Helsinki’s Boulevardisation Case. (Romeo Kodra)

La prostituée du boulevard de Clichy et l’inspecteur qui la surveille ont tous les deux de mauvais souliers et tous les deux ont mal aux pieds d’avoir arpenté des kilomètres de bitume.

Georges Simenon.

Prelude. Etymologically the “Boulevard/Bulwerk”, a Dutch term, in XIV Century, entered in French language meaning: a “bastion, walls of fortification (the flat walkway over the top of the bastion)”, a word connected with defensive militarization and control of political power; and later “a large city road, promenade”, indicating an urban space for the spectacular circulation of objects (commodities) and subjects (people).

The semantic transition, from a bastion to a promenade, occurred during Le Roi Soleil Louis XIV, when the old bastions of Paris, after the construction of the new ones in a larger perimeter, were erased to make space for a wide tree-lined promenade.

During my research on this topic, I found significant that the first examples of the boulevards as urban dispositive of political power control appeared almost in the same period: in Paris within Haussmann’s renovation in 1853, and Vienna “by the will” of Kaiser Franz Joseph in 1857, transforming the old fortification walls in Ringstrasse, demonstrating in this manner the “will of openness and democratic dialogue”.

In addition, the boulevard is also a clear imperialistic political gesture, in terms of urban space, which delineates the subjectivization of a changing regime of power and governmentality. Following the Lacanian reading, to have a subject there must be “the trace”, walls/fortification in this case, “the erasure of the trace”, transformation of fortification in boulevard, and “marking of the erasure”, monumentalization of the boulevard.

In fact, three points need to be distinguished: the trace, the erasure of the trace and the marking of the erasure. It is at this level that the signifier arises and the subject emerges.


PETTIGREW, David and François RAFFOUL. 1996. Disseminating Lacan. Albany, NY.: State University of New York Press, p.39.

This process can also be considered as a new governmentality (Foucault), changing from the societies of discipline to the societies of control (Deleuze Gilles, Postscript on the Societies of Control, October, vol. 59, Winter 1992, pp. 3-7, The MIT Press). This governmentality and this control become more clear when, in its support, a full state apparatus is revealed, made of financial institutions, laws, construction mega-companies, famous architects/artists.

And last, but not least, to complete this picture, the representational aspects of the political power gesture are almost always represented faithfully by the formal aspects of arts (urban planning, architecture, sculpture/monument), reproducing altogether or at least one of the following aspects:
a) the alignment with the boulevard,
b) the verticality of urban objects (architectures, monuments)
c) hermeticism/closure sense emanated by these objects.

Therefore, it is with Haussmann’s urban interventions in Paris (1853) and transformation of Vienna’s bastions in Ring Strasse (1857) that the boulevard’s double signification, from one side, conceptually, evidenced the “twofold nature of capitalism” and “formation of [its] sovereignty” (Deleuze/Guattari – Anti-Oedipus); and, from the other side, historically, “the change of regime and governmentality”, from despotic absolutism to enlightened despotism. In other words, seems like the Ancien Régime, after the Congress of Vienna, to “tolerate the bourgeoisie” to participate in political power and prevent further revolutionary atrocities and nationalism, by erasing the bastions, tried to demonstrate openness and democratic dialogue with its subjects, and, by constructing spectacular boulevards, to codify and control their consumption and circulation.

Since then, the boulevard marks and mirrors the change of regime and governmentality of political powers, with all its related political power discourse, the bureaucratic procedures, the organized rationality by defining, shaping, guiding and affecting people and their conduct in the city space, which make the boulevard a perfect dispositive to measure the social pressure and control of political power regimes.

Helsinki’s boulevardisation. In 2015 Helsinki’s Urban Plan was drafted by the Urban Environment Division of the Municipality. The first out of ten themes of the draft regarded “densification”, which was justified under the pretext of “increasing of the population” caused by the arrivals of “migrants”. The main urban tools used for the densification were “city boulevards”. Simultaneously the Urban Environment Division released another document, “City Boulevards in Helsinki”, where appeared an unusual term, namely “boulevardisation”.

In 2017 the plan was approved.

However, two problems can be noticed. Firstly, there is no information and deep analyses on Finnish tradition of “densification/boulevardisation” and the perception of the Finns regarding “densification/boulevardization”. Secondly, the participation of the migrants in public hearings and other platforms for public participation, being them the main reason that justified the densification and “boulevardisation”, until now, it is unknown.

So, what is Helsinki’s “boulevardisation”? In what type of “boulevard” is based? Following the etymology, to have a “boulevard” there must be an erasure. What is being erased though? At the beginning, after the Congress of Vienna, the boulevards were a sort of consequence of the decision of the Ancien Régime to tolerate the lower bourgeois class to participate in political power and avoid in this manner the nationalism. In this regard, is there any connection between this approach and the decision of Helsinki’s Municipality to densify and boulevardize because of the migrants? Moreover, to resist against the boulevardistation is somehow connected with nationalism and the resistance against the migration? Regarding the governmentality, what are the mechanisms of management and administration (work processes, procedures, rules, laws), as well as the ways of classifying individuals or groups (by income, nationality, and professional categories), which allow power institutions – in this case Helsinki Municipality/Urban Environment Division and Migratin Office – for their identification, classification, ordering, and control? And last, but not least, what are the similarities and differences in terms of representational aspects of art displayed in urban and public space of boulevard?

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. I am living in Finland, Espoo near Helsinki, from May of this year. I have never seen a city with more open construction sites in the same time as Helsinki. And I am coming from Tirana … In Tirana there is a lot of mafia and money laundry supported by the government. I do not know very well the Helsinki’s context, but there are a lot of signs that things are not much better. Yet, what most impresses me is the passivity of “Finns” towards this urban development booming. And, without knowing why, I feel like “something is rotten in the state of … Finland”.

There is a web pop-up that reminds me this feeling … and Pacific (1967) of David Alexander Colville.

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