The tram is part and parcel of everyday life in Finland in much the same way as gastronomy is. It is a good reason to involve the tram in Finland in every possible sense. A quintessential Helsinki tram experience takes you past the city’s palatial monuments.
The living pace in Singapore is fast, and we demand high speed in transportation too. The slow going tram in Finland, by comparison, is like a gentleman walking nobly on the street and living out his own unique lifestyle. The tram came into service on dating back to hundred years ago, and is one of the earliest forms of public transport in Finland. Getting around Helsinki on tram is an interesting experience as you can observe and photograph the lives of people in a relaxing way without needing to worry about the snow, sun or rain. Most tram passengers are not rushing for time. Instead they may just want to take a rest and think during the ride.
In trams, the history is visible in the present. The tram simply looks very different from the other vehicles in the city and it is often pretty old-fashioned, even the latest versions of it. More importantly, surprisingly old models are in active use. In Helsinki, the oldest tramcars are actually older than many parts of the city.
Helsinki’s trams are somewhat different from those of Prague. In Helsinki, many say that the city proper ends where the tram lines end, and some even decide where to live on the basis of whether it can be reached by the tram or not. Thus, the tram can be seen as a central epitome of urbanity, even more so than the subway, which often reaches the suburbs, but quite unlike, say, the car. For many, this sort of urbanity of a certain form of transportation is undoubtedly an advantage because it can be used as a means to strengthen their own urban identity.
If a city has trams, there is a good chance that it is a city that wishes to provide means of transportation that are urban, public, social, restrictive but reliable, pleasing to the senses, environmentally-friendly, and history-conscious. Most of these qualities are, to my mind, worth encouraging, and it is easy to see that they could – and should – be combined with other aspects of the city as well, not only with its transportation system. They should characterise the city at large and, of course, they could be promoted by other means than by the tram alone. I say ‘should’ because, to my mind, this would help to make the city a good place to live, work and visit. Its opposite would be a city which values extreme individuality and freedom in transportation and elsewhere. Everyone can imagine where that leads.
All this means that the tram directs and limits the experience of the city in its own way, quite like other ways of moving do, but it also makes some experiences possible that cannot be had in any other way. Thus, this reminds us of the simple fact that every solution concerning a city leads to some limitations but also to some possibilities. It is a matter of planning to try to see where different solutions lead, although all the planning in the world cannot foresee everything.