Helsinki plans Senate Square summer transformation

A range of new activities for the capital aims to boost local businesses and domestic tourism.

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File picture of the cathedral in Helsinki's Senate Square, July 2018 / Credit: News Now Finland

The City of Helsinki plans to transform Senate Square into an outdoor restaurant and hang-out spot – complete with social distancing.

During the summer the city centre square would usually be thronged with tourists and crowded with tour buses. But as the coronavirus pandemic continues, the tourist season is likely to be non-existent this year.

“The vitality of the city centre is critically important for Helsinki as it recovers from this crisis. The travel industry is extremely significant for the city and many of its businesses. Domestic tourism will rise in importance, now that foreign travel is likely to remain shut down for a longer period” says Helsinki’s Mayor Jan Vapaavuori (NCP).

“We must ensure that Helsinki and the Helsinki city centre continue to be seen as places that provide safe urban experiences – not just for residents of the city, but also for visitors from elsewhere in Finland. We will do everything in our power to promote the revival of urban life in the summer of 2020” he adds.

Although the details of the plan for Senate Square aren’t being revealed just yet, it’s being described as a “commercial meeting space.”

Other nearby public spaces like the nearby waterfront and a pier at the Old Market Hall will be repurposed as a “gateway that will welcome leisure maritime services and water transport to the city.” These areas were already going to be remodeled for the Helsinki Biennial which has now been postponed until next year.

More relaxed processes for businesses 

The City of Helsinki has already announced it will waive rental fees for terraces during April and May, but it has now been extended through June as well. The city also promises to make the permit process for restaurants more streamlined if they want to build extensions to their summer terraces.

“Helsinki wants to utilize one of its great strengths, its seaside location, and actively offer venues for diverse business activities in our urban environment. Now is the time to be flexible, with the proper regard for safety, of course. It is better to say ’yes’ with conditions than ’no’ with excuses” says Mikko Aho, Director of the City of Helsinki’s Urban Environment Division.

There are also plans to make it easier for businesses to make temporary events like pop-up restaurants in outdoor spaces for up to 12 days per year without notice; sell products in paid parking areas; and allow business activities, sports and cultural events to take place in popular public areas like squares, marketplaces, parks and beaches.