MOST Clearing House Best Practices This Best Practice is one of the
Best Practices for Human Settlements
presented in the MOST Clearing House
Best Practices Database.

A City for All - Barrier-Free Environment

Keyword: Social Exclusion/Integration


The City of Joensuu located in eastern Finland has completed the first phase of its new neighborhood, Marjala, as A CITY FOR ALL. Marjala's homes, connections between the homes and all streets, access routes, parks etc. are planned and built so that they meet the needs of even the weakest link, i.e. the wheelchair-bound inhabitant.

The various forms of tenure available in Marjala ensure that it is accessible to all population groups. The provision of services in the area is based on innovative partnerships and use of modern technology put at the service of inhabitants.


    The Marjala Model - a City for All

Joensuu is a medium-sized city in the eastern part of Finland. It is the economic, commercial, cultural and administrative centre for the province characterized by innovative development efforts but also substantial problems caused by its peripheral location.

In the beginning of the 1990s, a new residential area Marjala was developed in Joensuu. Its special goal was to create an environment where everybody, even the disabled could lead a rich life.

Over the past 15 years the City of Joensuu has built special housing for the elderly and the disabled. According to the evaluation of these projects carried out in 1990, in several areas the elderly or the wheelchair-bound residents were constrained in some way in their efforts to move and to cope with every-day life independently. The interior connections within the homes, the access routes from the areas immediately outside the buildings and from the street were particularly poor.

In order to avoid such problems in Marjala, a set of design guidelines was issued for all building projects in Marjala. These guidelines required that all dwellings, all shared facilities and all connecting routes would have to be designed so as to allow barrier-free access and mobility, also for the inhabitants with impaired vision, mobility or any other disability. This criterion was applied even for the smallest detail in the neighborhood so that all its streets, pavements, squares, bridges, parks and green areas with their paths and canal side promenades were built to be accessible by all.

In order to guarantee the high quality of work, the City Council organized a nationwide architectural competition in 1990 for the master plan of Marjala. The first phase of construction was completed in July 1995, upon which the area became the site of the annual Finnish housing fair held between 14.7.- 13.8.1995. This means that the area and all its buildings were kept open to the general public before the inhabitants started moving in. Further construction will be carried out within the next five years.

    Building a community for all

International estimates have concluded that 18 to 20 per cent of the population face difficulties in mobility in the ordinary built environment. Almost one half of over 65-year old suffer from this kind of problems. In Finland the numbers of the elderly and, in particular, the very old within the society have grown considerably, and this aging of population will continue in the coming decades.

Bearing in mind these factors, all dwellings in the Marjala neighborhood are built to meet the needs of the weakest link - the wheelchair-bound, or otherwise disabled resident. All basic dimensions, such as the width of the doors, corridors and lifts, allow for wheelchair access, and any of the homes can be easily adapted to the individual needs of a disabled inhabitant.

Marjala's barrier-free streets, squares and pedestrian access routes also help significantly the residents' ability to lead independent lives.

These features of Marjala will become even more important in the future, because the emphasis in social and health care services is being shifted from institutional to home care. An increasing number of the disabled will continue living at home. Therefore when the layout, infrastructure and buildings of Marjala were designed, much attention was paid to the needs of people returning to the "normal" living environment after long spells in care institutions and to the ways in which their return to the "ordinary" community could be facilitated.
The various forms of housing tenure and occupancy available in Marjala ensure that it is accessible to different population groups. The already completed dwellings include rental, partial ownership, right of occupancy, hire-purchase and owner-occupied units.

    Environment for active life

Many neighborhoods in Finland have been built for the kind of life that people no longer lead. The majority of inhabitants nowadays spend 24 hours a day in the areas where they live. The elderly, unemployed or people working at home and young people are often left without adequate facilities or opportunities for shared or individual activities. The unemployment rate of Joensuu is extremely high (27.1 per cent in June 1995) and the share of the long-term and young unemployed has increased within the last few years.

Marjala has been built so that people can work, live and enjoy their leisure time within their residential area. Co-operation between the inhabitants and the city employees creates networks which provide support, increase the inhabitants' participation and create jobs within the area.

Involvement of people who have been excluded from the working life, provision of activities for the young and collaboration between different age groups save untold amounts of financial resources, that would otherwise have been needed to address the consequences of social exclusion. This approach also creates diverse and accessible opportunities for the residents to become involved in such activities which they themselves perceive useful.

    MULTISERVICE - all services from one point

When completed, Marjala will be a suburban area with about 3,000 inhabitants. This is too little for the viable supply of all necessary services. Attracting shops and commercial services, in particular, will need public support in order ensure their feasibility.

This is why the services provision for Marjala was studied as a whole, and the computerized MULTISERVICE channel - PALVELUELLI - was developed to link all the service providers. Its use is currently being experimented by the residents of Marjala, and the idea is that clients themselves can use the Multiservice channel.

