4. Sustainable Land Use

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4. Sustainable Land Use

4A. Present Situation

Present situation

Land use in Lahti


Figure A1. Land use within the City of Lahti. Click to englarge map.

“Overall city” defined by YKR (Finnish division of densely and sparsely populated areas) [1].

Due to YKR urban division, data in the table above could be misleading.

“Inner city” defined according to the Master Plan of Western Parts.

“Other” represents municipal buildings and structures, including roads.

The Growth of Lahti

In 1868, Lahti had merely 18 houses, but then, a railway was built and a canal to Lake Vesijärvi was constructed. These transport routes spurred development. New residential and industrial areas were rapidly built. Only 10 years later, Lahti received market town rights and a first urban plan was devised. The City of Lahti was established in 1905. In the 1930’s, Lahti was one of the fastest-growing cities in Finland (Fig. A2). The population grew exponentially until 1975. Since the mid-1990’s, the population has slowly been increasing. After merging with the neighbouring municipality of Nastola on January 1, 2016, Lahti has about 120 000 residents.

Population growth

Figure A2. The exponential growth and plateau of population in Lahti.

Urban Structure

The urban development is compact, but green, and the city centre is densely built (imperviousness approx. 65%) (Figs. A1, A3). Large and continuous forests on the Salpausselkä ridge reach into the centre. This important green connection will decidedly be conserved and has been improved. In 2016, 754 new dwellings were built: 22 apartment buildings, 21 terraced houses and 131 detached houses.

The amount of sealed surface was calculated by the Finnish Environment Institute in 2010, but current data is not available, due to the lack of a monitoring tool.

Continuous Master Planning

The City of Lahti has developed a continuous, strategic Master Plan process, with four-year cycles. This enables a long-term view of urban development, while allowing adjustments for pressing development needs and challenges. During each Master Plan cycle, various impacts of the proposed plan are assessed by city officials and qualified academic experts (e.g. economy, walking and cycling, children, climate change, ecosystem services and ecological infrastructure). Residents of all ages are encouraged to actively participate (4B). The implementation of the Master Plan is programmed for each four-year period. It is followed up with many indicators. During the next cycle (2017-2020), a Master Plan covering the whole new Lahti will be devised, including the creation of a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (4C).

Smart growth is a key goal of the Master Plan. The projected population growth is 1% annually, and roughly two thirds of this growth has been planned for existing built-up areas (Fig. A3). This is achieved through consolidating the inner urban area and controlling growth in the outer areas. A new underground parking structure, in the city centre, has freed land for new developments. In recent years, brownfields, within 3 km of the urban core, have undergone regeneration, with many projects underway (Fig. A4). Lahti strives to keep urban sprawl under control and only limited areas are developed for detached houses. Local services are accessible by public transport, bicycling and walking in these fringe areas (e.g. grocery stores, kindergartens and schools). Master Plan follow-up includes measures of liveability on a city-wide level.


Population densityPopulation densityFigure A3. Population density in 2025 compared to year 2017. Click to englarge map.

Redeveloping Brownfields

Brownfields along railways and near Lake Vesijärvi have been or are being re-developed (Fig. A4). The former industrial harbour area is now very popular. In 2000, a modern extension was added to an old factory to build, Sibeliustalo, a concert hall. Apartment buildings were constructed and cafeterias opened in old buildings. Similar areas of mixed land use are planned for existing brownfields. The areas of Sopenkorpi and Radanvarsi are close to a new transit hub (trains, buses) and the city centre (≤ 1 km); areas are currently under detailed planning, and over 110 000 m2 of mixed-use and residential buildings will be constructed in the next four years. The industrial area of Niemi is undergoing renewal to become a mixed-use area.


Figure A4. Brownfields: already developed and being developed. Below: close-up of brownfield re-development along the railway.

Ecosystem Services and Green Infrastructure

Ecosystem services have been mapped for the entire “old Lahti” area and will be mapped for the new Lahti during the Master Plan cycle 2017-2020. The need to improve or keep ecosystem services is included in both the Master Plan and the detailed land use plans. The Master Plan requires evaluation of impacts on ecosystem services, when developing new areas (KEKO tool, 4B).

Green infrastructure is kept and improved with future wildlife over- and underpasses (4C). Wetlands are used for managing storm water in new developments or added to old urban areas, when possible. A system of meandering streams, a retention pond and a wetland have been built in Karisto. Approximately 10-20 green roofs or other green structures (e.g. rooftop gardens) exist in Lahti.

