How the other tenth live

Blue skies and wisps of cloud, it’s Sunday in Helsinki and one must take a bike ride through the safe, planned and mapped bike routes of the city.

Filled with runners, bikers and walkers, the routes take us along the seaside, through the forest and through some of the wealthiest and most desirable neighbourhoods in East Helsinki.

In contrast to our neighbourhood, in Hertonniemenrannan the natives are invariably white and the local alcoholics and tattooed would-like-to-be toughs are distinct in their absence. In Marjanniemi multiple storey homes have private parking and beach views and children gather to practice sailing little boats at a private pier. In Kulosaari, large gardens are the norm as are old rambling homes, at least one with a private jetty and one with a small plane parked on a private beach.

This is the Helsinki no one tells you about - the Helsinki of affluence, where the famed image of a classless society falls flat.

Finland is known for its generous and egalitarian social welfare and education system and policies and the relative absence of poverty and crime. However, though its wealth distribution is fairer than most countries, its wealthiest 10% percent are responsible for 20% of its consumer spending. Designer clothes, pricey baby buggies, Marimekko shopping bags and grocery shopping in Stockmann’s are clues to the ostentatious nature of that 10%.

Recently Helsingin Sanomat published a feature that described the phenomenon of parents living in lower income areas going to desperate lengths to enrol their children in schools in wealthier neighbourhoods. This was put down to racism, that parents did not want their children in schools with immigrants. However one lone voice of reason explained this tactic secured better schools for their children in a country renown for scholastic excellence, meaning there must be a perceived superiority of schools in wealthier areas. I believe officials are less willing to contemplate this prospect of educational inequality because it would be proof that the policy of equal education, which is great source of pride, has loopholes.

Photograph A Happonen

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