Helsinki has millions of square metres of office space, saunas and club rooms in housing corporations and public spaces that are either not being used at all or are only used occasionally by the owners, while there is great demand for various types of spaces. Now this situation is about to change. Making these spaces available for the residents is part of Helsinki’s current strategy, with which it is attempting to become the best functioning city in the world. Helsinki Deputy Mayor Nasima Razmyar believes the city’s decision to make its spaces available for the residents to use is a good one.

“As part of my work I must daily think of ways in which we can improve the utilisation rate of our spaces when it comes to sports and cultural activities. A vast amount of public funds is tied to these millions of square metres. More efficient use of this space means better use of the tax euros and makes the city more vibrant”, she says.

“The city’s spaces should be for the residents to use. Facilities can be easily booked through digital services with a few clicks. This is true innovation!”

Helsinki will become the most functional smart city in the world

The REFILL project shares the best practices acquired from the temporary use of spaces among European cities. At the end of February, representatives from the ten European cities participating in the project met in Athens in order to share their best methods for temporary use of empty or vacant spaces.

Razmyar represented Helsinki in the panel discussion on how cities could benefit from making their spaces available for temporary use. Temporary use means the short-term utilisation of otherwise empty spaces. An empty place or area can function as the venue for a festival or other event to initiate the area’s use by its residents and to let the residents become more familiar with it. This is the way, for example, the University of Helsinki’s course Tilapioneerit (‘Space Pioneers’)  activated old Maria Hospital and Kera in Espoo. With gradual experimentation, a facility can also find a new purpose or it can be renovated, as has been done by Oranssi ry at the old factory and some residential buildings in Suvilahti. In some areas, there might not be completely unused facilities but many that are only used in the daytime, for example. These spaces can be made available to the citizens when the facility’s regular occupants are not using it.

“Helsinki wants to be a smart city, but also the world’s most functional city. Education, innovation and participation are in our DNA. Making our city-owned premises available to our residents supports all of these goals”, Razmyar stated at the beginning of the panel discussion.

The panelists stressed the importance of making the cities’ spaces more available, as this will help strenghten the identity and sense of place of the neighbourhoods and aid in the creation of social innovations.

Razmyar also reminded the audience of the versatile needs that citizens have.

“When you think of space as a service, it is important to factor in different types of user groups, such as minorities. Currently, many people in cities feel that the spaces are not for them, and this is something we must change.”

The REFILL final publication is now available. It includes fact sheets that also introduce Flexi Spaces as a tool for temporary use.

Helsinki’s smart solutions are applicable around Europe

In Helsinki, Flexi Spaces (‘Joustotilat’) project has been developing a model for a digital service for independent access to facilities using smart locks.

“Digital solutions play a key role when making spaces available. Forum Virium is an excellent example of how Helsinki is being turned into the world’s best functioning city through smart solutions”, Razmyar told the audience.

The will to promote the utilisation of empty space is strong in other parts of Europe, as well. The REFILL network has been used to exchange ideas, experiences and examples of approaches with which cities can be developed through the temporary use of their vacant premises. The examples and methods can be found in the series of publications produced by the REFILL project and the joint publication Tilat avoimiksi (‘Open spaces’) by three facility projects in Helsinki.

The solutions created by Helsinki to make its spaces better available have attracted a lot of attention online, and the project team and developers of the city’s digital services have received enquiries about the possibility of utilising the model in other European cities, as well.

After the panel, the Deputy Mayor felt satisfied.

“Sharing information with our European colleagues is always rewarding. We are proud to present abroad the savvy solutions we have developed in Helsinki, and they can be applied to cities all around the world. As spaces become more readily available, the need to construct new ones decreases, along with the emissions. Simultaneously, cities will also become more lively. A happier and more vibrant city will benefit us all.”

See also:

REFILL – temporary use for dummies video