In the second of our pre-event interviews for Smart Cities Live I was very happy to speak to Tiina Heikka, Mayor of Lapinjärvi Municipality in Finland. Where is Lapinjärvi I hear you ask?
It is a small municipality in southern Finland, the population in 2016 according was 2764. Only 2764 citizens, so you might want to call it a super small municipality, but even though they are small Tiina and her colleagues have some really big ambitions. In fact they have already started to realise some of those ambitions and you will hear about some of them in this interview. The key to Lapinjärvi’s recent development is the citizen and what they like to call the Human-Centred Approach. So, have a read and see what you think about how this small town is punching well above its weight!
EL: Lapinjärvi is focussing on a human-centred approach, can you let us know a bit more about what you mean by human-centred?
TH: We are in the process of becoming a human-centred municipality, which means that we want to offer our citizens what they really need and want. We give people the opportunity to be part of creating and producing services and to take part in the shaping of their own living environment from the beginning. In that way we can provide better quality, give the people opportunity to actually have a say in what we are doing and at the same time be more cost effective.
EL: That sounds really interesting, do you have something to share about specific human-centred projects?
TH: For example right now we are developing memory-friendly living and housing in our community’s centre in co-operation with biggest university in Finland, Aalto-university and other organisations and partners. With Aalto University, we are working on a specific housing type, Lapinjärvi House. Lapinjärvi House is a single house especially for the elderly and it is designed in a way that you can live there for the rest of your life without the need to ever move to an institution.
We also developed a skatepark in a human oriented way. The project started as an initiative from a 14 year old skater and was built this summer. The municipality chose an internationally acknowledged skater/architect to do the design of the park and he did it together with 13-17 years old local skaters.
A year ago we started to re-design a neglected park located in the very centre of our municipality. This was carried out through an open design process where anyone living here could take part through multiple workshops. In the end a professional landscape designer drew the final plans. The park has now been built and we have the grand opening in August.
We are also working on a human oriented home care project that will offer our clients the opportunity to get personalised and individual care at home.
EL: I am impressed, some very nice projects and initiatives and great levels of engagement with your citizens along the way. Lapinjärvi is a very small municipality, some would see this as a negative, but how are you trying to turn it into a positive?
TH: From economical side it is of course a challenge. But a small municipality is also very agile – it’s a lot easier to develop new things because there’s far less bureaucracy. We also have better contact with our inhabitants and have a good fellowship and co-operation. Often people say that you can’t do anything in a small municipality, but my personal view is that in a small municipality we can do anything.
EL: I agree with you there, some of the best projects that we have reported on at Cities Digest are from the smaller and more agile municipalities. Also I feel the opportunity is greater for you to make a real difference to peoples lives in a shorter amount of time in smaller places. Employment opportunities can be limited in small municipalities, what are you doing to assist the unemployed and help retain talent?
TH: We have developed an individual, voluntary training program called Taitopaikka for the unemployed. Through spending time in a specific environment we get to know the person and his/her areas of expertise. At the same time we have a worker going around local companies searching for jobs and needs that are not necessarily listed in public. After all this it is easy to find the right work for the right worker. A year ago our unemployment rate was 14.4 % and now it is 9.0% – the decrease was the biggest in the whole South of Finland in the past year.
EL: That really is going the extra distance to help the unemployed, I am sure that the companies appreciate the help with locating the right skills too. What do you think bigger cities can learn from what you are doing in Lapinjärvi?
TH: Less bureaucracy and planning, more doing and making. If we want to develop new ways of doing things, we need to also have the opportunity to make mistakes.
I would like to thank Tiina Heikka for her time and say that I cannot wait to hear more about the future developments in Lapinjärvi. I think that small, medium and large cities could definitely learn something from the Human-Centred Lapinjärvi. We are humans after all, so it seems to make sense.
If you would like to hear more about the project then you can see Tiina in real-life at Smart Cities Live in London on 12-13 September – www.smartcitieslive.com