On Saturday 8th of May, I was invited to join an inspiring and tasty brunch hosted by Ok Do and Sitra. A group of people from different design disciplines, art, it, skateboarding and bicycling, sat around the table to discuss ideas for Helsinki’s coming year as World Design Capital 2012. The local delicacies were provided by Maatilatori.
The morning’s topic was, focusing on the main theme of the WDC 2012 year, how to contribute to a more ‘open Helsinki’. We talked about inspiring experiences from Helsinki and abroad, and also about issues that need developing in our city.
The conversation went around cycling culture, bottom-up decision-making, winter conditions, availability of good, affordable food, where to hangout during daytime with children and spontaneous involvement in urban space. Besides looking for examples from outside, a crucial question is, how to better utilize the potentials of existing places, locations and traditions in the city. For example: why not develop the botanical gardens into public picnic places? Or, turn the many underground passage areas into pleasant and inviting hangout environments? Or, why not create more open-air swimming spots in the city centre, which is all surrounded by sea?
In the end, attitudes do have a great impact on the atmosphere and what people feel they can do in their city. For a city to be open, it should welcome different cultures and lifestyles, but also encourage people to participate and to initiate their own projects. In Finland, the idea of participation has often been considered problematic – but actually our group’s non-Finnish participants saw it in a bit different light. The small scale of Helsinki really puts the potential of participation in a different perspective compared to the World’s larger cities. People coming from New York or Seoul have found out that Helsinki’s small size makes it rather easy to pursue new ideas – whereas the average Finnish person might not even think it is allowed to try anything different.
As Bryan Boyer, project manager of the Helsinki Design Lab, said in an interview by We Are Helsinki magazine, the clear goal for Helsinki WDC year should be to “convey a people-first type of enthusiasm into doing and experiencing things together”. Good examples are important: “When you start to do things – and do them well – the promotion will take care of itself”, says Boyer.
»On Saturday, May 22, the organizers of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 will hold an open Ideas Forum in different locations in Helsinki, Vantaa, Espoo, Kauniainen and Lahti. The forum is open for anybody to join.