Higher and more sustainable

2018-03-08 12:28


Espoo has already been named the most sustainable city in Europe twice, and the city intends to keep its title. This is why sustainable development is a priority in our strategy, the Espoo Story. A rail connection will be built to connect all five urban centres, which are becoming denser and growing upwards. The close connection to urban nature, appreciated by Espoo locals, will be preserved in all of the centres.

Espoo’s population has grown tenfold in sixty years. This growth has been significantly faster than the average growth in the Helsinki area. The city’s population will exceed 300,000 in 2022. This means that Espoo gains some 4,500 new residents every year. The growth comes from both immigration and a high birth rate. It is supported by urbanization, a phenomenon currently affecting various areas globally, and in Espoo’s case, the new rail connections. Of the five city centres in Espoo, only Leppävaara and Espoon keskus used to be connected by rail. Once a new railway line to Espoon keskus is built for local traffic by the main line, the city will have a real urban railway line. The metro from central Helsinki now reaches Tapiola and Matinkylä. The second phase to Kivenlahti is currently under construction. The Jokeri Light Rail will connect the metro line to the urban railway line at the Ring 1 road, providing a rail connection from the Keilaniemi and Otaniemi metro stations to the Leppävaara train station by Sello. Construction of the Jokeri Light Rail will likely begin during this year.

The state is funding the metro project, and in return, Espoo has promised to draw a plan for apartments for 70,000 new residents in the metro zone. The current city centres are becoming denser and taller. At the same time, completely new local centres are being created, such as the residential areas Vermonniitty and Finnoo.

The most sustainable city

The title is not unwarranted, as last year and the year before, Espoo was named the most sustainable city in Europe in a survey covering 140 cities. Espoo’s objective is to keep its status as number one. Espoo’s network-like structure has proven useful from the perspective of sustainable development. Head of Technical and Environment Services, Olli Isotalo, says he thinks that if the plans of the city were started in the present day, it would probably not be designed around an old-fashioned centre. “The model of five city centres has proven efficient for sustainable growth. A network-like urban structure used to refer to suburbs. Now we have discovered the power of having urban nature and all social elements nearby. For a city to grow, investments need to be made, and investments also create operating costs. Growing municipalities also have plenty of need for basic renovation work. “For example, schools are builtwith measurements to sustain longer periods of growth,” Isotalo explains.

Olli Isotalo Matinkylän metroasemassa.
Photo: Timo Porthan

The same is true of traffic solutions. Espoo is investing heavily in public transport. As a result, it is possible to base the development of the entire community structure on public transport instead of simply using it to develop new residential areas.

“Companies are eager to find premises along good transport connections, too.

The metro and the Jokeri Light Rail have significantly increased enterprises’ interest in finding locations by the rails.”

According to Isotalo, growth requires attractions: jobs and services need to be available in addition to housing.

“This means that it is essential the city isn’t the only body organizing services. And zoning buildings outside land owned by the city means more operators can be attracted.

The Helsinki Metropolitan Area - the spearhead of growth in Finland

It is typical for the area that instead of opening specific new areas every year, construction is constantly going on in different parts of the cities.

Diverse housing production allows Espoo to provide citizens with solutions for different age periods and life stages in their own hometown.

“Growth can’t be selective; you can’t only try to attract the wealthy. You need to take full pieces of the cake and not try to eat it layer by layer,” Isotalo says.

He finds it important that areas are inhabited by people in different stages of life. As a result, if you get tired of clearing the way to your house of snow every winter, you can simply sell the house and find an apartment in a building that is home to people of different ages.

Espoo’s sustainable development goals make everyday life more comfortable and convenient

Smart urban solutions, smooth transport and emission-free energy production promote a sustainable lifestyle and increase opportunities for enjoying recreational activities in urban nature. The ambitious goal of becoming a carbonneutral city by 2030 is one example of this.

Measures aiming at carbon neutrality will also improve the comfortability of life in the surrounding area.

The greatest challenges are in emission- free energy concern heat production. District heating accounts for 42 per cent of all emissions. One quarter of district heating is already produced from renewable energy sources. Four years ago, their portion of the production was one per cent. The city has signed an agreement with Fortum, stating that all heat production will be carbon neutral by 2030.

Pasi Laitala, Director of Sustainable Development, emphasizes that sustainable development is more than just a hollow phrase.

“It all depends on whether a city is actively involved in things that allow the creation of new solutions. We succeed by remaining interesting.

Fast growth can often have negative impacts as well, but Espoo has not had any trouble this far. The centres of approximately 50,000 residents have urban centres that are surrounded by single- family houses. Urban nature is always nearby,” Laitala explains.

Studies indicate that Espoo residents value urban nature that is close by and easily accessible, most of all in their living environment.

The second most important factor is safety.

The sustainable Espoo is built together

In sustainable Espoo, growth does not simply happen through new construction, but also by finding new ways to utilize the existing urban structure. This is made possible by approaching the city as a service.

The model is being built in collaboration with Aalto University. It is already in use at the Haukilahti secondary school. The school project was originally started due to a need for temporary facilities and carried out as contracts and services at what used to be the paper industry research facility at the University’s Otaniemi campus.

“The traditional community structure is created through enhancement: build a new, big school and shut down the small ones. The service ability of a single school may be better, but it will reduce the accessibility of services.

We can find more flexible solutions by decentralizing resources and forming a network structure,” says professor Jarmo Suominen.

According to his calculations, organizing secondary education online would cut the costs by one third compared to traditional secondary education. Still, several indicators show that the current results are better.

“Education at Haukilahti secondary school was not organized in a single building, but in a network of facilities. Otaniemi has 28 restaurants, so why build a new cafeteria for the school alone? Or why should a sports hall be built when an entire sports park is available just a fiveminute walk away? According to feedback, students are not bothered by the occasional walks.” Suominen emphasizes that decentralizing services into a network of partnerships does not mean distributing them over a large geographic area, but distributing them to several operators in the surrounding area. It’s about what you should do and purchase with public money.

“This offers a cost-efficient way of ensuring the accessibility of local services,” Suominen states.

He would extend the city as a serviceapproach from schools to all services provided by the city: “What if the new city hall was a network of facilities located by metro stations?”

The original article has been published in the Espoo Magazine 1/2018