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Healthy lifestyle trends increase the popularity of local nature and domestic travel: Low-threshold outdoor recreation paths developed for all ages in Sipoo

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Finland was overtaken by an outdoor recreation and well-being boom. The pandemic increased people’s interest to spend their free time amidst nature, which has strengthened their relationship with urban nature. Nature is an important attraction in the steadily growing municipality of Sipoo.

Sweco’s Development Manager of Strategic Land Use Kimmo Vähäjylkkä believes that people’s sudden passion to spend time in nature is a result of a longer well-being trend. “It has increased the popularity of national parks, for instance. People want to experience e.g. the picturesque piles of snow in Riisitunturi National Park that they have seen on social media.”

Although exercising has become more digital in the modern world, many people still want to be fully offline when exploring nature. Awareness of nature’s role in human well-being is also reflected in trendy new sports, such as trail running and mountain biking. “Smaller, more casual events like Tahko MTB have emerged as an alternative for large-scale orienteering and marathon races. At these events, challenging and enjoying oneself is more important than the result of the race,” explains Sweco’s Route Planning Specialist Lauri Kontkanen. “More and more people are counting smiles, not miles.”

The COVID-19 travel restrictions, increase in distance working and limited access to indoor recreational facilities have led to higher demand for nature trails and changed people’s requirements for recreational activities. “Especially the young generation wants to visit nature sites that provide comprehensive services from showers to food and attractions,” says Vähäjylkkä. “It is clear that people’s relationship with urban nature has become stronger.”

The pandemic quintupled the number of people spending a lot of time in nature in Sipoo

Many municipalities are busily developing recreation trails and areas to satisfy the increased demand. “For example, we produced a report for the expansion of Nuuksio National Park, are conceptualising a low-threshold well-being park in Rokua and developing new leading concepts for Ylläs,” says Vähäjylkkä.

Last autumn, Sweco reviewed basic nature routes in four municipalities: Sipoo, Tuusula, Kerava and Järvenpää. Now, strategic route planning is continued in Sipoo. “Our goal is to build easy-to-navigate nature routes that continue from one urban area to another and even across the borders of the municipality to Sipoonkorpi National Park.”

According to Athletics Director Piritta Forsell, the popularity of leisure trails blew up in spring 2020 as a result of the pandemic. “According to the user counter of our workout stairs, there were more than 600,000 users, which was five times more than the usual user count. During the most popular months, approximately 70,000 people visited the trail.”

Although rapidly growing Sipoo is known as the green oasis of the metropolitan area, people want nature to be even closer to their residential area. “Local nature has always been one of our main attractions,” says Suvi Kaski, General Planning Manager at Sipoo. Easy-to-access green spaces play a key role in all land use plans, and the pandemic only increased the amount of feedback received championing these places. “The residents of the municipality want spacious green zones that begin at their own front door.”

Interaction with the end users of green spaces and destinations close to home is prominent in the planning of these sites. Hundreds of people responded to a development need survey carried out in Sipoo and representatives of the municipality, Metsähallitus, entrepreneurs and sports clubs were interviewed. “The next step is to pinpoint the most important routes and visit them,” Kontkanen says.

At the same time, the municipalities’ communication channels will be updated – from digital map services to on-site signposts. “That is not an easy task in a municipality whose population increases by hundreds of new residents every year,” remarks Forsell. Updating the maps is still worth the effort. “Map services make recreation areas more accessible and make planning and land use planning easier.”

The final step is to prepare a detailed action plan and cost estimate for the development of recreation routes. The main priority is to give the residents of Sipoo access to these new services as fast as possible and produce services that everyone can enjoy, e.g. building new duckboards in the Pilvijärvi conservation area or campfire sites on the islands off Sipoo.

Many well-being trends are noticeable in European cities. Read more about urban health and well-being trends on our Urban Insight page >>