Confessions of a landscape architect
A lifelong love of skateboarding led Janne Saario to dedicate his career to making Helsinki a skater-friendly city.
Now if ever is a great time to be a skater. Cities around the world are waking up to a new wave of avid travellers: skateboarders. With towns like Malmö in the south of Sweden and Denmark’s Copenhagen attracting thousands of hotel visits with skateboarding events, Helsinki is following suit and learning to embrace the rising skateboard tourism trend. The mastermind behind Helsinki’s transformation into a skate-friendly city is landscape architect, entrepreneur, and former pro skateboarder Janne Saario, who is single-handedly changing the city, one curb at a time.
Saario is voicing a call for more skate parks in the city, not only to attract international visitors but also to offer local skaters more inspiration and variety. “These parks not only bring visitors to the city but they also make great plazas for people to hang out and spend time,” he says.
Saario became a skate park designer out of a pure love of skateboarding. Having spent his youth as a sponsored skater for Element Skateboards, he became interested in the symbiosis between skateboarding and architecture. With several design traineeships behind him, Saario eventually got a lucky break with a commission to design the Micropolis skate park in Pasila. By 2016 he shot into the international limelight in an interview with Time Magazine.
The Finnish Skateboarding Association has been working hard to bring international skateboarders to Helsinki. During the annual HELride event in 2017, over 3,000 spectators looked on as pro skaters took on huge obstacles at a DIY skate park in a repurposed gas plant at Helsinki’s Suvilahti.
“Helsinki is small but up and coming,” says Saario. “Attitudes are changing. Skaters are met with less hostility from passers-by, as the city is permitting skating in plazas and other urban areas.”
With its smooth asphalt sidewalks, spacious parks, interesting shoreline, and many intriguing public monuments, Helsinki is a highly skateable city. The city centre is like a tight-knit patchwork quilt of cool skating spots that easily rival Malmö or Copenhagen, making Helsinki a dream destination for any skater, whether professional or amateur.
5 x skater spots around Helsinki
1. Kiasma plaza Smooth, black, granite curbs in the heart of the city.
2. Kyösti Kallio Memorial Large, skateable sculpture with a tricky oblique stand.
3. Taivallahti Schoolyard with a wicked set of stairs.
4. Runeberginkatu Street Box spot next to Aalto University.
5. Ruoholahti Attractive spot near the canals. But be careful not to drop your board into the water!
Text Elena Sulin
Photos Hannes Repo