The built environment should be designed to facilitate smooth everyday living and smooth travel between different areas. Construction companies can make a major contribution to a sustainable society by developing projects in areas that have good transport links and that can be improved through renovation and infill development.

Tripla in Pasila, the areas of Keilaniemi and the former Maria Hospital, as well as the Punos hybrid block planned on the Itäkeskus metro station; without good public transport links, these areas would hardly be developed.

The Mall of Tripla was visited by over 500,000 people at the opening weekend and serves as the closest shopping center to around 100,000 people in Helsinki. In Keilaniemi, the former Fortum head office building is being renovated into a modern office block with a panoramic restaurant on the top floor. In addition to modern office space, the area will be home to apartments, shops and a daycare centre. Through Maria 01, Helsinki seeks the status of a world-class start-up hub. The metro station at Itäkeskus is the third busiest metro station in the Greater Helsinki area, with over 40,000 daily visitors.

Internal accessibility is another important aspect to be considered when planning the built environment. This means that each residential area must have the necessary services so that people do not need to leave the area to access the services they need in their daily lives and that they can reach the services on foot or bicycle. And when they do need to leave, the transport links between these hybrid centres must be fast.

Zoning of these areas is, of course, the responsibility of the local government, but construction companies can contribute with ideas for best development potential. For example, Länsimetro and Jokeri Light Rail will increase urbanisation and ease the housing shortage in the Greater Helsinki area, while allowing environmentally friendly mobility.

YIT has set long-term climate targets: halving the CO2 emissions of its own operations and those of YIT’s self-developed projects by 2030, relative to 2019; aiming for properties that are carbon neutral during use; and starting to report on project-specific CO2 indicators for self-developed projects from 2020 onwards. Setting goals and pursuing them will make the industry more responsible, which will also make the built environment more environmentally friendly.

Construction industry improves its operations

It is true that there is some inefficiency in the construction field, but the industry is improving its operations through measures such as collaboration with universities, for example. With digital technology, we can visualise the environment so that planning and design is easier and the final landscape can be viewed in advance with the help of augmented reality. Obtaining a bird’s-eye view of the entire area enables us to form an overall picture of the area and its transport links quicker and more efficiently. Furthermore, a shorter construction time benefits the end user as well. Takt time production is one of the ways in which the construction industry can accelerate and improve its operations, and it is now used by almost all construction companies.

Design and contract formats also need to be improved to better benefit everyone. The alliance model is a great example of achieving better projects together. It makes it possible for all parties to influence the design and implementation solutions, which can result in more cost-efficient and sustainable end results that are easy to maintain and that serve residents in the best possible way. Construction companies, together with engineering firms and local government, will be able to create a better society when all stakeholders are involved right from the planning phase.

To meet the emission targets, we need new financing models

The built environment accounts for 55% of the emissions produced in Finland, including transport. Excluding transport, the figure is 30% and is largely the result of energy consumption.

In the future, there will hopefully be fast and smooth public transport between cities, such as the one-hour train from Helsinki to Tampere, allowing large masses of people to travel more ecologically. Rail transport is also significantly safer than road transport.

With the existing funding models, we will not be able to achieve the transport emissions target within the set timeframe. Building high-throughput transport routes and fast rail transport links requires investments amounting to billions of euros. With traditional budget funding, they will be completed so slowly that Finland will not be able to reach its ambitious emission targets. And the targets are bound to become even more ambitious. We can’t afford to wait much longer to get our transport system compatible with the requirements of sustainable development.

The government programme mentions project companies, but they are progressing too slowly. New project company models would provide quicker funding. When the state and municipalities invest in efficient infrastructure, businesses will be bolder in creating production facilities, offices and jobs because it will be easier for them to recruit labour and because the transport of goods will be more economical and produce lower emissions. Similarly, housing will be built in the vicinity of public transport stations, as long as zoning permits. If these networks fail, progressive companies with ambitious emission reduction targets will be less likely to be located in these areas. In Finland, infrastructure is seen as an expense when it should be seen as an investment.

Sweden has significantly higher infrastructure spending budgets because Swedes understand that investing in infrastructure is a way of making society more competitive and sustainable. Sweden decided to build the high-speed rail links between Stockholm and Gothenburg in order to improve people’s mobility and reduce flying. These links also allow faster connections to continental Europe. No wonder, then, that the amount of foreign investments in Sweden is high, which also creates jobs.

Smart traffic

A reasonable level of service is also needed in areas where road transport will continue to be important. The forest industry and agriculture need roads, and the quality of the roads must match the traffic volumes.

We must apply smart technology to road transport and traffic, which means that we should maintain the infrastructure on the basis of traffic volumes. On main roads, the road surfaces must be level so that smart vehicles can drive close to one another and thereby reduce emissions. The repair backlog of EUR 2.4 million on Finnish roads is too high.

Smart technology will be used especially on roads with sufficient traffic. So, the main roads will receive investment. In growth centres, smart technology will enable big improvements in the flow of traffic. 

Harri Kailasalo

Executive Vice President, YIT Infrastructure Projects

The article was first published in Tie & Liikenne magazine on November 22, 2019.