What are we to do with our new affluence?

The making of modern-day people in postwar Finland  –  a short introduction to a project studying making a model city
Mika Pantzer, Academy of Finland & National Consumer Research Centre
My project focuses, in particular, on the ways the concepts of proper consumption and proper consumers were defined in post-war Finland. One particular project deals with building a model city, Garden City Tapiola, near Helsinki. The  case demonstrates how the very specific historical circumstances – material poverty combined with reformist ideals of functional architecture – conditioned a new understanding of citizens’ wellbeing. Relatively new professions like home economists and sociologists had an essential role on the converging developments that defined proper consumption. Somewhat interestingly, the discursive frames of the different professions involved in the building project were converging into and by means of fairly ambiguous concepts such as ‘biological function’, ‘catching up’, and ‘neighborhood unit’. A closer look behind these terms reveals a seemingly shared view of the necessity of social progress.
The best models from abroad were adopted to build Tapiola. At least this is the story as told by the early developers themselves. Engineering experts from Sweden, for example, were hired from the early 1950s onwards to design (or mainly to supervise) the novel centralised electric power and heating systems, inspect the Finnish plans and calculate prognoses for future heating systems. Tapiola, thus, was modeled on examples from Sweden in the first place (housing design, collective spaces, electrical and heating systems), but best practices were additionally sought from other countries: Denmark (garden design, landscaping), Great Britain (new suburbs along the garden city ideology, New Town movement), and the United States (roads for light traffic, schooling system based on youth activity). But when Tapiola was ’exported’ into the wider world, the origin of such ideas was obscured; for example, the Swedish techno-bureaucratic approach to building soon began to be seen as an outright antithesis of Tapiola’s development. 
We have also started ‘oral histories project’ aiming to collect data from residents living in Tapiola in the 1960s. So far, the project has been based on extensive archive work. In the reading process a practice-based approach was used as a sensitizing framework. Thus, in contrast to architecture research, the focus was not been on individual buildings or town plans, nor the formation of new practices in terms of contextual variables (institutions, preferences, etc.). Instead, like many other practice researchers, the project emphasises the intertwinedness of actions, ideas, and material objects, and examines how various elements of the practices of the good life were introduced into Tapiola by different building and housing experts in a situation of postwar material scarcity. The links between different components of practices – planning philosophies, material objects, buildings, and people – create a special dynamics that either helps to renew a practice or alternatively leads to its breakdown. Hence, it could well be expected that a ‘live community’ like a garden city might merge certain material resources and ways of doing and thinking into a distinctive whole: a model society. At least this is what the fathers of Tapiola had in mind when they spoke about optimal positioning of services, daily routes and routines.

Some findings
Tapiola’s developers were eager to copy models that had proven successful elsewhere. Models and ideas ‘traveled’ as elements of larger ideological complexes developed by Mumford and other thinkers of the 20th century, and found their own shape and place of attachment in the perhaps unexpected contexts of post-war Finland.  What had been a concern over the quantity of population (1930s’ population crisis) turned into a concern over its quality (1950s’ and 1960s’ human capital discourse). At the start, Tapiola’s building process was shadowed by thoughts evoked by the war economy as well as by worries over the detrimental effects of cities on the masses. This fits in well with what was known to happen elsewhere in Europe. In retrospect, the emerging rhetoric emphasizing the active participation of citizens, and young people in particular, may seem to have been highly calculated, having subsequently fanned the growth of the national economy. But in fact the wishes, interests, and plans of the first developers of the area were anything but an emphasis on an active, urban consumerist lifestyle.
Perspectives widened and deepened as the (conceptual and material) work progressed in Tapiola. On one hand, the builders’ perspective broadened from individual houses to optimizing entire blocks and service complexes of blocks (shops, schools, cultural services). On the other hand, the developers turned their attention more toward individual residents and their everyday life. They emphasised the need to produce citizens who are more cultivated, not so much in self-centered economic terms but in moral terms, in the interest of the entire nation. What was required, and to some extent achieved, was not just quantitative growth of population but also qualitative developments within individuals.
Indeed, one of the interesting paradoxes of Tapiola is how the anti-urbanism and anti-consumerism of the originators of the model city, led to a modern, urban-like consumer society. Right after the Second World War Finland was a poor agrarian nation by European standards, and anti-consumerism and anti-urbanism were the nationally established, dominant frames. The prevailing critical thinking on urbanism and consumerism transformed along with the building of this particular area. In emphasizing unintended consequences, Tapiola case complicates the conventional chronologies of tradition/modernity/late modernity that underpin much research of on consumer cultures. The case also points to the limitations of a simple binary between the local and global actors.