The belle of the ball

I was looking up something else, how cities and landscapes are connected in Finland, but I ended up at Finlex Data Bank, going through various Acts and Decrees. I believe I was browsing the website of the National Bureau of Antiquities, a fancy title if you ask me, albeit less so in Finnish. The point was to examine what they have to say about landscapes of urban areas. While reading some document, I ended up elsewhere, examining pieces of legislation. Anyway, I stumbled upon the ‘Nature Conservation Act’ (1096/1996). Interestingly, it is stated in the official unofficial translation of the Act that one of the aims of the Act is (1 §):

“[To] conserve the beauty and scenic values of nature[.]”

I say official unofficial because it’s contained in the same Data Bank or as I would call it, database. Anyway, some liberties have been taken in the translation as the original as it is stated that (1 §):

“[Tavoitteena on] luonnonkauneuden ja maisema-arvojen vaaliminen[.]”

Now, if you are not familiar enough with Finnish, well, then you are out of luck here. The key word in Finnish is ‘maisema’ translating simply as ‘landscape’. To be honest, the translation is not actually inaccurate. It’s rather that, as Brian Massumi puts it so nicely in ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia’: “Translation is repetition with a difference.” The difference here is that in that translation nature is attributed with beauty and scenic value, whereas the beauty of nature is considered alongside the landscape values. Anyway, moving on to the following section in the translation, the scope of application is addressed (2 §):

“This Act shall apply to nature and landscape conservation and management[.]”

There is little difference between the translation and the valid Finnish original (2 §):

“Tätä lakia sovelletaan luonnon ja maiseman suojeluun ja hoitoon.”

Indeed, almost word to word the same with next to no difference between the two. It is further stated that:

“Nature conservation planning and landscape conservation provided for under this Act shall take into account financial, social and cultural considerations, and characteristic local and regional features.”

Again, the translation is very true to the original. For the sake of brevity, let’s not quote all the parts in both languages. I’ll take up the differences regarding the use of the word ‘maisema’ and whatever it is translated to as I move on. In section six it is stated that (6 §):

“The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for the overall guidance and supervision of nature and landscape conservation.”

In a previous essay I took up to investigate a landscape management report. That was commissioned by the ministry in question. As it falls within their jurisdiction. It is added in the same section that (6 §):

“It is the responsibility of the centre for economic development, transport and the environment to promote and supervise nature and landscape conservation within its jurisdiction.”

As well as (6 §) that:

“It is the responsibility of the local authority to promote nature and landscape conservation within its jurisdiction.”

Okay, so, so far it’s been established who’s gig it is to promote and supervise landscape conservation. The next time the word landscape appears is in section 13. Addressing protection provisions, it is stated that (13 §):

“The following is thus prohibited in [a national park or strict nature reserve]: … any other action which may have a detrimental impact on the natural conditions and the landscape, or on the preservation of fauna and flora.”

Moving on to section 23, it is stated that (23 §):

“If a single tree, group of trees, erratic boulder or other corresponding natural formation is deemed worthy of special conservation because of its beauty, rarity, scenic value, scientific interest or other corresponding reasons, it can be designated a protected natural monument.”

As noted earlier, landscape is conflated with scenic value in this translation. The Finnish original uses the wording ‘maisemallisen merkityksen’, which could also be translated as ‘landscape value’. The next instance is in section 25, where it is stated that (25 §):

“For the purpose of nature and landscape conservation, a contract can be concluded between the centre for economic development, transport and the environment and the landowner on the temporary protection, either complete or partial, of land referred to in section10, paragraph 2. The term of the contract is not to exceed 20 years.”

Those who want to look up what’s in section, paragraph 2, feel free to do so. Section 29 contains the next instance of the word. It is stated in that section that deals with protected habitat types that (29 §):

“It is prohibited to alter any of the following natural habitat types or comparable habitats in such a way as to jeopardise the preservation of the characteristic features of the area in question: … prominent single trees or groups of trees in an open landscape.”

