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The Kurvi urban area in Kallio was transformed on Saturday afternoon, as long sections of both Hämeentie and Helsinginkatu were closed down to motorised traffic, bringing to life the fifth inception of Kallio-liike’s (Kallio Initiative) annual block party. Seven outdoor stages were complimented with extra performances (dance, circus, martial arts), food stalls, street art and poetry as according to the police estimates, about 10,000 people navigated the free cultural array during the day.
Kallio Block Party is the brainchild of the independent and voracious Kallio-liike, a non-profit, politically non-aligned volunteer group with a passion for the Kallio community, a bohemian neighbourhood in Helsinki’s centre district. They are at the vanguard of what they consider the “romanticised old working-class district not only known for its population of students, bohemians and beer-fond denizens, but also increasingly identified as an abode of families with young children at home and of middle-class IT workers”. Their message is clear—there’s room for everyone in Kallio.
Kallio-liike aims to promote tolerance to ‘disruptions’ in the neighbourhood, namely working towards advocating and maintaining the flourishing music, dance, street art, street festivals, as well as the simple pleasure of bars and terraces. Additionally, they have goals to fortify and improve social welfare: Kallio-liike was initially formed in defence of the Hursti breadline (Hurstin leipäjono), which successfully fought for its continuation in the face of the Kallio Society (Kallio-seura, which influences Helsinki’s official decision-making in Kallio). As evidenced on their website: “The city’s bread lines have to be abolished not by relocating them out of sight and mind, but through improving social welfare.”
Through understanding Kallio-liike’s origins and motives, it’s not hard to see the block party as the annual event that embodies the vibrant neighbourhood, and the spirit of solidarity they strive towards. As a non-profit event, the block party relies on volunteers (about 300 this year) and support from the outside, whilst working closely with Helsinki City. When sharing this small slice of the city with thousands of others, there is the simple joy of liberty in wandering in the middle of the road, across tram lines, and finding a seat in a place where traffic usually prevents it.
The organisational effort and sheer manpower required, including consulting the city, police, and other necessary auxiliary services, is truly staggering. When surrounded by a sea of happy people enjoying the community spirit, it’s easy to forget the immense workload this type of event demands.
With all the entertainment, and a sprawling demographic that encourages the whole city to participate, it’s understandable that the event draws crowds by the thousands. It’s a fitting testament to Helsinki’s encouragement of community events, its beauty as a city to live in, the vibrant, inclusive, and entertaining community of Kallio, and the difference its volunteer groups can make for all citizens.