A new exhibition opened this week in Helsinki City Museum’s main building on Sofianinkatu. Titled Mad about Helsinki, it focuses on favorite places in the city, some well-known and some off-the-beaten-path, as determined through a recent survey of city residents. According to Helsinki City Museum’s website, “The exhibition presents these favorite places in the context of Helsinki’s past, making these beloved locations even more fascinating by giving them historical depth.” An accompanying website organizes the favorite places by category—green spaces, cafes and restaurants, entertainment, landmarks, harbor spots—and invites users not only to comment on the featured places but also post their own favorites. I lost myself in the website, thinking about my own special Helsinki places; then I had to stop because I miss Helsinki too much. I’m indulging myself by recognizing only one personal favorite, pictured above: the amazing view I had from my Porthania balcony, looking out across Fabianinkatu at the yellow dome of the National Library of Finland and beyond to the taller white dome of Helsinki Cathedral, which for four months served as my own personal clock. This view was simultaneously immensely common—two major landmarks known to every city resident—and also intensely rare—few people get to experience these buildings from this perspective.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking a lot with museum colleagues about the need for city museums to be hyper aware of current residents’ experience of their city–what they care about, what they worry about, and what prior knowledge and memories they bring to any interaction with the city museum. These personal connections to the city need to be the starting point for every project that a city museum undertakes. That’s why I’m thrilled to see my colleagues in Helsinki creating an exhibition that puts current Helsinki residents’ sense of place front and center. More of this, please.