Gravel and permeable pavement stones are common for covering roads and yards in residential areas. The recreational paths in forests are usually covered with woodchips or gravel.

Storm water is covered in the Storm Water Management Plan. Ecosystem services are covered in the 2013-2025 Green Spaces Program and the Guidelines for Management and Use of Municipal Forests (2015).

Blue and Green Areas

  • Green and blue areas cover over 80% of Lahti (Fig. A1).
  • In 2015, Lahti had 164 playgrounds, 39 kindergarten yards, about 30 schoolyards, 40 sporting grounds (Fig. A5) and 7 communal gardens (more in the near future, with one concentrating on biodiversity).
  • Urban green areas are mostly forests with extensive path networks and other recreational structures (huts, bonfire sites).
  • All forests and meadows, in Finland, are freely accessible for roaming or picking wild berries and mushrooms (Everyman's Right).
  • Forest paths have many information signs, but more need to be installed.
  • Forest paths are often covered with wood chips (soft, for running).
  • In winter, some forest paths are managed for skiing. Lakes have managed skiing and skating paths.
  • Nature conservation areas have good infrastructure: information signs, wooden paths and bird watching towers.
  • Lake Vesijärvi and smaller lakes are actively used for swimming (16 public beaches) and fishing or skiing and skating during the winter.

Frisbee golf

Figure A5. Frisbee golf is one of the popular sports among people in Lahti.

Urban agriculture

  • Lahden Ruokaosuuskunta, ROK, is a community supported agriculture group, established in 2013. Currently there are about 150 members, 50 of them have bought harvest share for season 2017. They cultivate on a field and in a greenhouse.
  • The City rents allotment garden plots for its inhabitants use. In 2016 there were 171 allotment gardeners. In spring 2017, the City offered free education for gardeners, which had a positive response. Information and tips on gardening as well as knowledge about alien species was given at the education day.

4B. Past Performance

Ensuring Sustainable Development

Our Master Plan is based on the Päijät-Häme Regional Plan, which safeguards sustainable development of the entire region. Although Lahti has reserved areas for urban growth away from the centre (Fig. A3), these can only be developed after areas close to the centre have been completed. Short-term development is directed by land acquisition and housing policies, which are in line with the Master Plan.

As a rule, recreational and urban natural areas are excluded from urban development. To safeguard the most valuable natural areas, Lahti has designated new protected areas, almost yearly. In 2017, 995 ha of land is protected under national legislation, and 1933 ha of land is protected as sites of local conservation value. No development is allowed in these areas. The basis for conservation is not only in the strategy, but also in public opinion, where the results of public participation, questionnaires and surveys, e.g. in the master planning process in 2014, indicated residents valued urban green areas.

In recent years, the city centre has been mainly developed (infilling, underground parking, replacing old inefficient buildings). Compared to the 1990s, the population of the city centre has doubled. In 2015, an underground public parking facility was built at the market square (Lahti invested 1.3 M€).

Contaminated lands have been mapped to start restoration and re-development. Re-development has started in the Sopenkorpi, Niemi and Radanvarsi areas (Fig. A4). The harbour area was under development in 1995-2000, and within the recent 5-10 years, additional tens of hectares have been re-developed.

Although, the emphasis is on the city centre, developing a few detached-housing areas about 5 km from the centre, helps to meet the needs of families with children. New neighbourhoods are developed with sustainable mobility in mind (Fig. B1). Child-friendliness is a key goal for Lahti, with children’s independent mobility being one such measure.

sustainable mobility and child-friendliness

Figure B1. We develop new neighbourhoods with sustainable mobility and child-friendliness in mind.

Developing Lahti is partially based on urban zones (Fig. B2). Zones are defined on measures as distance from the city centre, frequency of public transportation and distance to a bus stop. Development can be planned by concentrating on areas close to the centre with good existing public transportation. 


Urban zone in LahtiFigure B2. Urban zones of Lahti. Click to englarge map.

KEKO and the Master Plan

Lahti has started using a new eco-efficiency tool, KEKO. It estimates the impact of development plans and plan alternatives on GHG-production, use of natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Lahti has used KEKO for development projects (e.g. Radanvarsi) to compare alternatives and their impacts.

Both KEKO and continuous master planning aid in adapting to climate change, demographic and economic changes, as the city can act fast to change its course. The Master Plan is monitored using Seutukeke sustainability measures (altogether 20 ecological, social and economic measures).

