Why Helsinki is tearing up its freeways

The Finnish city wants to make cars obsolete.

HELSINKI, Finland — New York State recently approved the United States’ first congestion-pricing scheme, which will eventually force New York City drivers to pay at least $10 to access Manhattan below 60th Street. Legislators hope the novel policy will help reduce emissions while also generating billions of dollars for the city’s ailing public transportation system.

But Helsinki is in the process of one-upping New York with a big idea of its own: The Finnish city wants to make cars obsolete.

Helsinki is investing in public transportation and, more importantly, has plans to tear up three of the city’s major freeways and replace them with thinner roads bounded by boulevards of affordable housing and shops. The goal is to convince people to give up their cars voluntarily — by making it easier to get around without them.

“I think that freeways are infrastructure that belongs to the past, to a time when we didn't know anything about climate change, about the effects that pollution has on health,” said Carlos Lamuela, the architect whose master’s thesis was the basis for the idea. “Cities are for people, and people need different means of transportation, but the cars shouldn't be the one element that dictates how a city is built.”

VICE News went to Helsinki to see how the radical rethinking of a European city is playing out.

This segment originally aired April 3, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.