Henry Ford’s Helsinki -City of the Future – not what I expected

Having just published he article on Arup Journal with it’s reference to the Low2No competition – this article from WE ARE HELSINKI referred to on the Jatkasaari website, gives reference to a different view on Ford and shows how he was unable to see the results of his innovations and his “people car”


Although Henry Ford is remembered for his creating mass production of private cars, promoting consumerism and anti-Semitism, he also had ideas that seem quite progressive even today.

According to Ford’s ideology, a “semi-rural farm city” is the key to a modern community. Ford also wished society would be rid of its dependence on coal, which he thought to be an unreliable source of energy in the long run. Suburbs would develop hydroelectric and other sustainable forms of power instead. Energy would also be consumed less in tight-knit communities where everyone is a producer.

Farm citizens would combine the denseness and activeness of the city into a naturally self-sustaining model. They’d know who lives next door, and where their food comes from. According to Ford, the life of farm citizens would be healthier, happier, and more diverse and useful compared to the traditional model of people settling for quite simple roles. Sounds potentially Jätkäsaari-esque.”

The post-Madonna era of Jätkäsaari could well be an urban utopia that has been dreamt of since way back when. As the Low2No project takes flight, old ladies, families with children and young night crawlers grow their food together and relax at the neighborhood sauna – after they’ve hung their laundry out to dry in a common laundromat. During the winter, work or school is only a ski trip away and once spring rolls in, even the suits gather to fix their bikes together.

The district of Jätkäsaari, next to Ruoholahti, is one of many developing districts in Helsinki. Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, ran a contest called Low2No looking for a holistic regional plan for an environmentally friendly eco district in Jätkäsaari.

British agency ARUP was elected as the winner, but the final planning process will employ architects, designers and thinkers from Germany, Italy and Finland. The point isn’t to borrow finalized models from existing sustainable construction projects, but to create something completely new.

ARUP’s regional planning follows an ideological heritage rooted in surprising places – like an issue of Popular Science from 1922 and HENRY FORD’s ideas

Image Sitra/Low2No/ARUP


“Energy issues have more to do with construction. Low2No is looking for new ways of life by rethinking food and services among other things,” says MARCO STEINBERG, Director of Strategic Design at Sitra.

In practice, the aim is to come up with new ways not only to live, remodel and build, but also to eat, move and spend free time. According to Steinberg, sharing spaces to use them for a multitude of purposes must be made possible. This way you can maximize both the energy benefit and communality. A flash of eco utopia might be a delicious topic for dissenting columns all over town, but Low2No’s proponents want to show that it is technically possible to live an energy-smart life, and that it’s not just for a small elite group.

“The idea is to bring everything into the city. Nature, garden patches and really technical solutions,” Steinberg ponders.


On the other side of downtown Helsinki, another postmodern district is taking shape. There communality has been supported by granting the area temporary free(ish) use until the actual construction begins. Last summer, the district of Kalasatama played host to at least a graffiti wall, urban farming, swimming and just hanging around. On a couple nights, someone even put up a small temporary cinema by projecting a movie onto a shipping crate.

It’s easy to come up with and act out plans during the summer. When the slush hits, there are fewer doers. Steinberg promises that the new era of living also includes spring and fall, although he thinks that uneven distribution of joy during different seasons is a mental issue.

“Finns have two sides: indoors with commodities, and cottage life, when they’re happy not to have electricity or a toilet around. You have to create the right setting for year-round activities as well,” Steinberg proposes.

Humane services and mood can have a huge impact. There have already been attempts to woo small businesses into Jätkäsaari to make the district more welcoming.

“Creating service culture – like with a neighborhood sauna – is important.”

The citizens also get a say in how Jätkäsaari will shape up. An air of doing things together is probably the best way to combat winter depression as well.

Even Henry Ford supported the idea of communal urban life as he described his farm citizen: “[The new farmer] will not live five miles from his nearest neighbor – he will live next door to him. This is only natural, because in a large percentage of cases he will be either directly or indirectly a product of the city and by nature will crave companionship and revolt against isolation.” †

Text Simo Vassinen Images Sitra/Low2No/ARUP

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