Moving on, landing a chapter further into the act. Chapter five is titled as ‘Landscape conservation’. In that chapter, the first section, section 32 is titled as ‘Landscape conservation area’. It is elaborated as (32 §):

“A landscape conservation area can be established in order to preserve and manage a natural or cultural landscape of outstanding beauty, historical interest or other special value.”

It is followed by a section on the ‘Establishment of a landscape conservation area’. It is stated that (33 §):

“The Ministry of the Environment shall decide on the establishment and prospective uses of a landscape conservation area of national interest. In cases where the landscape conservation area does not hold national interest, the matter shall be decided by the centre for economic development, transport and the environment on submission of the regional council.”

The following section, section 34 deals with the ‘Provisions on landscape conservation areas’. It is stated that (34 §):

“Provisions necessary for preserving the characteristic features of a landscape conservation area can be written into the decision establishing the area. These provisions are not, however, to constitute a significant inconvenience to the property owner.”

It is added in the following paragraphs in the same section that (34 §):

“In individual cases, the centre for economic development, transport and the environment can grant derogations from the prohibitions in force in a given landscape conservation area.”

And (34 §):

“Provisions within the building legislation concerning a landscape conservation area shall not apply to sites where there is a town plan or legally valid master plan in force.”

As stated earlier on in the act, the ministry is the top authority on this, followed by the centers for economic development, transport and the environment and the regional authorities. In this section it is pointed out that towns and other similar areas with a plan in force. There is a reference to changes made to the building legislation. It is not referenced to this act, but the specific act concerning buildings is the ‘Land Use and Building Act’ (132/1999). I’ll see to that after the nature conservation part. Anyway, in this part it is indicated that populated built areas are excluded from these conservation provisions.

Section 35 deals with ‘Lifting a landscape protection order’. It is stated that (35 §):

“What is provided in section33 concerning the establishment of a landscape conservation area shall apply, as appropriate, to the lifting of a landscape protection order or any other decision altering its status.”

And (35 §):

“A landscape protection order can be lifted or derogations granted if the scenic value of the landscape has declined substantially or its protection prevents the implementation of a project or plan of major public interest.”

It’s not surprising that a protection order can be lifted, I mean duh, but the reasoning is interesting. If the scenic value, or landscape value as it could also be translated to, declines substantially then it’s ok to scrap it. Also, if whatever it contradicts with is too big a deal, then it can also be scrapped. It’s like saying, a landscape area ought to be protected, but if we fail at it or if we like something else then whatever.

The rest of the instances in the act (62, 70 §) deal with appeals and exemption from payment, so this is all there is to the use of word in the act. The areas mentioned in the act I already covered in the previous essay, so that’s not worth getting further into either. Those interested in the rural areas can have a look at that essay instead. Anyway, it was pointed out that populated built areas, namely towns and cities are excluded from these areas and handled separately. So, what about it then. Let’s have a look at the ‘Land Use and Building Act’ (132/1999). Section 28 deals with the ‘Required content of the regional plan’. In it is indicated that (28 §):

“Nature conservation programmes and decisions referred to in sections 7 and 77, and designation decisions concerning landscape conservation areas referred to in section 32 of the Nature Conservation Act (1096/1996) must be used as a guideline in drawing up the plan.”

I’m using another official unofficial translation here, in which it is indicated that what I just covered needs to be taken into account. That said, it must now be noted that it only applies if it applies, as noted earlier on with regards to the populated built areas. If it does apply, then it does. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. Anyway, in the same section it is specified that (28 §):

“In planning, special attention shall be paid to the following: … protection of landscape, natural values, and cultural heritage[.]”

Dealing with ‘Regulations issued in a regional plan’, it is added in section 30 that (30 §):

“When an area requires protection due to its landscape, natural values, built environment, cultural and historical values or special environmental values, the necessary regulations for this purpose may be given in the regional plan (protection regulations).”

For the Finns, it’s worth clarifying that the regional plan is ‘maakuntakaava’ or, more interestingly, ‘landskapsplan’ which includes the word in it. Jumping ahead to the municipal level, which, in my experience, is actually the level most familiar to people, section 39 deals with the ‘Required content of the local master plan’, which, for the Finns is ‘yleiskaava’ or ‘generalplan’. In this section it is stated that in addition to taking into account the regional plan (39 §):

“The following must be taken into account when a local master plan is drafted: … protection of the built environment, landscape and natural values[.]”

