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Climate issue won or lost in cities – Helsinki sought and offered solutions at Climate College

The future of the climate is decided in cities. The message was abundantly clear at the Climate College organised by the City on 4 September. The event was part of the Helsinki Design Week programme.

The climate issue was addressed from a variety of perspectives as the speakers of the day delved into environmentally friendly urban planning and innovative solutions.

When opening the Climate College, Mayor Jan Vapaavuori stated that Helsinki plays a leading role as an example of sustainable development. The City has an ambitious Carbon-neutral Helsinki 2035 action plan, the progress of which can be monitored by anyone in an open online service.

‘Helsinki is also a platform for innovative inventions, a place where different possibilities can be tested,’ Vapaavuori pointed out.

He also spoke about the Helsinki Energy Challenge competition, the aim of which is to seek a concrete solution for clean energy in Helsinki. The prize of the competition is one million euros.

Helsinki’s Chief Design Officer Hanna Harris reminded everyone of Helsinki Design Week, which will continue until 13 September, and its theme of this year, Commitment Matters, which also reflects the City’s commitment to sustainable urban development.

Harris and one of the two main speakers of the day, entrepreneur Yanling Duan from Helsinki’s sister city Beijing, also spoke about the cooperation between Helsinki and Beijing in design. The discussion on the cooperation will continue next year at Beijing Design Week, where Helsinki will be the theme city of the festival.

Towards becoming the most functional city in the world

Panel discussion at the Climate College. In photo Irma Ylikangas, Kalle Vaismaa, Hannamari Jaakkola, Alpo Tani and Maarit Kahila. Photo by Ilkka Ranta-aho, City of Helsinki
The panel discussion was led by Irma Ylikangas, the participants were Kalle Vaismaa, Hannamari Jaakkola, Alpo Tani and Maarit Kahila. Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

The day’s panel discussion focused on how to make the idea of the world’s most functional city possible in Helsinki.

According to the City’s Strategic Urban Planner Alpo Tani, a functional city is about how the city enables people to have a good everyday life and how this is harmonised with the needs of the planet.

He pointed out that the organisation of functionality was put to the test in the spring during the worst months of the coronavirus pandemic.

‘At that time, the City sought to adapt quickly to the new situation and find ways to continue its operations. There was a need to quickly resolve issues such as what safe activities could be like and how people could meet each other in an urban yet safe way.’

Maarit Kahila, founder and CEO of the map survey service Maptionnaire, said that functionality has many dimensions. Often the first thing that comes to mind is mobility: how easy it is to get from one place to another and find different locations.

‘On the one hand, functionality means that the city feels safe. But functionality also includes digitalisation and transparency. Information must flow between decision-makers and residents and help with the move towards better decision-making.’

Vaisala’s Business Development Manager Hannamari Jaakkola agreed with Kahila but also wanted to include the issue of air quality: good air is like the roots of the city. When the air quality is good, it is easy for us to get on a bike, for example, without thinking about whether there is a lot of pollution in the air.

Professor Kalle Vaismaa from the University of Tampere emphasised functionality when defining mobility and logistics.

‘When mobility is easy and flexible, it helps logistics and business more generally as well. Effective traffic is safe and environmentally friendly.’

Vaismaa cited a study that says the modernisation of transport systems is key to building a sustainable city.

In his opinion, Helsinki’s city bikes have been an excellent transport solution during the times of the coronavirus, when the popularity of cycling grew rapidly.

Senior Business Advisor at Helsinki Business Hub Irma Ylikangas, who led the panel discussion, pointed out that the City also openly offers 3D data that its partners can utilise.

‘There is great cooperation in Helsinki. We have been able to work on innovations together with the City, the University and the Finnish Meteorological Institute,’ said Jaakkola from Vaisala.

Kahila from Maptionnaire thinks that Helsinki is a pioneer and that others have a lot to learn about how the City collects and opens its data.

A lot is already being done!

Laura Uuttu-Deschryvere presented Helsinki Energy Challenge at the Climate College on 4 September. Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho
Project Director Laura Uuttu-Deschryvere spoke about the Helsinki Energy Challenge, a competition that aims to find new ecological and economical solutions to replace coal in heating. Photo: Ilkka Ranta-aho

The seminar provided numerous examples of sustainable urban planning. Project Director Laura Uuttu-Deschryvere spoke about, among other things, the schedule of the Helsinki Energy Challenge: the competition is still open for registration until the end of September.

‘The finalists will be announced in November and the winner next March. The criteria of the competition include climate impact, cost, impact on natural resources and reliability, among other things.’

Executive Director of Smart & Clean Tiina Kähö spoke about the foundation’s unique network, in which the climate issue is being solved together by the cities of the Helsinki metropolitan area and businesses, research institutes and the state.

One example of the foundation’s concrete work is promoting the recycling of plastics.

‘Today, only six per cent of virgin plastic is recycled, while there is potential for this to increase to 67 per cent.’

Special Planning Officer Tapani Nevanpää from the City spoke about the 5G networks utilised in Pasila. The aim of the trial is to gather experiences of how a smart city and shopping centre can be a platform for new innovations.

The Pasila trial provides information on congestion, flow of people, air quality and bicycle traffic, for example. In addition to the City and the shopping centre, Telia and YIT are involved in the trial.

‘There is still room for more companies,’ Nevanpää mentioned.

Programme Director Kerkko Vanhanen explained that carbon neutrality is also central to the work of Forum Virium Helsinki. Forum Virium is a Helsinki Group company that develops new digital services together with its partners.

The company has numerous environmental projects and surveys in Kalasatama and Jätkäsaari. For example, it has engaged companies in closer cooperation with urban planners and provided companies with piloting opportunities.

‘One of our new challenges is to increase the proportion of wood in construction.’

At City Hall and online

The Climate College was organised as a hybrid event. Some of the speakers were present at the City Hall event square, others remotely.

The seminar was followed virtually by more than 200 participants from dozens of different countries. The recording of the Climate College is available on Helsinki-kanava.

Read more

Helsinki’s Climate Actions

Helsinki Energy Challenge

Helsinki Design Week

Text: Kirsi Riipinen
Photos: Ilkka Ranta-aho