Cities are not just built environments; they are also living and breathing communities. Some facets of cities stay the same, while others are continuously changing. Each city is the sum of its people. Cities were born to satisfy our need for interaction and the opportunities these encounters provide. Humans are by nature social beings. We are far more creative and productive together than when we are apart.
Although digital technology has made it possible for us to do many things remotely, physical proximity is still necessary for many kinds of productivity and creativity to flourish. A dynamic work environment promotes employee wellbeing. Anytime people gather, new ideas are born and disseminated. In Helsinki, the city’s large size and population density guarantee a market and demand for many kinds of businesses. If a city has enough inhabitants, even highly specialised industries can find enough customers. A city with a rich and diverse business scene is an attractive place to live. People can easily find jobs and livelihoods, thanks to the many new opportunities created by structural change.
Today’s global economy favours cities that are growing and diverse. In our increasingly interconnected world, the wider variety of different livelihoods a city can provide, the better the city and its residents will fare. Even bold investments are economically justified if there is a promise of a healthy economy powered by larger future generations of citizens and a robust and reliable income base.
The future is bright for diverse cities that can make wise choices. If Helsinki can invest in reliable forms of sustainable growth, its outlook is quite promising. Sustainable growth is in balance with the prevailing ecological limitations, creating benefits that are socially, financially and culturally sustainable. We are proud to continue to evaluate and guide the development of Helsinki in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Our growth should also be financially sustainable, so that the finances of Helsinki households and the economy of the City of Helsinki and the Helsinki City Group remain robust. We must be able to rely on a steady stream of future tax revenue to pay for the service expenditures necessary to drive this kind of growth.
Yet cities are also home to darker aspects of society, where life’s fragility is on display. There are many vulnerable people in urban places, where destitution, illness and crime often congregate.
Increasing inequality is a megatrend in our modern world, although Finland has thus far managed to keep the situation largely in check. The role of cities in solving this problem is growing; we look to local decision-makers to find ways to help the needy and alleviate poverty and inequality. We must do our best to keep any gaps between Helsinki’s neighbourhoods from growing wider, actively working to reduce them. For residents of a city to share a common reality is a value in itself.
Helsinki is a place where people can realise themselves and create and seize opportunities. Life in Helsinki is based on a common sense of openness, where residents are free to live their lives as they please and make their dreams come true. We will continue to defend this lifestyle and do our best to make Helsinki a joyful, surprising, and experientially rich city with an international feel. It is a place where art and culture are held in the highest esteem. It is up to us to nurture the flowering of the cultural sector again after the difficult days of the pandemic. We must also recognise the significance of arts and culture in our pursuit of a life of liberty.
Helsinki strives to be a home to a variety of community cultures that bring spirit, wonder and new appeal to the city and its districts. Being able to create an urban culture on one’s own terms is a great strength.
A capital city with a younger demographic that pursues sustainable growth is a beacon of hope for Finland’s rapidly ageing population and economy. Helsinki’s growth depends on its own birth rate as well as migration to Helsinki from elsewhere in Finland and abroad. The task of Helsinki’s decision-makers is to do what is necessary to turn possible aspirations of starting a new life in Finland’s capital into reality. City leadership does not create the demand for migration towards Helsinki, but it can make the move a feasible option.
One clear indicator of growth is construction. Long-term zoning decisions and city planning are the foundation of all new building in Helsinki, ensuring that new housing and office space is completed every year. Developments like this contribute to population growth, which is a prerequisite for improving the city’s financial resources and investment profile. Resources and investments go on to create functional solutions, comfort and beauty.
Helsinki’s growth may benefit all of Finland, but Helsinki is above all home to its current and future residents. City decision-makers do not create the wellbeing of its residents; residents must create it themselves with their individual and communal actions. Working and relaxing together and enjoying our everyday freedoms is the crux of what is great about our fair city.
As Finland’s largest employer, Helsinki also has a special responsibility to take good care of its employees. The city gives people the opportunity to live their own best lives in environments and communities where they can feel at home. A thriving city is also open to change. Decision-makers must guide the change in a balanced way, so new city residents feel welcome and current residents can continue to enjoy services as well as places of natural beauty near their home. We seek to be a ‘15-minute city’, where services are just a short walk, cycle or public transport journey away.
Some global trends and changes require particularly resourceful policy responses. Two of these kinds of major issues are climate change and population ageing.
Preventing a climate crisis is a challenge confronting all of humanity, and we want to ensure that Helsinki goes beyond simply doing its part. In the previous council term, Helsinki ambitiously vowed to become carbon neutral by the year 2035. We are proud of this commitment, but we believe it is now time to set our sights even higher.
At the same time, we must continue to adapt to the consequences of climate change by taking steps to safeguard Helsinki’s infrastructure and protect the property and ways of life of the city’s inhabitants.
More signs that our planet and natural environment are suffering include an alarming loss of biodiversity and the mass extinction of many species. A diverse natural environment and biodiversity are intrinsically valuable, but they are also vitally important for maintaining our mental and physical wellbeing. The economic benefits of biodiversity are also becoming more widely apparent.
Urbanisation can be a force for good when it comes to nature conservation, as it is often easier for residents in a compact city to live sustainably. For this reason, city decision-makers should always consider the direct and indirect environmental effects of their decisions. Helsinki’s primary responsibility to preserve and protect the Baltic Sea is an important example. Municipal support measures can improve and sustain the healthy biodiversity of the city’s nature and forest areas.
