Four times a year, hundreds of pop-up restaurants suddenly emerge from nowhere. Why? Simply because people love food and love coming up with crazy and/or unique restaurant concepts. The now-global Restaurant Day movement was born in Helsinki in 2011. It’s a huge community day when people roam the streets to visit as many pop-up stands as possible. Strangers will eat at each other’s homes. What began as a carnivalesque protest against strict legislation has now become the new normal.
They say people move into major cities to avoid their neighbors. Many boroughs in Helsinki are proving the opposite is also true. Block parties, flea markets, and community kitchens are becoming regular treats for people living in Helsinki. The Kallio area is a central hub for all this, but other areas are chipping in too. The king of all neighborhood events is Kallio Block Party, put together by volunteers. This year’s visitor rate was estimated in the tens of thousands. All free of charge, all for the community.
A few days a year the entire city turns into a massive flea market. Everything’s coordinated online with the help of a map application. Getting rid of clutter never felt so easy, and it’s a joint effort. If you feel like starting your own Cleaning Day operation for the street you live on, just go ahead! Cleaning Day is a mix of old-fashioned yard-sale mentality and modern technology that makes it possible for people to find exactly the kind of stuff they might want to buy.
In 2013 the alternative, playlist-free radio station Radio Helsinki was close to going under due to financial issues. Luckily, the channel’s loyal listeners decided to come to the rescue and founded a social-media movement that operated under the hashtag #saveradiohelsinki. 30,000 Facebook likes and one amazing campaign later, the station now has new owners and is doing well. The Save Radio Helsinki movement gathered such supporters as Muse, Ane Brun, The National, and the Estonian president Toomas Ilves. All of them gave their support for bigger things than money.
During summertime it’s nearly impossible to avoid festivals in the Helsinki area. There’s always something happening: a block party, a theatre festival, or one of Helsinki’s widely renowned musical get-togethers like Flow Festival or Weekend Festival. After the summer, most people are exhausted and willing to wait inside for nine months for it to start all over again. The best thing about festivals in Helsinki is that you can cycle home after them. Instead of being stuck in a tent on a field in the middle of nowhere, you’re in the center of everything and can sleep at home in between the crazy days.
An abandoned dock area doesn’t sound like an obvious community heaven. However, the Kalasatama district has turned out to be the best thing a city can offer its community: a platform for creativity. Cafés and galleries in shipping containers, free concerts, guerrilla gardening, graffiti walls, a DIY sauna, and lots and lots of asphalt offer something for everyone. It feels safe to know there’s a place in the city where you can always find something to do. The best after-parties happen spontaneously in the middle of the shipping containers with people you don’t know. That’s what Helsinki is all about.