Cities have always been at the forefront of problem solving and carried forward revolutionary innovations. Cities have always been and continue to be centres of education and civilization. In history, cities have been states, cities have declined, yet today we are in an era of cities being the power centres and, what I believe, drivers of change. As cities continue to grow and will soon be home to nearly 70% of the world’s population, the 21st Century will serve as 3rd coming of the cities.
The original idea of city, as a compact network of people, infrastructure, business and services has returned with a new twist. Cities and their citizens are closer to political decision-making and this creates new: powerful networks across city regions, that are driving forward shared urban agendas to address today’s key challenges.
Helsinki's Impact as a City
We planners at the City of Helsinki understand the key challenges ahead and are aware of Helsinki's unique character and capabilities in managing change. It does so by combining spatial planning priorities with land practices. This is possible because land is primarily in public ownership. Helsinki owns 67% of its land, and, together with the state, some 85% of land is in public ownership. It is the City of Helsinki that is the most agile and responsive 'driver of change'. Therefore, Helsinki as a city, must use the city’s planning monopoly wisely, and look far enough ahead into the future to anticipate threats and trends.
The City has an existing mechanism of mixed-use housing policy. This is a framework of 40% private, 35% semi-private and 25% subsidized rental housing with strong political backing for cohesion that covers the entire city area. The City even operates its own Housing production company that constructs approximately one-third of all new homes. There are no slums in Helsinki and the City sticks to a functional policy!
The New City Plan (2016) is a legally binding long-term strategic land-use plan covering the whole city area. The City plays a major role in encouraging the implementation of much needed measures to reach the City's ambitious goals: a network city of metro, tram and commuter rail public transport. Housing is achieved through infill development on brownfield sites along the new tram corridors across the city transversally and in the new radial boulevards. These key developments are not only sustainable but support the EU's Urban Agenda of social cohesion through the equal distribution of mixed housing, which in turn, helps minimise spatial segregation. It is also the case that by the City of Helsinki owning its energy production, its port operations give extra support to the City in achieving its goals and seeing its long-term Vision 2050 implemented.
The City has for the first time, an elected Mayor. A new format of four large administrative 'divisions' has functionally changed the way the City operates. It is constant learning and education that keeps the City's decision-makers at the forefront of driving change. Helsinki has an 'Open Data' policy. The City's skills for 3D modelling information and digitalization are being utilized fully. Citizens, neighbourhoods, academic community and other collaborative partners are more involved than ever before. Residents and businesses need to be involved in innovative problem solving. Cooperation will be emphasized more than ever, as tomorrow and the future is a ride where everyone’s contribution in Helsinki is needed.
What is your city’s unique set of means to make an impact?
Helsinki would like to learn about other city’s innovations and the impact they are having on city development. What are your own city’s special unique qualities and skills to tackle key challenges such as carbon-neutrality or social segregation? What are the main solutions for your city that have been most effective in tackling climate change? Is your city successful in citizen involvement? Sharing and benchmarking alternative solutions will help each our cities improve their skills that need to be shared globally. Why? Because it is the cities that are to make impact!