Esplanade Park

Between two streets, Northern Esplanade and Southern Esplanade
Helsinki, Finland

Submitted by: Maija Merimaa

A boulevard-like park in the city centre.

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Why It Works

Esplanade Park in the centre of Helsinki consists of two active streets – Northern and Southern Esplanade – and a longitudinal, boulevard-like park between them. The park is built on east-west direction, so the sun shines nicely on the park throughout the day. The park is centrally located, and can be considered as the borderline between the most active commercial centre and the more peaceful, southern part of the city. At the east, the park ends at a fountain, behind which opens up the view to the market square of Helsinki and the sea. At the western end the Esplanade green space is closed by the Swedish theatre, behind which runs the busiest street in the centre of Helsinki. The theatre building acts as a wall blocking the traffic noise, so the Esplanade Park is at the same time both close to the busy city and a calm resort.

What Makes Esplanade Park a Great Place?

The centrally located Esplanade Park is accessible both by foot and by bike. The role the park has as a green passage from the centre to market square and the sea connects it tightly in the city structure.

The Esplande Park is both clean and safe. Although both Northern and Southern Esplanade are used by cars, the park relates symbolically more closely to the sea than the traffic. Many pieces of old Helsinki architecture border the Esplande and the park is decorated by statues of Finnish poets. On a warm summer day it is nearly impossible to find a place to sit on a bench, so especially young people gather to sit on the grass. Groups on the grass contrast the official image of the statues and give the park a relaxed atmosphere.

The park is one of the main public spaces of Helsinki and it attracts both residents and tourists. People frequent cafés and shops on the two streets surrounding the Esplanade Park. Demonstrations - which in Finland are rather more enlivening than threatening events – often pass by the Northern Esplanade. The park has benches to sit on, ice-cream kiosks, and at the western end there is a café that was built in the 19th century. Opposite to the terrace of the cafe is a stage where free concerts take place almost daily during the summer. Esplanade Park is also the main location for the celebration of 1st of May. Although outdoor spaces are difficult during the cold Finnish winter, a Christmas market has been held in the park since 1993.

Esplanade Park is a popular meeting place. People gather at the eastern end of the park for concerts during the summer. Plenty of people sit on benches or on the grass in small crowds. In the scale of Helsinki, Esplanade Park and the streets surrounding it can be considered exceptionally lively places.

History & Background

The park was established by the city administration in the beginning of the 19th century. It was meant to mark the borderline between downtown and new uptown. Soon, the park became the place for the bourgeoisie to stroll on Sundays in fancy clothes – it was the park to be seen in. The cafe was opened 1867, and it is nowadays one of the classical milieus of the city. The history of the fountain, Havis Amanda, demonstrates the symbolic importance of the park. When Havis Amanda was erected in 1908 it aroused a scandal. Women found this fountain with a naked, sensual lady - who was said to symbolize Helsinki - much too provoking for the Esplanade Park. The fuss calmed down, and in 1920's Havis Amanda was integrated to the 1st of May celebrations in Helsinki. The nearly one hundred year old tradition of placing a student cap on the head of the statue still marks the beginning of the festival.

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