The cities and universities can be the best and the most productive partners when science and practice meet in the everyday urban planning, development and testing processes. The cities and universities can also sometimes be working in parallel worlds if there is not enough interaction and sharing of knowledge.  In the Helsinki Capital Region, the cities and universities have for over 20 years now very actively worked towards better collaboration structures in urban research and development.

Urban Academy, since 2016, is a science based city development platform that brings together researchers and students, urban planners, city officials and residents to learn from each other. Urban Academy is a partnership of five organizations: City of Helsinki, City of Espoo, City of Vantaa, University of Helsinki and Aalto University. The Urban Academy works with co-creative methods, which enables the demolishing of boundaries between traditional academic disciplines and between the different city divisions. The Urban Academy activities include multidisciplinary urban studies master’s programme and student projects, open lectures, seminars and workshops where new research topics and projects are discussed and developed together. In the Urban Academy collaboration many site specific studies have been realized eg. Myllypuro urban renewal monitoring project, Eko-Viikki study of the energy use and values of the residents, and the visioning work for sustainable Malminkartano neighbourhood. Also as part of the collaboration six postdoctoral researchers at the University of Helsinki and Aalto University are working in close collaboration with the cities, studying jointly selected research themes that are key topics in the strategy programmes of the partner cities: urban inequality, digitalization, population dynamics and sustainable urban development.     

The Urban Academy International Advisory Board with experienced professors and city experts from around Europe visited Helsinki for the third time in May 2019. They have stated that the strategic and continuous interaction between the cities and universities in the Helsinki Capital Region and the goal of mutual learning between the research world and daily city life and decision-making is creating something that is rare to see. The advisory board has also given some valuable reminders how to work together in the complex urban environments:

1.The cities must be proactive actors in urban research, in suggesting and defining the topics, which can be further shaped in interaction with the researchers and other stakeholders.

2. In the process of co-creating knowledge the cities should be taken as equal producers of strategic and practical knowledge. On the other hand the cities should also be interested in getting advice and recommendations and not only results or diagnosis.

The parallel sessions of the Helsinki Impact Conference Day 2 raise three important topics where the cities and universities can be the best partners in the Helsinki Capital Region: Opening Data and sharing information, Making Resilient Neighbourhoods and Enabling Digital Innovation.

Annina Ala-Outinen
Project Manager, Urban Academy
Annina Ala-Outinen
Project Manager, Urban Academy