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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 23.05.2018, 10:15

Helsinki and Tallinn – happy siblings of the Baltic Sea

Ritva Viljanen, Deputy Mayor for Education and Cultural AffairsCity of Helsinki, Finland,, Baltic Rim, 28.06.2017.Print version
The development of Helsinki–Tallinn cooperation has long been a subject of study in official working groups. But in practice, people have already voted with their feet: the cities are already one extensive urban area. In 2016, the Gulf of Finland was crossed almost 9 mln times. Breakfast in Helsinki and lunch in Tallinn. Shopping in both. Museum visits. Such is everyday life in an extensive urban cluster - cheerful cultural relations.

The City of Helsinki is currently working on a feasibility study for a tunnel uniting Helsinki and Tallinn. It would bring the two cities even closer to each other. The study is conducted with the City of Tallinn, the counties of Uusimaa and Harju and the governments of Estonia and Finland. The premise of the study is a traditional railway tunnel. The train can be boarded by both cars and pedestrians.

Sea unites the sister cities

But even now, many consider Helsinki and Tallinn sister cities. People from Helsinki go to Estonia for vacation, work and studies, and vice versa.

This close coexistence is made possible by the busy ferry services. Helsinki is the liveliest passenger port of the Baltic Sea and its popularity is expected to grow.

The number of passengers has grown in recent years. In 2016, a total of 11.6 mln passengers passed through the ports of Helsinki, 8.7 mln of these in the Tallinn traffic. The Tallinn traffic grew by 4% compared to the previous year.

To match the needs of the growing number of passengers, Helsinki has invested in the development of the West Harbour. Last February, a new terminal area was opened. Smart traffic pilot projects are conducted in the West Harbour and the Tallinn Old City Harbour in order to improve the passenger experience and make the flows of people and goods smoother.

Functional ferry traffic is important not only to foot passengers, but to freight traffic as well. Here, we must also look beyond Estonia, further into the Baltic region. The Rail Baltica railway from Tallinn to Poland will likely be completed in 2025. This will also bring Helsinki closer to Central Europe. The Rail Baltica route to Europe is an important foreign trade channel for Finland and thus, another reason why the Helsinki–Tallinn connections have to be smooth in the future as well.

Number of commuters has grown, number of Estonians moving to Finland has declined

A major part of the passengers passing through the ports of Helsinki are leisure travellers, but there are a lot of commuters as well – as much as 40% of the Estonian passengers.

A couple of years ago, the migration from Estonia to Finland was very lively. E.g., in 2012, almost 30% of the Helsinki region growth consisted of net immigration from Estonia. Now the migration of Estonians to the Helsinki region has declined. In the peak years, there were more than 4,000 Estonians moving to the Helsinki region, but in 2015 the figure was only 2,500.

One reason for the decline is Finland’s economic situation. In Estonia, the economy has recovered, while the development has been slower in Finland. The employment rates are 75.8% in Finland and 76.7% in Estonia. It is no longer necessary to cross the Gulf of Finland to find employment.

The young adult age groups that are significant for migration have also become smaller in Estonia. E.g., in 2016, the number of people aged 20–24 was 30% lower in Tallinn and the entire county of Harju than it was five years ago.

The Estonians are also more educated than before. Previously, people moved to Finland especially to work in services and construction. In Helsinki, there is still a need for workers in these fields, but it is harder to find employment for the highly educated.

Construction in the Baltic region is also more attractive than before. This in part explains the decline in the Estonians’ eagerness to move.

Tunnel would create a true twin city

If the tunnel is built and the travel time from Helsinki to Tallinn is cut to approximately half an hour, it will turn Helsinki and Tallinn into a true twin city where it is possible to live on one side and work on the other side of the city. This would be beneficial to the economy, travel and culture of the cities.

From an international perspective, the Helsinki-Tallinn twin city would be twice as interesting as the two cities separately. Even though Helsinki does well in international city comparisons, it still suffers from a weak image and recognition. The proximity of the Baltic region, especially Tallinn and Riga, would increase the attractiveness of Helsinki’s image.

The tunnel would also intensify the cultural cooperation between the cities and bring more users to the cultural services of the cities. E.g., the annual Chinese New Year celebration, arranged by the Helsinki Cultural Office, has spread out to Tallinn as well. The Chinese groups that come to Helsinki perform in Tallinn the next day.

To many Finns travelling to Tallinn, culture is the main thing: exhibitions, theatre, concerts – or just enjoying the urban culture and the cuisine. Finns also visit Tallinn and Estonia for seminars, recreational days or sports club camps. 

From cities towards urban areas

The role of cities will change and grow globally in the future. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities and especially young people move to cities. The critical mass needed for innovation clusters can be found in cities. Innovations are born out of interpersonal meetings and interaction.

In the future, the focus should shift from separate cities to urban areas. Instead of Helsinki, we speak of the entire metropolitan area, strengthened by Tallinn and the rest of the Baltic region.

Helsinki is a small city in the global context. The close relationship, but different operational environments of Helsinki and Tallinn can bring new dynamics to the development of Helsinki. At the same time, the citizens are presented with more opportunities in terms of housing, 

employment and cultural offerings. The construction of a tunnel would double the opportunities for both cities and further strengthen Helsinki’s connection to the Baltic region and Central Europe, both physically and mentally. 

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