Pasila is a central suburb of Helsinki, Finland, 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 poor results.) 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, that is.

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 roads -- 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 get.

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 match.

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 overall.

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.

Getting There

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.