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How to build a beautiful and sustainable city of the future – Helsinki is involved in the New European Bauhaus initiative

New European Bauhaus is an initiative of the European Commission, which aims to promote sustainable, inclusive and beautiful urban design. In May, the City of Helsinki and the EU Office of Helsinki organised a webinar as part of the project’s pan-European co-creation phase.

New European Bauhaus (NEB) is a multidisciplinary and creative initiative of the European Commission, which looks for new ways of creating beautiful and sustainable urban environments and a sustainable future together with local residents. The initiative is part of the EU’s Green Deal programme.

Helsinki took part in the project’s co-creation phase, which involves specifying the content and goals of the initiative through discussions and concrete examples. One of Helsinki’s recognised strengths is its more than a decade of experience in using design to engage residents and develop the City’s services. Helsinki also presented these views in the Co-creating the City: Design Cities and the New European Bauhaus seminar on 4 May 2021, which the City of Helsinki organised together with the Helsinki EU Office.

“We are very excited to be involved in exploring the opportunities provided by the New European Bauhaus initiative. It is wonderful that the European Commission is organising an extensive co-creation phase for the initiative. Helsinki has a lot to offer, since, starting from our year as the World Design Capital in 2012, we have accumulated quite a bit of expertise and experience in developing our city through design in cooperation with residents,” says Helsinki’s Chief Design Officer Hanna Harris happily, as one of the organisers and moderators of the seminar.

Design strengthens the voice of residents

The seminar included addresses by Member of the European Parliament Sirpa Pietikäinen and Secretary General of Eurocities Anna Lisa Boni. Pietikäinen and Boni emphasised the significance of cities as mouthpieces for their residents and as everyday problem solvers. Both speakers also highlighted the challenge of escalating originally grassroots changes and integrating them into political thinking and administration. Boni brought up the possibilities afforded by design to support this change.

“The major crises and global challenges we have faced have shown that we must change our ways of thinking and operating. In this shift, local governments and residents are key. Design supports cities in their efforts to be creative and innovative, thereby making them stronger in the face of challenges,” said Anna Lisa Boni of the Eurocities organisation.

Helsinki’s own design expertise was presented through three examples: Central Library Oodi, design education for school children and Helsinki’s physical activity programme.

The seminar also had participants from two other World Design Capital (WDC) cities: Luther Quenum from the 2020 WDC city Lille and Xavi Calvo from the 2022 WDC city Valencia. Quenum is also involved in the steering group for the NEB project.

Cooperation between the cities continues

The co-creation phase of the New European Bauhas initiative will be concluded this summer. It will be followed by a phase of concrete pilot projects.

Helsinki will continue to participate in the New European Bauhaus initiative and pertinent discussions through national and international forums and the Eurocities network.

“It is wonderful to be able to talk to other cities about how we can jointly strengthen the voice of our residents and communities, and how design can help us achieve the goals of the New European Bauhaus initiative, which is to build a more sustainable, inclusive and aesthetic urban environment. For Helsinki, this is an amazing opportunity to bolster our international networks and share our experiences in the use of design,” Harris says.

More information:

Recording of the seminar 

Seminar slides 

Helsinki as a design city 

New European Bauhaus