is visible miles away.
From the center of Helsinki, the obvious choice is one stop by absolutely
any train. From points southwest (Töölö) or southeast (Hakaniemi),
tram loop line 7 is the answer.