Dec 4, 2018 Stinne Vognaes
The solution is functional cities and Jan Vapaavuori’s goal is that Helsinki will be the most functional city in the world. This would mean that it has the best possible conditions for living a good life and has a functional operating environment. Maybe that is not the most sexy idea, but possibly the most important for the future, according to Vapaavuori.
So how can we develop functional cities? Tech and collaboration are important elements in the answer to this. First of all we need to recognise what our biggest challenges are and make sure that everyone is on the same page. Climate change is one of those big challenges. Furthermore, understanding that cities are one of the most important places to try and address these challenges is another big part. As David Wallerstein said “If we can get things right in the cities, we can solve climate change.” And as he also emphasises, Helsinki is an important player and potential frontrunner in this regard.
Wallerstein also mentioned how we all play a role in solving challenges like climate change. It is not enough to just accept that climate change is real and then assume someone else is working on solving the problem. We need to understand that it is real and then start to take action. It is too easy to count on someone else to do it. Conversations and collaborations among different stakeholders and actors are needed more than ever.
This is definitely something Vapaavuori can relate to. Being the mayor of Helsinki, there are many different challenges and stakeholders to consider. So what are the most important ways to go about this? “ When you are trying to bridge a gap, you need to create a community. This happens by fostering a flat hierarchy, open data, transparency and trust above all.” He argues that thinking of a city as a community makes every player realise that they have a role to play. The key is getting together the city, tech companies, academia and anyone else who has solutions and ideas.
Wallerstein agrees that productive and open dialogues are crucial for developing the right solutions for the future. A city should strive to be a good place for companies developing these kind of solutions. A lot more startups could get excited about addressing climate change and the cities need to create an environment where there are space and resources for building a company doing exactly that. “Doing good is only possible if it is also good business,” as Vapaavuori said.
Cities like Helsinki are perfect for testing out new solutions. The size makes them ideal for trying out ideas and seeing what works, and it is still big enough for having great innovation. “We need a lot of innovation and technology and more cities that could be forerunners and function as platforms for testing,” Wallerstein argues. Cities have the opportunity to be playgrounds for solving our greatest challenges and if something works in one place, this solution can be exported to the rest of the continent and potentially the world.
There are plenty of challenges in today’s world and an urgent need for innovation. According to Wallerstein and Vapaavuori every single person needs to take an active role and be part of the solution. Startups have an unique role to utilise the innovation happening in tech and using them to develop solutions for the future.
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