For the Finns, this is the Still dealing with the local master plan, dealing with ‘Regulations issued in a local master plan’, it is added in section 41 that (41 §):

“When an area or building requires protection due to its landscape, natural values, built environment, cultural and historical values or other special environmental values, the necessary regulations for this purpose may be issued in the local master plan (protection regulations).”

In section 43, dealing with ‘Restrictions on building and actions’, it is indicated that (43 §):

“It may also be stipulated in the local master plan that action altering the landscape may not be taken without the permit referred to in section 128 (restriction on action).”

Jumping to section 128 then, to clarify this, a ‘Permit for landscape work’ is required. It is stated that (128 §):

“Earth works, tree-felling or corresponding action altering the landscape may not be carried out without a permit (restriction on action) in areas: … covered by a local detailed plan … covered by a local master plan, if the plan so stipulates; nor … where a building prohibition as referred to in section 53 is in force for the purpose of drawing up a local detailed plan, or where it has been so order for the purpose of drawing up or amending a local master plan.”

Conversely, it is added in the same section (128 §) that meeting what is included in the plans is just fine, same with actions that only have a minor impact, whatever that means. It is also noted that some work on landscapes may require another permit, if it happens to fall under the Extractable Land Resources Act (555/1981). It seems that there is no official unofficial translation, but in summary in that act it is indicated that (3, 6 §) land resources must not be extracted if it causes detriment to the beauty of the landscape, including townscape, and that any damages to nature and landscape will remain limited or mitigated. Back to where I was before this detour, the next instance is in section 50 of the ‘Land Use and Building Act’ (132/1999). The section is in chapter seven, dealing with the local detailed plan, a plan more detailed than the local master plan. For the Finns, this is ‘asemakaava’ or ‘detaljplan’. In this section it is indicated that (50 §):

“The local detailed plan is drawn up for the purpose of detailed organization of land use, building and development, with the aim of designating areas necessary for different purposes and of steering building and other land use, as required by local conditions, townscape and landscape, good building practice, promoting the use of existing building stock and other steering goals of the plan.”

In addition, the same prohibitions apply on this level as on the local master plan (53 §):

“The local authority may impose a building prohibition in an area concerning which a local detailed plan is being drafted or amended. Alteration of the landscape in areas where building is prohibited is subject to permit as laid down in section 128 (restriction on action).”

Here with the reference to another section that was just covered. In section 57, dealing with ‘Regulations issued in the local detailed plan’, it is stated that (57 §):

“When an area or building requires protection due to its landscape, natural values, built environment, cultural and historical values or other special environmental values, the necessary regulations for this purpose may be issued in the local detailed plan (protection regulations). The protection regulations must treat landowners reasonably.”

Moving on to chapter nine then, to … national urban parks. In section 68 on ‘National urban park’, it is stated that (68 §):

“A national urban park may be established to protect and maintain the beauty of the cultural or natural landscape, historical characteristics or related values concerning the townscaping, social, recreational or other special values of an area in an urban environment.”

And (68 §):

“Areas designated in a plan referred to in this Act as parks, recreation or conservation areas, or areas of outstanding landscape value, or marked out for some other use appropriate for the purpose of national urban parks, may be designated to form a part of a national urban park.”

Moving on to … other shores, in chapter 10, in section 72 on ‘Need for planning in shore areas’ it is stated that (72 §):

“Buildings may not be constructed in shore zones in the shore area of the sea or of a body of water without a local detailed plan or a legally binding local master plan which contains special provisions concerning use of the local master plan or a part thereof as the basis for granting a building permit.”

It is then specified that (72 §):

“After having heard the regional environment centre, a local authority may designate areas in the building ordinance where the restriction laid down in paragraph 1 is not in force because no building activity is anticipated in the area due to its location and the area has no special natural or landscape values or is not needed for recreational use. The maximum term of such a building-ordinance regulation is six years at a time, though not continuing if the conditions from which the regulation derives change and the preconditions for the regulation no longer exist.”

