Baana | Reuse of an old railway pass | Helsinki

“A deep railway cutting which sliced through the urban fabric has been converted into a pedestrian and bicycle corridor in a resource-saving collaborative process that also respects the memory of an industrial past”.

Since 1894, a railway line had enabled traffic between the cargo port and the central station in Helsinki, including an open ravine (1.5 kilometres long and 7 metres deep) that bisected the urban fabric. However, in 2008 this infrastructure became obsolete due to the transfer of the port, and the future of the cutting was called into question.

“Covering the man-made canyon to make an underground tunnel would restore continuity to the urban layout, but this option is expensive and will take time. Meanwhile, another plan which has been in the pipeline since 2003 took the form of a process involving residents, university students and a range of municipal departments. It was about temporarily converting the railway into a space for cyclists and pedestrians”.

The track, named “Baana” (“rail” in colloquial Finnish) after a popular competition, was open in 2012. The place was prepared for bicycle and pedestrian traffic through a very modest intervention, incorporating some landscaped areas and leisure facilities including a basketball court, petanque pitches and table tennis. To keep the essence of the original rail landscape, the dimensions of the space, as well as its main elements and materials, were respected. On the other hand, new side accesses would be opened to enhance the permeability of the corridor.

“The somewhat gloomy ruggedness of the cutting contrasts with the new sports and artistic installations in colours as bright as those of the goods containers that used to move along the track”.

“The already-existing wild plants have now been supplemented with flowering creepers, several varieties of tall grass, and different types of bushes with perennial foliage to give an individual touch to each section of the cutting”.

“The option of this austere, versatile and resistant project of recycling the railway track has been so enthusiastically received by very different kinds of users that the authorities are now considering widening the bicycle tracks and even introducing a network of similar Baana routes throughout the city. Fruit of a complex process of cooperative endeavour involving the administration, academics and residents, this example of temporary urban planning safeguards industrial memory, saves resources for the future, and also establishes a non-commercial shared space. Given the success of this exercise in balancing costs and benefits it would seem that the eventual project of covering of the cutting can wait”.