According to the Greek philosopher Aristoteles, people move to cities to seek work and income, but they remain there for the sake of good life. I like to think that we are in the business of producing good life for everyone who chooses to make their home in Helsinki.
Good life might mean different things to different people but for all of us one of the most important things is to feel welcome. That our needs are met and our special circumstances are being addressed. An important part of this is to feel independent and free in your hometown. In other words – the ability to get the essentials you need in a language that you understand.
As the capital Helsinki is responsible for the gateway to Finland. Most changes and developments – as well as new people – come to the country via Helsinki. However, Helsinki also lacks international awareness. The city has been over-shadowed by its Nordic neighbors for no reason. Yet many studies show that once people actually move here, they usually love it and want to remain. In marketing terms: our product is good, but we’re bad at telling people about it.
When I started my term as the Mayor two years ago I could feel the change of pace in the streets of Helsinki. The city is growing more vibrant and international every day. Almost any restaurant or shop in central Helsinki offers services in multiple languages and at least in English. Most leisure time activities are available in English and most large corporations include English as one of their everyday working languages. In my conversations with corporations about the need of skilled workforce from abroad I quickly understood that one of the main obstacles was that even though the city felt like an international metropolis, it was not really acting as one. There was a need for a more comprehensive vision on the position of the English language within the city organization. It was clear that we needed to produce more services in English and make sure that those services were available to everyone.
In a rapidly globalizing world competition between nations and cities is getting tougher. People choose their home from thousands of possibilities. I believe that Helsinki will do well in this competition. People want to live in safe and sound communities that offer functional surroundings and basis for a good life. Corporations want to bring their workforce to those communities. Innovators will want to live in those communities. Investments will follow people. This is why we as mayors need to make sure to address every threat to our way of life – to ensure that also in the future we are able to provide sustainable growth, good schools, safe neighborhoods and vibrant urban culture. And all this in English.
Helsinki aims to be the most functional city in the world, but my mission has also been to make Helsinki more international in its makeup and outlook. That is why developing services in English is not only about functional city or attractive brand, but life itself. And everyone’s right to have functional life in Helsinki.
We have already accomplished a lot by doubling our capacity for English-language education and early childhood education since the beginning of my term as a Mayor. Also the language skills of Helsinki citizens have been diversified by increasing language immersion and language-orientated training and education. About two years ago we also opened new International House Helsinki. It provides most of the services that new Helsinkians need in the initial stage under one roof, but most importantly it is also a place where our citizens can make new friends, find a job or learn about Finnish and Helsinki ways.
Helsinki is beyond anything else a community of people. I want to make sure all feel equally able and empowered to participate in this community. Language and services play a major role. We cannot fix all our weaknesses at once, but we must continue on a path that makes Helsinki a better home for us all. Towards this goal we must ensure that beyond language we will also develop our organizational culture, service-orientation, fluidity and curiousness in our quest of becoming a modern city that aims to champion the fundamentals of urban life – the good life that made people love cities already over two thousand years ago.
Photo: Jussi Hellsten