Helsinki’s Islands in Literature – urban archipelago as heterotopian space

Helsinki’s islands in literature are the subject today of a public lecture (in Finnish) in the studia generalia series on islands in Finnish literature at the University of Tampere.

I will present on the basis of a forthcoming article, written together with Sarianna Kankkunen, which examines Helsinki’s archipelago as a heterotopian space.

From the introduction:

“The islands of Helsinki appear in literature repeatedly as a space that questions the order of the capital – and of society at large -, and that present it with a reverse image. In literary depictions and the experiences of literary characters, the otherness of islands is emphasized, as is their transformative power. The urban islands are also the arenas for identity transformations – spaces, where characters undergo a spiritual or mental awakening. The dynamics between the city and the islands along its shores depict the fundamental tensions between community and individual, between the self and the world.” (Ameel & Kankkunen 2017; forthcoming)

(translated free from Finnish)

“Pääkaupungin saaristo on ollut esillä kirjallisuudessa 1800-luvun historiallisista romaaneista ja vaikkapa Zachris Topeliuksen pakinoista aina 2000-luvun romaanitaiteeseen. Helsingin saaret näyttäytyvät kirjallisuudessa toistuvasti tiloina, jotka kyseenalaistavat pääkaupungin – ja sitä kautta yhteiskunnan – järjestystä ja tarjoavat sille käänteisen kuvan. Kirjallisissa kuvauksissa ja romaanihenkilöiden kokemuksissa korostuu saarien toiseus ja niissä piilevä muutosvoima. Saaret ovat myös minuuden muodonmuutoksen näyttämöitä – tiloja, joissa henkilöt käyvät läpi henkisen herätyksen. Kaupungin ja sen edustalla sijaitsevan saaren välinen voimakenttä kuvastaa jännitettä yhteisön ja yksilön, minuuden ja muun maailman välillä.” (Ameel & Kankkunen 2017; tulossa)

Ameel, Lieven & Kankkunen, Sarianna 2017 (forthcoming): “Saaristo kaupungissa – Helsingin saaret kirjallisuudessa.” (“Archipelago in the city – Helsinki’s islands in literature”) In Lahtinen, Toni, Sagulin, Merja & Laakso, Maria (eds.): Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden saaret (“Islands in Finnish Literature”). Helsinki: SKS.

“This Must be the Place” Podcast

In the latest “This Must be the Place Podcast”; I’m interviewed by David Nichols from the University of Melbourne. I share David’s interest in urban spaces, the power of narrative, and the history of peripheral nation-states, and we had a hearty dicussion.

We talked mostly about Helsinki in Finnish literature, on the basis of my book “Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature”, still available as a freely downloadable e-book here. Thanks to David and the Podcast for having me!


Towards a narrative typology of urban planning narratives for, in and of planning

Out now!

“Towards a narrative typology of urban planning narratives for, in and of planning in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki”

Published online first by Palgrave’s Urban Design International.

The article is part of a series of articles on narrative in the context of planning – more here.


Urban planning and theory have witnessed an increasing interest in narratives. There remain, however, diverging notions of what is meant with narratives, and of their function and use. This article provides a taxonomy of narratives in the context of planning, illustrated by the redevelopment of Jätkäsaari, Helsinki. Three distinct types of narrative can be identified in the context of urban planning: narratives for, in and of planning. This paper argues that a narrative typology of urban planning that draws on concepts from narrative theory could bring new insights into the discursive urban practices that have appearing during past decades.


urban planning /waterfront development / Helsinki / urban form / narrative

Presenting “Plotting Possible Futures” at the seminar “Strategic narratives: Framing urban futures”

Participating 14.10. in the SCENSLECO autumn Seminar
“Strategic narratives: Framing urban futures”
13. & 14.10.2016, Helsinki.

I will be presenting a paper entitled “Plotting Possible Futures: Narratives of the Urban Waterfront in Literary Fiction and Planning Documents” – within the context of my current research on narratives of the urban waterfront in crisis.

Excited to have this opportunity to engage with researchers from planning and policy theory, and bring my expertise in urban narratives, narrated experiences of the city, planning storylines, and literary urban studies to this interdisciplinary audience.

Very much looking forward to meet,  amongst others, Kristian Olesen, Kristi Grisakov, Louis Albrechts, Raine Mäntysalo.



“Whose City?” / “Kaupunki- kenen ehdoilla?”

I’ll participate on Friday 9.9. in the panel discussion “Kaupunki – kenen ehdoilla” / “The City – on whose terms?”, organized by the Finnish weekly “Image”, and as part of the Helsinki design week. I’ll be joined by deputy mayor Anni Sinnemäki, Pauliina Seppälä and moderator Niklas Thesslund.

The discussion will take place at the iconic “Three smiths” statue, quite fittingly within a temporarily constructed futuristic dome, starting from 17.30.

kenen ehdoilla

Pressing issues oa: what kind of city do we want for Helsinki, and on whose terms? All relating to my current research on narrative planning.

Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature – now available as open access publication

Happy to announce that my book Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature (2014) is being re-published as a handsome open-access publication, available here.