Urban Renewal

There have been several cross-sectional urban renewal projects in Lahti, which included both urban planning and design, as well as social and educational development aspects. We have been rehabilitating the Liipola residential area via several smaller projects, part of a bigger project of educational equality. Several other areas have been rehabilitated as well. Liipola has many apartment buildings and it is located about 3 km from the centre. The levels of education and income are lower and unemployment is high, compared to other residential areas.

Actions in 2013 to 2015:

  • Liipola’s old school was demolished to build a new multifunctional building combining the school, a library, kindergarten, dental clinic and rooms for different activities.
  • Playground was completely updated and fitness equipment was added for the elderly.
  • Fitness equipment, benches and trash bins were also installed in other parts of the neighbourhood.
  • Public apple trees and berry shrubs were planted and new flower boxes installed.
  • Recreational facilities in the forest were improved.
  • Residents painted some buildings and other structures for beauty and fun.
  • The area is being consolidated to improve social mixing and old apartment buildings (public housing) are being replaced or renovated.
  • Street lighting is being renewed on streets and recreation paths.
  • Investment 600 000 €: 20% of the costs were covered by the Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland, 80% by the City.
  • Residents and organizations helped to carry out the project.
  • Resident satisfaction is monitored (especially children, youth and the elderly), but the rehabilitation appears to have been a success.

Water – Creating Well-being

In 1970, the water in Lake Vesijärvi was highly polluted. Restoration started in the mid-1970’s and is still active today. Measures included controlling pollution and biomanipulation. The lake was restored in co-operation with several municipalities, universities and other research organizations and, funded by the Lake Vesijärvi Foundation. About 250 000 € is covered by the Lahti City Group and the remainder is covered by other municipalities, private companies and persons. The lake is now actively used for swimming. Other waterbodies have been subject to pollution, but the condition of these lakes is improving. Sustainable storm water management also enhances the visual quality of the areas (Fig. B3).

Storm water management structures in Karisto

Figure B3.A retention pond of a large storm water management system in Karisto.

City for Residents by Residents

Residents are involved in the planning of Lahti. In the current Master Plan, residents were able to affect the outcome through online-feedback enquires (1 340 responses): four ”Our Lahti” evenings (107 participants; nearly 400 comments or ideas); a ”Dream playground” event (36 children, aged 7-10, drew their dream playground and 10 were interviewed) along with other options (Fig. B4). Children requested places for adventures and climbing, but also appreciated safety. Residents’ opinions are often requested for other plans. We use Maptionnaire, a map questionnaire tool and the Porukka mobile application. Maptionnaire has been used for collecting local experiential knowledge and getting feedback for urban plans.

In 2014 and 2016, all the urban natural areas used in early childhood education in Lahti were mapped using Maptionnaire. Findings were incorporated into the city’s GIS system. All 59 day-care units responded to the questionnaire. Urban nature is an important element in early childhood education and its use is frequent and varied.

Knowledge gained together with residents is stored in the city’s GIS system and is actively used in planning. We have evidence that this local experiential knowledge affects planning outcomes. The Porukka application was developed to ask residents more general questions. Lahti is monitoring residents’ satisfaction of green spaces: e.g. residents desire more trash bins, benches, fitness equipment and nature trails. Lahti attempts to fulfil these wishes (e.g. Liipola).

forest walking and co-creation session

Figure B4. Local inhabitants participated to forest walking and co-creation session in 2017.

Forestry department and residents had a walk in the woods to gain information about residents’ experience of forest and its meaning to them (Fig. B4). The walk was part of planning and participation process of building a new main road 12.

Maintaining a high-quality environment for children and youth is one of Lahti’s priorities. Socially important locations for children/youth are monitored. Walking and cycling safety, near schools and residential areas, is very important. Nature in Lahti is an excellent setting for learning about biodiversity (Fig. B5) and lessons are held outdoors. In 2015, UNICEF declared Lahti to be a Child Friendly City.

The University of Helsinki’s ADELE research project that is underway in Lahti, is studying the links between biodiversity and the strength of the human immune system. We have participated and helped with finding research subjects (e.g. children in kindergartens).

Linnaistensuo consevation area

Figure B5. Lahti is full of diverse nature areas that are all important for environmental
education and recreation. Children are of special priority. 

