Several Helsinki areas are being monitored with the aim to coordinate recreational, tourism and natural values. Residents and visitors appreciate the peace of the recreation areas, but they also find that there is a lack of services. The Urban Eco Islands project exploits smart solutions, e.g. aerial drone images, to monitor and manage recreational use in order to preserve the natural values.
Helsinki will open up new islands for recreational use according to its maritime strategy. Last summer, the City enabled more visits to the island of Vasikkasaari next to Suomenlinna by regular boat service, as the City enabled more extensive use of the island. This particular island is also a development object of the Urban Eco Islands project that was launched recently. The same project involves the development of the island of Aegna off the city of Tallinn.
There is substantial fluctuation as to the number of visitors to the natural areas depending on the day of the week or the season and on the accessibility of the place and how well known it is. Using a visitor counter, the City has now for instance for more than a year been monitoring the number of visitors using the popular and accessible footbridge path to the Helsinki island of Lammassaari. During peak season, there have been approximately 2,200 visitors walking the Lammassaari footbridge in the span of 24 hours, while the annual number of visits to the area is about 138,000. This is equivalent to the annual number of visitors to the Repovesi national park in Southeast Finland.
Vasikkasaari was opened to a larger public only last summer, and hence it being not so well known was reflected in fewer visitors compared with other similar natural objects this past summer.
The City intends to add visitor counters to the Helsinki area of Vanhankaupunginlahti and to other natural areas in the City as well. Thanks to the counters, the City will be able to identify the most popular natural objects and assess how the number of visitors affects the environment in each particular case.
“Data about the number of visitors help us plan the paths, the rest areas and the information boards of the natural areas. We steer the visitor flows towards marked paths in order to preserve the diversity and the beauty of the environment”, says Kaisa Pajanen, head of team at Helsinki’s environmental services.
As part of the Urban Eco Islands project, Forum Virium, which is the City of Helsinki’s innovation company, will test smart solutions to monitor the nature and the environment on Vasikkasaari.
New and developing technology will enable, among other things, the use of drones, in this case small rotorcraft, to monitor the island nature.
“Drone photography is fairly easy and fast in favourable weather conditions. It is easy to repeat the taking of pictures regularly, which makes it possible to more regularly than previously, through walking the terrain, e.g. monitor how the paths and the environment are being worn”, asserts environmental inspector Tuomas Lahti.
Thanks to a live camera on the island, smart technology also enables you to virtually tune into the feeling of being on Vasikkasaari, something you can do e.g. during a break at work. Smart technology identifies the vessels that pass by and provides real-time data about air quality and the noise level.
The City wishes to take the residents’ and the visitors’ expectations into account as it goes about developing the recreational areas. People who visited Vasikkasaari last summer through the Urban Eco Islands project were asked to respond to a survey about the area.
Generally speaking, the visitors were very satisfied with their visit to the island. According to the results, almost 80 per cent of respondents rated the natural values of the island as being really important, even more important than its cultural and recreational value. On the other hand, more than half of the respondents wish there were restaurant services on the island.
“On the one hand, people try to find their way from the urban beat into the peace of nature, but on the other hand they still wish that services that belong to the urban environment should be easily available”, observes Annika Harlio of Helsinki’s environmental services and the leader of the Urban Eco Islands project.
The City of Helsinki is the main coordinator of the biannual Urban Eco Islands project, whose partners are Forum Virium Helsinki, the City of Tallinn and the SEI Tallinn unit, which is part of Stockholm Environment Institute. The European Regional Development Fund, Interreg Central Baltic, funds the project.
Helsinki’s maritime strategy outlines the development of the service supply and attractiveness of the archipelago and the waterfront until year 2030. The goal is to develop the maritime services and the accessibility of the maritime locations, to promote maritime events and to stay on course opening up the nearby archipelago for recreational use.