Let´s talk about the future, 17 December 2020

Let´s talk about the future, 17 December 2020

“Dear Friends,

Over half of the world’s population lives in urban reality. Every year the amount of people moving to cities grows. According to studies only in the United States by year 2050 there will be the same number of Americans living in cities as there are people in the entire nation today. In the long term even Covid-19 will not impact the urbanization of our world.

Urban reality and context is where the world’s greatest transformations are felt first and foremost. Climate change, digitalization, ageing and segregation are just some of the great transformations that will collide and co-exist in cities. These transformations will forever alter our way of life. It is our responsibility to explore, study and foresee how and why these transformations will impact people’s lives. And to try to predict what urban life will look like in 2050 and beyond.

In many ways cities are in the forefront of practical change. The implications of growing segregation impact every aspect on human existence from daycare to job market. When micromobility hits the streets, it happens in the most dense areas of city centers. Climate change impacts how we build homes and work places. Aging effects how public spaces are planned.

But the more critical questions are being asked on policy level. Who owns, stores and trades the data when cars can’t move without it? How can infrastructure be developed to enable flexible approach to the last mile? When mobility becomes a service what is the role of the city in maintaining a functional public transportation services?  And how are all these questions impacted by the populations aging? By climate change and carbon neutrality targets? By digitalization? By our fight against growing segregation? By Covid-19?

I believe that cities should be the ones tackling these questions, offering insights and finding answers. Moreover, cities should do it in global collaboration and in partnership with others. Only by getting ahead of the curve cities can stay on the driver’s seat of change.

The paradigm shift from infrastructure provider to ecosystem platform and facilitator has already started. Now cities must face new questions relating to ownership, regulation, security and holistic service design.

Helsinki’s mission is to be the most functional city in the world. Our thinking is rooted deep in the idea of city as a testbed. We want to be a platform for smart city developments and test that are fluid, agile and scalable. Helsinki is willing to act as a testbed for the world and we take this role seriously.

This is one of the reasons why in 2018 I commissioned the Analysis of future transport in Helsinki. I wanted to know how all the world’s greatest transformations will impact transport in Helsinki and how we as city administration should prepare and facilitate the change. We soon realized that these questions are at the top of the list of every mayor and city administrator in the world. Soon we were asking the same questions in global scale. Now we aim to find practical answers and solutions for ourselves and at the same time provide context and basis for thought for other cities of the world.

The bottom line of the analysis is this: Everyone pretty much understands what electrification of transport means. Everyone pretty much understand what autonomous vehicles, sharing economy and data driven infrastructure are. But does anyone understand, what all these mean combined together? And how this – in addition to other upcoming and future phenomena –  will, in turn, impact almost every aspect of city life?

All these questions relate to policy development, business development, ecosystem development and finally – to behavioral development. Many questions deal with money and ownership. Something that cities are not always best equipped to deal with. Businesses and innovations become central drivers for change and cities must react to these in new ways. Our ability to develop models for public-private partnership might be one of the key success factors of building a sustainable, high-quality and human-centric system of transport in the future.

The analysis we make public today and this discussion aims to make sense of a very complex future – an almost impossible task that almost always ends with an array of new questions. Acknowledging this we wanted to take a bold step and find a model that would work for Helsinki in real life. During the next years this continuously updated model will guide the transport planning of the city. It will also drive us to make choices and prioritizations. Future model will guide pragmatic choices and decisions. I also wish that this work will help other cities ask themselves the same central questions and prepare for the same choices we are forced to make.

We embarked on this journey about the future of transport in order to find out how we should prepare for the future, and how much in charge a city can actually be about its own transport system. The analysis points us to a direction, but in the end it is up to us – decision-makers, city administrators and experts – to take a holistic view and determined steps towards a system that will ensure that people – not businesses or city institutions – will stay in the center of our transport future. This is not a matter of political opinion or ideology. Instead, it must be fact-based, well-researched strategy that relies on expert analysis.

For some city decision-makers this transport paradigm shift can be difficult. We can’t regulate, control, tax or charge our way into a desired outcome. Instead, we must rely on our ability to deliver transport platform where the sustainable choice is the most desirable choice.

I am very proud to share the floor today with my dear colleague, Mayor of Stockholm, Anna König Jerlmyr. Under her leadership Stockholm has taken major steps forward in its urban mobility strategy and, amongst other things, has earned number one place in the recent 2020 Deloitte City Mobility Index.

I want to thank our team of experts for a seriousness by which this analysis has been completed, and Bloomberg Philanthropies and World Economic Forum for their assistance in finalizing this analysis.

Today we will hear from multiple experts and city officials their views on the transformation of urban transport and how we should prepare for this new reality.  In the long run I believe these voices and visions will be crucial in our quest to provide sustainable good life for our citizens.”


Photo: Jussi Hellsten