4C. Future Plans

The City of Lahti has started a rather unique process to unite the city strategy, master planning and transport planning. Master plan work for 2017-2020 (Fig. C1) is integrated with making a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, SUMP. The forces of the City are combined; all administrative sections, as well as other stakeholders along with residents, jointly strive for a more sustainable city entity. At the time of writing, the participation and evaluation plan is finished, and the objectives for Process 2017-2020 are being formulated, in collaboration with the participants.

Master plan process

Figure C1.Continuous master plan process of Lahti 2017-2020.

One showcase of sustainable urban mobility is the Aleksanterinkatu Street renewal project, completed in November 2016. Nowadays, the street is primarily a pedestrian area, with a high-quality cycling route. Cycling path widening covered two blocks. Investment 3.1 M€.

The core urban areas need to be consolidated and new development has to be close to services. There are several brownfield areas that will be developed into residential/mixed use areas (Fig. A4, C2).

Sustainable storm water management systems must be incorporated into new development areas. In one of these areas (Fig. C2) most of the storm water will be infiltrated on site and some water will be directed into a retention pond. In other areas we highlight the importance of green roofs. Plans for the renewal of Hennala old military base are in the initial stages, but areas are reserved for natural storm water systems. Contaminated land will be removed/cleaned.

Lahti is aiming to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases through efficient land-use. Population growth is directed to areas close to the city centre, services and other urban amenities, to reduce transport needs and minimize urban sprawl. Monitoring the level of services is continuous. The impact of new developments on greenhouse gas emissions is monitored with the KEKO tool (detailed urban planning) or Seutukeke (Master Plan). The goal is for most residents to have access to bus stops, within 400 m from home. The bicycle road network is already extensive, but the quality of main routes will be improved.


Figure C2. Building the future of Lahti: idea for Ranta-Kartano area.

The Master Plan (2016) emphasizes the need for improved ecological infrastructure in the city and along the Salpausselkä ridge. Two wildlife overpasses are planned along the ridge, to be used both by wildlife and for recreation. Existing ecological connections are improved with additional vegetation. Already fragmented forests are developed for recreation, to meet the increasing number of residents. More paths will be covered with boardwalks to protect nature, while providing better access for people (Fig. C3). We have initiated a project to receive the status of a UNESCO Global Geopark for the Salpausselkä region (Fig. C4). There is also a wider geographical project started, to apply for UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status, which Lahti would be part of.

The ecosystem services approach will continue. The Green Factor Tool(green factor = scored green area/lot area) will be used in groundwater areas. The Green Factor Tool has been tested (e.g. Kortteli) and will be soon used for Radanvarsi. New building in groundwater areas is discouraged by Master Plan regulations.


Figure C3.Accessible boardwalk in the Lapakisto nature conservation area.

To adapt to climate change, sustainable water retention systems are built, where possible. Laune Central Park will have a retention pond and channels for storm water. Flood areas have been mapped for the city and this data has been incorporated into land-use plans. Storm water issues are covered in Lahti’s Storm Water Management Plan. The drafts for Invasive alien species management plan, and Green networks plan are almost completed.

Ground water bodies of LahtiFigure C4.Salpausselkä ridge groundwater area and planned development. Click to englarge map.

As the City of Lahti Strategy 2025 emphasizes, we aim to increase participation levels (especially of children and youth). Use of new participation methods is highly encouraged. Participation of residents is increased through realizing their wishes, when feasible, e.g. old buildings on Mukkula’s camping site are demolished to create a recreation area. In 2017, new benches and trash bins will be installed, and the existing flower beds improved.

Lahti wants to remain a child-friendly city. To achieve this from a physical environment viewpoint, the city needs to be dense, but liveable. Children’s independent mobility is seen as a key indicator of child-friendliness, in an urban environment. Services need to be close by and, walking and cycling must be safe. Schools and kindergartens need nearby green areas. We will continue improving 2-5 playgrounds each year. Ideal playgrounds have both natural and built structures for play (Fig. C5). We have engaged children in planning since 2005, and will continue to organize workshops and questionnaires, together with Lahti’s Educational and Youth Services. The impacts of the Master Plan on the western parts of the city (2016) on children, have been assessed using Whitzman’s six criteria, with results showing that all criteria have been met at the Master Plan level, in the Master Plan report.

Best playground

Figure C5. Best playground, according to a child.

The city officials are striving to achieve the goals of Lahti’s strategy and Master Plan, but since it can be difficult to predict economic development, decision-making on investments is done on a yearly basis according to budget.



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