It is still the only scholarly monograph that examines experiences of Helsinki in Finnish-written literature.

Ameel, Lieven 2014: Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature. Urban Experiences in Finnish Prose Fiction 1890-1940. Helsinki: SKS. 241 pages.


Reviews of Helsinki in Early Twentieth-Century Literature (2014):

“… it is a great merit of Ameel’s study that it shows how Finnish prose is a part of the modern Nordic and European literature of the metropolis, without omitting its characteristic traits. The reader gets a broad insight into a multi-layered and intriguing thematic. Ameel’s book will surely be a starting point for much new research.” (Judith Meurer-Bongardt in Finsk Tidskrift 2015/3-4)

“Ameel combines methods from different research traditions and builds a complex picture of Helsinki’s literature in the early 20th century. He draws, amongst others, on urban studies, urban literary studies and genre studies. This multidisciplinary approach could also be used to examine other literary cities, and Ameel’s work inspires to investigate how, for example, Tampere, Oulu and Kuopio are rendered in literature, or how descriptions of Helsinki in the late twentieth and twenty-first century differ from earlier ones. One of the merits of the study is its stylistic and linguistic clarity and subtlety, which is why this study will hopefully find readers also from outside literary research. (Hanna Samola in Avain 2015/2)

New publication: DATUTOP 34 / Re-City. Future City – Combining disciplines

The new DATUTOP (issue 34) has been published under the title “Re-City. Future City – combining disciplines”. The Datutop series was founded in 1982 at the School of Architecture at Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland. The central themes of the Datutop publications are architectural theory and urban planning theory. The latest volume is in part based on last year’s Re-City conference. The publication is open-access:

DATUTOP 34 also features my latest article “Emplotting urban regeneration: Narrative strategies in the case of Kalasatama, Helsinki”, part of my ongoing research of narratives in urban planning. Abstract below:

Ameel, Lieven 2016: “Emplotting urban regeneration: Narrative strategies in the case of Kalasatama, Helsinki.” DATUTOP 34. Re-City. Future City – combining disciplines. 222-240. 19 pages.


Recent decades have seen an increasing interest in the narrative and rhetorical structure of urban planning. Urban districts take shape based on words as much as on concrete. Narrative elements such as rhetorical figures, storylines and plot structures are relevant not only for the way in which a particular planned area is presented to the general public or framed within local policy discourse, but also for the way in which larger visions of an urban future translate into concrete developments within the built environment.

This paper examines the planning of Kalasatama (Helsinki), an ongoing case of urban regeneration, by applying methods and concepts from narrative and literary theory to the analysis of planning documents, marketing, and media narratives. A key concern is the manner in which planning documents “emplot” a new area, both literally singling out an area within a geographical setting, and framing the development within a “plot”, a story with a specific dynamics and morality. Character, plot and metaphor will constitute the key narrative concepts. This paper draws on the burgeoning field of narrative planning theory, with the specific aim to make concepts from narrative and literary theory more compatible with existing theoretical frameworks from planning theory.

Keywords: emplotmemt, Kalasatama, narrative, urban planning


Climate fiction & urban utopias/dystopias

Interesting article by Astrid Bracke here concerning British climate fiction. To what extent are moral or ethical questions involved in contemporary climate fiction? This struck me as a particularly timely post, since I’m just today finalizing abstracts on crisis narratives of the waterfront in Northern American, Finnish and Dutch/Flemish contemporary fiction. What do such fictional narratives teach us – if anything at all? At least, they tend to provide narrative structures for couching our uneasiness about possible (and possibly undesirable) futures.

New Publication out: “Changing Helsinki?”

The recent book fair in Helsinki saw the publication of an exciting book about culture, planning, architecture and community in changing Helsinki. Proud to be part of the group of outstanding authors, who provide eleven insights into how Helsinki is being transformed at the moment, and what new directions could be taken in the future. Great job of the editors Eeva and Cindy, and the team at Nemo, who have created a beautiful book in three languages (Finnish, English, Swedish).

My own contribution considers the use of narratives in the planning of Jätkäsaari, Helsinki.


What is Helsinki’s future and are there alternatives?

This book is written by professionals who love Helsinki. Each writer has chosen an element of the city that has inspired delight, disgust, sorrow or enthusiasm. The book looks not only at the pasts of the Finnish capital but at what its future might be.

Could vacant office space be transformed into homes? Does building within city limits have to mean clearing away its forests? What might the authorities learn from the residents who have occupied buildings, set up meeting places and worked as volunteers to protect cherished built heritage? What is it that is unique about Helsinki?”

NORNA 46 & place names as indicators of meaning in Helsinki novels

Today (22.10.2015) at NORNAs 46th symposium “Namn och identitet” (University of Tampere), Terhi Ainiala presents our joint research on place names as indicators of meaning in Helsinki novels. Research on the intersection between toponyms, presencing place, literary geography, and onomastics.

Ainiala Terhi & Ameel Lieven: Ortnamn som indikatorer för ortens anda: namn i Helsingfors-romaner. NORNA:s 46:e symposium: Namn och identitet 22.10.2015. Tampere.