In the decades following the World War II, the Finnish landscape went through the greatest transformation in its history. The rapid rise in the degree of urbanisation and regional development created suburbs around the cities. They were a totally new kind of urban environment and the most significant single turn in Finland's urban development since the early stages of urbanisation. The present mental images of suburbs are built upon the exceptional nature and novelty of the suburban environments in the early stages of urbanisation, the social structural change behind their emergence and the period of time that has now been accumulating meanings, identities and mental images for more than half a century. Since the very early stages of suburban development, such areas have been targets of numerous improvement projects and campaigns aimed at diversifying them socially and physically. In the 21st century, the renewal of suburbs has been carried out by means of densification in particular and, in many countries, it has even meant demolition of entire areas.
In the coming decade, land use pressures against suburbs, renovation and potential demolition will affect the local environment of the residents more than any other foreseeable developments. Reconstruction is still the most likely option: A large share of the energy conserved in the Finnish building stock is found in the suburbs, so, if the existing buildings were demolished and replaced with new apartment blocks using current technologies, it would defeat the efforts to create a carbon-neutral Finland.
Densification is a significant factor affecting suburban environments. If implemented poorly, it threatens the ideals of proximity to nature, green environments and space around you perceived as pleasant and positive resources provided by suburbs. Densification involves perspectives related to value creation and the locational identities that are more complex than economic and land use issues. By this we refer to landscape architecture – the dimension of green areas, outdoor spaces and yards – which is still relatively ignored issue in suburban research and development projects.
The question of densification and renovation of suburbs is not limited to technical and land use issues only. The values of the building stock are intertwined with locational identities, general perceptions of suburbs, and the knowledge and mental images of suburbs held by the residents and the rest of society. The differentiation and segregation considered problematic involves the deteriorating mental image and physical degradation of suburban environments, a decrease in the valuation of residential areas, and in some cases tearing down the building stock for technical, economic or operational reasons.
In research, development projects and reconstruction or densification issues, the debate on the values of suburban environments is divided into three relatively differentiated fields: 1) Expert arguments about the architectural and conservation-related values; 2) the way residents experience and value suburbs as everyday living environments and places of residence; and 3) the technical, economic and political dialogue on land use. The public debate, research and political decision-making on environmental, land use and reconstruction and densification issues is largely taking place in the field of building heritage and land use. Therefore, the perspective on the values of suburban environments is mainly formed through argumentation on land use and conservation, in other words, to a large extent through concepts and discourses created by experts, from which both the rest of society and the local residents have been excluded.