Finnish Town Runs an Experiment to Make its Citizens More Connected
By Valerie Vlasenko | 01:17 EEST on 11th September, 2017
Tuusula, not far from Helsinki, Finland is one of those small places the tourists reach fewer times than the country’s capital, but the Finns never miss the chance to experience the uniqueness of the area. With its beautiful landscapes and cosy apartment houses along the Lake Tuusula – Tuusula remains one of the region’s most picturesque places. Historically, Lake Tuusula attracted many artists and poets who drew inspiration from pristine nature and astounding Nordic sceneries, among them Jean Sibelius and Aleksis Kivi.
Yet, nature is not the only thing Tuusula can be recognized for. The municipality aims to become the most innovative in the region by introducing new methods in city development and decision making. Tuusula runs new projects, which aim to make its citizens more connected and accountable for the region’s future. One of these is a city hackathon involving 80 participants, which explores how to design a new type of a school building which will also act as a learning space for the whole community.
Challenging the status quo
Tuusula challenges the status quo by changing the way public opinion is count, by engaging its residents into a city Hackathon and using the results in the future development.
City development process is a giant system that due to its complexity, that very few really understands as a whole. To get an idea of how this process can be harmonised, we need to first look at the theory of a good city.
For that, we can refer to Kevin Lynch’s A Theory of Good City Form (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1981). According to Lynch city performance can be evaluated in 5 basic dimensions: vitality, sense, fit, access, and control, plus, two “meta-criteria,” efficiency and justice. Lynch suggests that a vital city fulfils the biological needs of people, and provides an environment for their daily activities. Sense stands for the fact that its residents can perceive and understand the city’s form and function. A city with good fit has buildings, environments, and networks needed for its residents to pursue their activities. An accessible city provides people with the range of the activities, resources, services, and information they need. A city with good control is arranged so that its citizens have a say in the management of the spaces in which they work and live. This last item is what municipality of Tuusula want to exercise in its development work.
While the public sector decides about the how a particular neighbourhood should look and what developments should be allowed or expected, the community’s participation does not go further than filling questionnaires or taking part in public surveys. Thus the problem is that these surveys do not cover questions that really matter. The public can decide upon the colour of the walls in a new building or the opening hours, but it can not advise on the use of the building. Not until now.
Changing the way people think
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein.
We can not create anything new by applying the same methods over and over again. Among all sectors, the public sector is probably the most conservative and slow moving, especially when it comes new developments. To bring a good city from theory into practice the public sector needs to be thinking differently about the way it interacts with its citizens. The public sector must be able to innovate, adapt and quickly respond. To do this Tuusula implements new ways of connecting its residents with city decision makers.
“We want people to understand that there are new ways of doing things and that they can be a part of it. We want our residents to know that they can influence processes in the city. We want them to feel empowered to make changes and influence decisions.” – comments Marko Kauppinen, Business Development unit of the city of Tuusula and a former entrepreneur in education technology, he believes that smart cities can only be built if we first change the way we think. He was the one who chose the city development hackathon format and with good reason – to connect public sector and their citizens while making them think differently about how future buildings could be done through collaboration.
Hacking the School of the Future
On September 29 the city of Tuusula will host a three days hackathon to design a future high school building for arts. CityHack Tuusula focuses on two main challenges: planning the development of a new school facility with movable blocks and walls, and building a digital tool for booking places and services all around the city. The idea is to combine physical and digital space in one concept, where the digital element is built on top.
The reason behind the hackathon is simple – the city wants to build a school that can serve the needs of the community for many years to come. From the city point of view, the school building is not the most profitable investment as traditional schools are very limited in terms of their use. The municipality wants to engage the hackers to use space for something else, something beyond its basic function. The newly built school may provide value added services. For example space for music studios, art classes, performances and events, that anyone can book via a city-wide digital platform available on the web and mobile.
At the hackathon, participants can use physical models of prospective buildings provided by the Finnish architects. They will also receive training on how to present the solution to the municipality officials, how to communicate it to the press, and how to turn the idea into a business. The winning team will get a 5000€ certificate and a chance to develop their project for the Municipality of Tuusula, thus to directly influence the way the new school is going to be built.
The concept of hacking the city planning is quite new in Finland. We are looking forward to seeing how this Hackathon can help Tuusula and its residents to build the school of the future.