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Roofing and thawing the sub-Arctic city

Towards the conceptualisation of wellbeing through urban surfaces


An increasing amount of sub-Arctic population is living in cities and settlements. Despite the urbanisation, seasonality still affects the rhythm of life and willingness to spend time outside of home, which, in turn, affects health and wellbeing of the population. In addition to built artefacts, the materiality of sub-Arctic urban environment consists largely of changing weather conditions and seasonality, including phenomena such as thawing, freezing, snow, ice and slush, which have diverse effects on humans using the urban spaces, yet are not often part of conceptualisations of urban space that are formed in southern climates. In this paper, the relationship between sub-Arctic urban form, climate and users of the urban realm is critically re-evaluated using the concept of surface. Based on a review of the literature, the proposed approach gives agency not only to the weather, but also to different types of people inhabiting the urban space. This paper argues that the proposed approach takes better into account the varied nature of sub-Arctic urban spaces and their affordances as an entity: from privatised, roofed and weather-neutralised shopping centres and arcades to sledding hills, skating rinks and other winter-related spaces. This kind of conceptualisation could be beneficial when developing soft mobility plans for northern regions. Encouraging physical activity has direct effects on the physiological health of the population, but in addition to that, the approach attempts to acknowledge personal control of different user groups as a central aspect of wellbeing, which makes the viewpoint more holistic.

Pages:45 to 62
Section: Society
How to Cite
Oikarinen, E. (2020) “Roofing and thawing the sub-Arctic city”, The Journal of Public Space, 5(2), pp. 45-62. doi:

Author Biography

University of Oulu
Finland Finland

Essi Oikarinen is a PhD student in urban design researching the intersections between weather events, urban everyday life and architectural design process, with a focus on built environments in sub-Arctic and Arctic climate zones.


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