Kerkko Vanhanen, Forum Virium Helsinki. Programme Director of Smart Kalasatama

As Programme Director at Forum Virium, can you tell us what Forum Virium’s role is in making Helsinki a smarter, more livable and sustainable city?

Forum Virium Helsinki is a nonprofit innovation company owned by the City of Helsinki. I would say we have our other foot firmly in the future. Our objective is to build new better city services and support the city in its digital transformation. We create new business opportunities and open up contacts for international markets. From the very start, ideas under development are tested as part of people’s everyday lives. We collaborate closely with companies, academic institutions and all units of the City of Helsinki.

Can you explain how Helsinki has embraced using smart technologies to create a more sustainable and livable city and to become in its own words ‘the most functional city in the world’?

I wouldn’t say we have become one yet, but that definitely is a clear goal. The long term strategy to produce and publish open data as well as an open mindset have made a solid foundation on which new time saving innovations can be made.

The city’s strong policy to support a comprehensive public transport system and nowadays also cycling and the excellent city bike system make mobility more effective – all places are easily accessible without owning a car.

Surveys have shown that 77% of journeys in Helsinki are made by sustainable means (walk, cycle or public transport) and now has the ambitious aim for the city to be car free by 2025. How are Forum Virium involved in meeting this aim and can you explain a bit about how you think the city can best become car free?

A car free city by 2025 is not an official target and it will not happen. However certain parts of the city enable a pure car free lifestyle. Using the latest services in the mobility sector, utilizing the strength of MaaS (Mobility as a Service) and the new last mile services piloted for example in Smart Kalasatama, one may adopt a car free lifestyle.

What do you think are the key features of successful smart city projects and where have you seen them have the most impact on quality of life for people and sustainability?

A clear target and a frame vision are needed. Our vision in Smart Kalasatama is “One more hour a day”. Parallel to that the City of Helsinki has set an ambitious strategic goal to be carbon neutral by 2035. When the projects and themes are set, they should be in line with those goals.

We believe that an open mind and genuine will to cooperate and share knowledge and experience are very important. Do also conduct agile pilots – If you engage normal residents in the development of projects and offer companies test bed opportunities and market references – you will gain success sooner or later.

When you worked at Helsinki Region Transport you rebuilt and created an innovative new open journey planner that users can actively contribute to; can you explain the impact that this project had/has and how you see journey planners being used in the future as part of smarter cities?

In that project we had a few great targets: we wanted to build the new journey planner from scratch and get rid of the old proprietary service. We decided that the new product would be written completely in open source code. We also wanted to make it utilize real time public transport data the best possible way. Service design tools and agile development methods as well as pretty active interaction with potential users were in use from the very first steps. An ambitious decision was to make the journey planner nationwide.

As a result, we built a great mobile service that enables the user to use the public transport system the best and most effective way. The service provides all necessary information about all public transport modes, including the real time occupation info of our extremely popular city bikes.

In smarter cities now and in the near future people are and will increasingly be more and more aware of different mobility alternatives. They choose the best transport mode case by case with the help of offered journey planners or other mobility services.

What in your opinion is the most important challenge and solution facing cities in becoming more sustainable?

Energy efficiency and smaller local de-centralized solutions to produce energy are really important. With the right type of data you can also affect people’s behavior and support them to make right choices in terms of energy consumption or mobility issues.

If you had to choose one of Helsinki’s and Forum Virium’s smart city policies or projects that you would recommend other cities to use and make their own what would it be?

The most important tools for building Smart Helsinki have been new technology and open access to data. Shared, common standards and replicating successful operating models are particularly worthwhile in the digital world.

The city needs to be an enabler. The best way to do this is to open its processes, data sets, information systems and policies.

How do you envisage Helsinki looking, functioning and feeling as a place to live and be in, in 2030?

An interesting, green and livable carbon neutral city, where people are very well used to different digital services. Some of those services proactively support their daily life in the fields of healthcare, mobility and education. Helsinki will also be an internationally acknowledged urban lab for all kinds of smart city development.


By Richard Lambert.

Magadalena Cortiñas

About Magadalena Cortiñas

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International affairs & communication assitant at CITIES FORUM. She has worked 6 years in Buenos Aires wihtin the ministries of education, innovation and public helath in diferent roles regarding communication, international affairs and management.