There is also a special provision, a waiver of sorts, for areas acquired by land owners before 1997, but it doesn’t alter the content particularly so let’s not get tangled into that. Landscape is mentioned though. Anyway, in the next section on ‘Special requirements regarding local master plans and local detailed plans which concern holiday homes in shore areas’ it is added that (73 §):

“When a local master plan or a local detailed plan (detailed shore plan) is drawn up for the principal purpose of arranging for holiday homes in a shore area, care must be taken to ensure that, in addition to what is otherwise provided concerning local master plans and local detailed plans: … the planned building and other land use conforms with the shore landscape and the rest of the environment … nature conservation, landscape values, recreational needs, water protection, the provision of water supply, and the characteristics of the body of water, the terrain and nature are also taken into account otherwise[.]”

Section 10 also addresses wind turbines. It is noted (73 b §) that when placing them somewhere, where it is, their placement and other land use must conform to the landscape and the environment. This section is not in the translation, probably because it is a bit dated. Moving on to other things, in section 89 on ‘Moving service conduits, equipment and structures’ it is stated that (89 §):

“If a service conduit, piece of equipment or a structure located in a public area hinder the implementation of the local detailed plan or street management, or are not suitable for the landscape or townscape, the owner or titleholder of the service conduit, piece of equipment or structure is obliged to move it to a location approved by the local authority.”

Moving on to buildings in chapter 17, it is stated in section 117 on ‘Requirements concerning construction’ that (117 §):

“A building must fit into the built environment and landscape, and must fulfil the requirements of beauty and proportion.”

Skipping a host of sections that mention landscape, namely with regards to permit requirements that reiterate what has been stated so far, the next instance in section 169 has to with ‘Outside storage’. It is indicated that (169 §):

“Outside storage must be organized so that landscape visible from a road or other public thoroughfare or area is not damaged or the surrounding habitation disturbed.”

This is the last instance before the instances have to do with appeals. I guess it’s time to sum things up. As I pointed out in the initial paragraph, I intended to have a closer look at urban areas as a previous only covered the rural areas, but then I ended up being referred to these acts as the primary documents dealing with populated urban areas. I think this, while a bit drab in terms of the content, is still a worthwhile detour. It’s surprising how many times and in how many contexts the word landscape pops up in these acts. You need to take it into account almost, well, whenever you want to change anything … out there. No that a lack of a clear cut definition in a piece of legislation is somehow out of the ordinary, more of the opposite, but I still find it very striking that there is just … this assumption that everyone knows what landscape is, what its value or beauty is, why it’s valuable or beautiful etc. I already covered the definition and what it entails in the rural context, but I have yet to do that in an urban context. For the sake of clarity, I’ll do that in another essay. This will suffice for now, at least it might help those who interested in urban landscapes, including urban linguistic landscapes, in the Finnish context. It should help you to find what discourses should be contained in what types of plans, serving as a sort of a starting point, as well as general background knowledge. There might be other acts (and decrees) as well that should be taken into account, but these seem to be the ones dealing with urban areas.

A day later from publishing this, I ran into what I guess translated to a 2016 bachelor’s thesis that covers parts of this essay: ‘Maiseman huomioiminen maankäytön suunnittelussa: Haastattelututkimus seitsemässä kaupungissa’ (Recognition of landscape in the planning of land use: Interview study in seven cities) by Taru Lahdenperä. It might be of interest to some, hence the addition here.


  • Lahdenperä, T. (2016). Maiseman huomioiminen maankäytön suunnittelussa: Haastattelututkimus seitsemässä kaupungissa. Lahti, Finland: Lahti University of Applied Sciences.
  • Massumi, B. (1992). A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

References (legislation / preparatory documents / reports)

  • Luonnonsuojelulaki (Nature Conservation Act) (1096/1996).
  • Maankäyttö ja rakennuslaki (Land Use and Building Act) (132/1999).