The second phenomenon that has considerable consequences for Finland is the ageing of the country’s population and the resulting changes this brings to its economic dependency ratio.
Longer life spans are welcome, as they provide us with many more possibilities to live a good life. We want all residents of Finland and Helsinki to be able to age with dignity and enjoy the autumn of their lives.
However, when an ageing population is combined with a lower birth rate and declining numbers of children and young people on a national level, it presents a big challenge for public finances. A sustainability gap could arise that would significantly weaken both municipal and state finances. Likewise, a declining share of the working-age population means less tax revenue and fewer contributions to social security funds, while expenditures for healthcare and pensions climb.
Helsinki does not currently have a sustainability gap because its population is expected to grow. The number of young people in particular is forecast to keep on growing. A greying population nevertheless puts pressure on the state to divert more of Helsinki’s tax revenue to national public expenditure. The upcoming reform of social and health services may have a similar effect. The impact of these changes will not yet be visible during the current council term, but their effects will likely become more apparent in the coming decade. Helsinki’s decision-makers must therefore be prepared to staunchly defend the city’s interests in future negotiations with the government. The state must provide funding for statutory services and allow for the special needs of Finland’s capital.
An ageing workforce has also led to increasing labour shortages in the production of key municipal services. This labour shortage most acutely threatens the provision of early childhood education and social and health services. It is the one of the most difficult problems facing Helsinki decision-makers in the upcoming decade.
Both climate change and an ageing demographic present challenges for the City of Helsinki’s economy. It is our duty to attain economic efficiency by creating the maximum resident benefit from taxpayer contributions. Some of our operations are also in need of development and renewal.
Everyone benefits from sustainable growth
Everyone who lives in Helsinki stands to benefit from sustainably planned growth. We must have good schools, daycare centres, libraries, nearby places to exercise and a well-planned urban cityscape in every corner of our municipality. People need to feel as if they are a valued part of Helsinki in every setting: at work, school, parks, cultural events or festivals.
Helsinki’s dynamic and proud bilingualism – in which Finnish and Swedish have equal status – is a fundamental part of the city’s identity. It also does much to strengthen our competitive ability, unique profile, and our relationships with the other Nordic countries and their capitals.
Helsinki is becoming even more linguistically diverse. Our cultural maps are shifting and changing shape. Migration to Finland’s capital has always been popular, both from within Finland and elsewhere in the world. The coming decades will make our city into an even richer tapestry of different origins and languages. It is important that all of us, regardless of birthplace or mother tongue, find Helsinki a pleasant and enjoyable place to spend our time.
The importance of early childhood education and basic education will grow as Helsinki’s population expands and evolves. They are the bedrock of a city that seeks sustainable growth, as the groundwork for building a good life is laid in our early years. Helsinki must provide an excellent standard of early childhood education and school instruction in every neighbourhood. As the number of children and young people grows, the city must be able to expand these services without sacrificing quality.
We must also find ways for every part of Helsinki to maintain its vitality. Digitalisation of work and technology has reduced our need for traditional office space. The need for commercial space will of course not disappear, but its demand may drop off, as spaces that are more easily adaptable to different uses become more popular. The large-scale remote work experiment brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has nudged us even further in this direction. Some of the operational changes resulting from this are likely to remain permanent.
Hybrid work solutions will lower our need for transport services, and this will provide us with more time for other activities. This may give the city’s drivers, cyclists and pedestrians more space. Helsinki’s transport revolution is well underway, ensuring a diverse range of transport options that serve every corner of the city. An urban environment that supports everyday movement will also help us tackle the worldwide problem of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, a difficulty Finland also faces.
A diminished need for commercial real estate will mean more room for residential housing and green spaces. We must be flexible and use these spaces interchangeably. At the same time, we must make plans to keep our city centre and neighbourhood gathering places vibrant and alive. Growth will make it easier to realise this throughout the city, just as wise city planning makes all things possible. A growing and thriving city will always have an increasing number of visitors in its downtown spaces and hot spots.
Pandemic recovery is a certainty
The coronavirus pandemic has been a traumatic experience in Helsinki. It put the city’s inhabitants, employees and economy through the wringer, leaving many of us worse for wear. People who were already in vulnerable positions before the crisis were hit the hardest. Schoolchildren and older students were not able to be social and play, and learning outcomes have likely suffered as a consequence.
There have been many more reports of mental health problems and multitudes of illnesses have gone untreated. Employees in the fields of social and health services and education have been stretched to the breaking point, while people active in the industries of art and culture, hospitality and events have faced several kinds of hardships. We must resolutely address these issues in the coming years and eliminate the city’s care backlogs.
Helsinki’s previous strategy, where decision-makers set out to be the Most Functional City in the World, was outstanding, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to many of its objectives. This strategy lays out what we believe should be the priorities of Helsinki decision-makers in the coming years as we develop our fair city and face the choices that lie ahead of us. In a rapidly changing world and an economy built on forecasts, it is impossible to predict the activities of the next four years without also giving thought to what our future needs might be later in the decade or century. This is why we have devoted this preface to an analysis of longer-term trends.
In light of the starting points described in this section, we will set out to make Helsinki a more beautiful and better city, where it is easy for everyone to build the life they desire and benefit from smooth everyday routines. We will need everyone's input in order to succeed. We believe that, in four years’ time, we will have plenty of reason to be even prouder of our beloved hometown.