Mayoral term 2017–2021
The leading topic of my mayoral strategy, The Most Functional City in the World, was first and foremost a core idea and an attitude what was born out of the necessity to champion the many transformations that challenged Helsinki.
Helsinki had just experienced the greatest administrative and leadership reform in its history and global transformations from climate change to urbanization and digitalization shaped the city’s operating environment. Cities around the world were seeking for the best tangible solutions for the prevention of segregation, net-zero heating or the future of urban mobility and transportation.
Cities’ power in the world is growing and at the same time the global collaboration of cities becomes increasingly impactful. Even though cities around the world compete for skilled workforce, investments and corporations they are unified in the understanding that the solutions to global problems are increasingly in the hands of cities and in this framework they are all part of the same, global family.
“The most functional city in the world” was an answer to this development, where cities success, instead of size or location, was increasingly impacted by their ability to offer the best possible conditions for a good urban life: functionality, security, advanced and enhanced urban everyday life. Client orientation, service-mindedness, increasingly modern functions, fluidity and global outlook were the key attributes that enabled Helsinki’s development day by day to a better version of itself in an operating environment that is in a constant and rapid change.
A modern and agile organisational culture is naturally not an end in itself but more of a leadership tool that has allowed us to demonstrate what we mean by being the most functional city in the world to the local community. It is important to emphasise that being the most functional city in the world it is still less about showmanship and more about doing things a little better day after day. As a mayor I wanted to keep our focus on the overarching success of my city. A functional city has many strengths and only a few weaknesses. It demands long-term commitment and strategic, holistic thinking, that extends over election periods.
The Most Functional City in the World
During my term Helsinki underwent the most substantial digital transformation in its history and gained a whole new set of skills to utilize new technologies. The city recruited its first Chief Digital Officer, created a Digitalization program, started a historic investment towards developing its digital infrastructure and – most importantly – digitalization penetrated the organization at every level.
We also build whole new set of skills for the city: Helsinki was one of the first cities in the world that founded a strategy department, that specialized in analyzing the global transformations and building holistic information based on data. The city administration was modernized by especially investing to leadership, management and de-compartmentalization. The rapid response to the changing operating environment was supported by encouraging the city’s 40 000 employees to be more active and less -risk-averse by developing new ways of rewarding and developing the salary system more compatible. Innovation capabilities were developed with for example Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Securing sustainable growth is the most essential task of the city
During my mayoral term Helsinki gained approximately over 6000 new residents every year. During the strategy period investments grew to 3,5 billion euros, which was almost 60% more that during the previous period. During my term we started to build 27 000 new apartments. 24 000 new dwellings were completed, which exceeded the goals for new production.
Even though the city was growing it happened in an ecologically sustainable manner. In 2020 Helsinki’s total emissions fell in comparison to the previous year by -9% , and in comparison to the emissions goal of the comparative year (1990) they fell -33% (the goal was -30%). Emissions per capita fell -9% in comparison to the previous year, and in comparison to the emissions goal of the comparative year 1990 -50% (the goal was -48%).
A massive number of new services were built for the new residents. During the term we oversaw 11 new schools and 12 daycare centers being build and 17 schools refurbished. A good illustration of the growth rate is that during the strategy period approximately 1 100 new day care places – a total of 4 400 – were build every year.
My term’s proudest achievements were still, beyond raising the ambition level and skills of the city organization, our ability to create completely new and innovative ways to solve the city’s most pressing challenges. We brought ecosystem-thinking into the city organization and aimed to develop the operating culture towards a more holistic decision-making. Through Helsinki’s Physical Activity Program we created 60 concrete activities that systemically impacted people’s awareness, physical surroundings and day-to-day activity in early education, basic education, work places and elderly care.
Helsinki Energy Challenge asked the whole world to envision the future’s sustainable solutions for the emission-free heating of Helsinki. We received 252 global team solutions. In the building of Maria 01 Campus we partnered with the startup ecosystem and decided together to make Helsinki the most attractive place for innovative businesses together. Additional, we were determined to substantial raise the international attractiveness of Helsinki by combining the existing Helsinki Marketing and Helsinki Business Hub to new Helsinki Partners organization, which mission is to take a giant’s leap in the development of Helsinki’s global attractiveness and in bringing more skilled workforce, investments and travelers to Helsinki. The city also invested to creative industries – the area of Suvilahti was developed as a public-private partnership to a holistic, international even space and the preliminary decision in support of a new museum of architecture and design was made together with the State of Finland and private donors.
