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Place:
Valkeakoski
Region:
Pirkanmaa
Country:
Finland
Founded:
As a town in 1923
Reformed as a city in 1963
Surface area:
372 km2, landmass 273 km2
Population:
20424, change -0,3% (2001), or 75 / km2
Job distribution:
Industry: 46,9%
Services: 25,7%
Other: 27,4%

This is the place I was born in. Although I study (and, for the time being, work) and have an apartment in nearby Tampere, it can be said that I live in Valkeakoski.

History

The Sääksmäki-Valkeakoski area has been settled since ancient times. The first written accounts of settlements are from the 1340's, and the name "Walkiakoski" can be found in some 15th century documents.

Valkeakoski is located between the lakes Mallasvesi and Vanajavesi, at the junction of two very important waterways: systems of rivers and lakes that could be -- and were, by the vikings for example, when trying to raid fur stores -- navigated with light cargo vessels, allowing one to sail all the way from the Gulf of Botnia to the Gulf of Finland. The location made Valkeakoski a thriving mill town; farmers came from far off by boat to mill their grain.

Heavy industry was seen as a way to great prosperity, and so a channel was built between the two lakes in 1869. Soon after, a wood grindery and paper mill were founded, and the industrial boom started. In 1880 the first Finnish chemical wood pulp factory became operational on those same shores. Valkeakoski was well on its way to becoming a center for industry in central Finland, although the growth was briefly interrupted by the Finnish Civil War of 1918.

In 1923 Valkeakoski split from its parent town Sääksmäki and became a town in its own right. The industry boom continued well into the 70's, and the population multiplied. In 1963 Valkeakoski became a city, and ten years later Sääksmäki was integrated to it. In the 80's the boom times came to an end, but even with the slight decline in population and the shift toward a services-based economy, Valkeakoski remains the economic engine of southern Pirkanmaa.

Culture

The cultural opportunities are impressive for such a small city. We have the Finnish Museum of Soccer, the ancient hill fort site of Rapolanharju, the medieval church of Sääksmäki, a summer music festival week called the Worker's Music Happening, a museum for the works of both the nationally renowned sculptor Emil Wikström and his nephew, the famous caricaturist Kari Suomalainen, and absolutely tons of other opportunities just a short (30 km) drive away in Tampere.

Recreation

Recreational opportunities also abound: beaches, more soccer fields and outdoor basketball courts than you can shake a red card at, nature preserves, city-maintained campfire sites at scenic locations, kilometers of jogging / cross country skiing paths, a small alpine "resort", hundreds of kilometers of backroads for bicycling.. in short, the best the Land of the Thousand Lakes has to offer, in my "backyard".

In the spotlight

Soccer is taken pretty damn seriously around here, what with our multiple finnish championship winning team, Valkeakosken Haka. The nightlife is good for such a small city (20,000 people) and there is a nice variety of bars. Drunks and vagrants are quite visible in the summertime and you might get hassled in some of the seedier bars for no reason. Public transportation is a joke, but there's no place so far that you couldn't either walk or ride a bicycle there.

The ambience

As a small city it doesn't have the "busy" atmosphere of a metropolis like Helsinki (the finnish capital). People are far more likely to just be lounging about. The countryside is never more than a stone's throw away. The biggest industrial complex (UPM-Kymmene's Tervasaari Paper Mill) is not where you'd probably expect: it's smack dab in the center of the city.

Traveling to Valkeakoski

If you would want to come and visit us here, there are some things you need to know: firstly, the basics of the Finnish language would be useful. In the big businesses such as big scandinavian banks you probably could get service in English, but most of the customer service positions are staffed by people aged 40+ whose language skills might not be up to it. Other than that, keep an open mind and remember that if all finns don't immediate engage you in chit chat, it's not because they dislike you -- it's just the way some people are. For a good ice-breaking technique, compliment them on their language skills or ask them about Finland. We like talking about Finland, especially if you tell us how much you like the country ;-)

My personal opinion

I like Valkeakoski because it's just the right size, reasonably quiet, peaceful and scenic. I can step out of my front door, and in a quarter of an hour, be enjoying any of the activity opportunities listed above. It has none of the problems of big cities (except some -- mainly cosmetic -- pollution due to its largely industrial economy). If I want the feel of a bigger city, I just take a half-hour drive to Tampere.

On the downside, lots of closed-minded old people live there, mainly old hardline communists, who seem to oppose every development out of spite. Also, the city center is far too car-oriented.

If you don't mind the small size, or if you really like the out of doors, it's a great place. And if needs must, it's easy to get away from.


Sources:
  • Statistics and history: http://www.valkeakoski.fi
  • Other information: my own writeup at http://www.wisdomsprings.co.uk

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