Since 1993 the Multiservice channel has been developed into a channel which can be accessed from either home computers or from the Multiservice Centre. Through the Multiservice channel residents can seek expert advice (contact the family doctor), communicate with other residents or discuss municipal affairs with political decision makers. The Multiservice channel is being developed further through several projects aimed at more efficient services production for people with particularly extensive care needs.

Marjala's services are produced jointly by the residents and the Services Manager. The Services Manager provides training and guidance in the use of the equipment and the channel. He/she is based at the Multiservice Centre which at the moment is located at Marjala's Telework Centre.

The telematic connection between the consumers and the service providers makes the services more easily accessible. The City of Joensuu has also developed teleworking opportunities for easier production of services which means that the service providers, e.g. city employees, can move to Marjala to provide the services locally whenever required. Two of the city's employees already work and produce services in Marjala.

The inhabitants have also set up a day care centre co-operative in collaboration with a private entrepreneur. The centre was opened in September 1995 and it serves the children, the elderly and the disabled alike.

    MARJALA HOUSE - Multiservice Centre

The City of Joensuu will build MARJALA HOUSE as the Multiservice Centre. The facilities of MARJALA HOUSE will be designed for multipurpose use shared by the inhabitants, companies and public services.

    Employment through telework

Residents doing telework can be offered homes with suitable working spaces and the necessary teleinformatics connections. A special project for the development of telework aims at acquiring contracts with various companies, organizations and projects. Marjala's Telework Centre acts as a clearing house for contracts and assignments and provides equipment support and training to ensure that the quality of work meets the requirements.

    Impact of Marjala Model on future community development

In the coming years the outcomes of the Marjala Model will be assessed through a research programme of the University of Joensuu. The evaluation will be specifically focused on analysing how the diverse needs of people can be taken into account in the development of barrier-free living environments.

Marjala is also included in the research and development projects within the Telematics Applications Programme of the EU, as well as in the EU's TIDE ashore "Adaptable Smart Home" project and in the EU's URBAN community initiative.

    Impact on building design and products

The implementation of the MARJALA MODEL - the concept of the barrier-free living environment - provides an example which can be used as the basis for assessing the changes needed in the building codes and regulations, building management and inspection. Its evaluation will also facilitate the commercialization of the building products and services based on the new know-how. This improves and widens the scope for future barrier-free building. It also promotes the transfer of regional/local knowledge to regional/local industry, creating thus employment.

The role of the Finnish Housing Fair as a showcase for housing forms, products and services has set unusually tough challenges to the planners of Marjala. The way in which the Housing Fair promotes Finnish housing, building and recreation products and know-how - and this year in Marjala, local products and the know-how of Joensuu - supports the overall development and improvement in housing and living conditions.

    Impact on services production and realization of the information society

Marjala helps in developing alternative ways to produce services and in seeking new ways to harness information and telematic technologies to meet the users' needs for easier access to the services, for better contact with professional experts, and for the right care for each client.

Marjala thus makes the new information society a reality by providing a test-bed for various applications and products, i.e., by being a Telematic Applications site.


  • A barrier-free neighborhood has been developed
  • The disabled, older persons etc. can lead independent life at home
  • Teleinformatics has been used in the provision of services and employment in an experimental and innovative way
  • This pilot project has had a demonstrated effect on a national scale


    The model for co-operation

Marjala provides an example of new kind of co-operation between different sectors. Its planning and building was implemented through a collaborative effort between several sectors of the city administration:

  • Administrative department;
  • Technical services department;
  • Basic municipal services department; Social services department
  • Planning and land allocation department;
  • Housing department; and their co-operation unit,
  • Housing working group:
    • City Development Manager, Ms Pirkko Kylanpaa
    • Chief Administrative Officer, Mr Eero Kuosmanen
    • Chief Planning Officer, Mr Tuomas Kettunen
    • Municipal Services Manager, Mr Erkki Asikainen
    • Chief Housing Officer, Mr Matti Martikainen

Within the past twenty years this co-operation has produced the philosophy which has enabled the Joensuu City Council, together with its partners in the private and NGO sectors, to build the first phase of the Marjala Model as a uniquely barrier free residential area.


    Kylanpaa, Ms. Pirkko/City Manager
    P.O. Box 59
    358-73-167 5204


    City of Joensuu
    Kylanpaa, Ms. Pirkko/City Manager
    P.O. Box 59
    358-73-167 5204


    University of Joensuu
    Kylanpaa, Ms. Pirkko/City Manager
    P.O. Box 59
    358-73-167 5204

    The Finnish Housing Fair Cooperative
    Kettunen, Mr. Tuomas/Chief Planning Offr
    P.O. Box 59
    358-73-161 3418

To MOST Clearing House Homepage