The modernisation of services and the city’s pursuit of an organisation more suited to responding to rapidly changing circumstances and needs have been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic in all divisions, agencies and utilities. Digitalization has brought and will increasingly bring new opportunities to the development of resident services. During my term we opened up an automated textmessage based service for pre-K placements. In January 2021 5600 families were offer a placement in text message and 89% approved the placement. The percentage of children who are sent to their local school increased from 86% to 92.2% between 2017 and 2020.
The Social Services and Health Care Division’s new operating models have been adopted throughout the city. Closer cooperation between the operating models for family social services centres, health and wellbeing centres and services for the elderly is needed especially in terms of customer guidance and consultation practices.
English-speaking early education and school places was doubled to serve helsinkians from different backgrounds. English language leisure services and information services were increased.
During my term Helsinki got its first Real Estate Strategy, which goal was to steer ownership goals for the city’s real-estate towards a long-term and healthy planning. As part of the progress the organization of the Urban Environment Division was renewed to support the development towards a more service-oriented and client-centered organization.
Cities were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. We have invested in services, events and tourism in order to boost Helsinki’s vitality and appeal but also to guarantee a good standard of living for the local community. This entire ecosystem is now under threat, and it is increasingly uncertain how Helsinki’s creative economy and cultural scene will come out of the crisis. Although we did everything that we could to protect events, culture, the arts and sport, Helsinki fared no better than any other city in the world in this respect. Our long-term development plans nevertheless give us hope. The relocation of Helsinki Art Museum to the old gasometers in Suvilahti and the transformation of Suvilahti in general into an event complex, the construction of a new museum of architecture and design in Makasiiniranta as part of the development of the South Harbour, the opening of Dance House Helsinki, the first ever Helsinki Biennale on Vallisaari Island, and Helsinki’s maritime action plan, which introduces a whole new concept of experiences and services based on Helsinki’s location by the sea, are examples of how Helsinki can create a diverse platform for art and culture and give the ecosystem a chance to also thrive in the post-coronavirus world.
Responsible management of finances is the foundation of a prosperous city
The new services and substantial investments that took place during my mayoral term would have not been possible without the fact that the city’s finances had been responsibly and sustainably managed by previous administrations.
Even though we were able to grow our city and create foundations for continuous sustainable growth through growing investment levels, at the end of my term the city tax was lower than when we started four years ago, and we had less dept as a city and per capita as we did at the beginning of my term.
My successors have a financially strong and sustainable growing city.
Helsinki strengthtened and diversified its promotion of interests
Raising Helsinki’s profile and increasing our international clout were among our top priorities for the strategic planning period. We now have a voice in the world’s leading networks and decision-making arenas. Organisations such as the World Economic Forum, the UN and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and cities such as New York, London and Beijing, wanted to partner with Helsinki. We have assumed the role of a pioneer and, for example, joined forces with New York to encourage other cities to implement Voluntary Local Review of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Also in Finland Helsinki acclaimed a clear role in the promotion of Helsinki’s and its residents’ interests. Finland’s biggest cities have come under such an attack that we ultimately had no choice but to get organised and fight for our rights. On the other hand, the growing power and importance of cities have created new expectations for the capital’s role in national politics. Helsinki has grown more confident, which has translated to residents’ having a new sense of pride about their home city and becoming more invested in the local community. We made our voice heard in debates about the reform of Finland’s health and social services system, major transport infrastructure projects and the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic alike. The C21 network of Finland’s largest towns and cities has played a key role in putting local politics on the national agenda and claiming for city-level decision-making the prestige that city-specific questions have rightfully enjoyed elsewhere in Europe and around the world for years.
COVID-19 transformed the last third of the strategic planning period and altered the way in which we now plan for the future. Even though the pandemic was, and continues to be, a tragedy, we can be proud of our response to it at every level. The city organisation reacted quickly by restructuring the provision of services and taking steps to minimise social and economic impacts. Our crisis management model worked well. We communicated effectively, which helped to reassure residents and build trust. I believe that our new operating culture and more modern approach to leadership made Helsinki more resilient in crisis. Collaborative and holistic way of crisis management extended also to our partnerships. Finally, the mission of most functional city in the world made us stronger in crisis response as the foundation was laid years before.
The next stages
I have done everything in my power as Mayor to defend Helsinki and our chosen strategy. I have tried to run the city in a way that ensures that the organisation that I hand over is more insightful and even healthier than it was when I became Mayor.
I believe that we have laid down a solid foundation on which my successors can build with confidence. Many of our strategic objectives became routine for the city organisation, and the direction in which Helsinki is now being steered is likely to ensure the city’s continuous success also in the future.