Residents jumped into the shoes of a city planner

  • Participation and influencing
  • Environment
  • City planning
Petja Partanen
17.1.2023 11.25
Dream living environments were built out of Lego bricks in the workshop.

 Lego bricks were used to build energy-efficient blocks in an Espoo resident partner workshop. 

 “This is an opportunity for you to jump into the shoes of a city planner,” says Jani Tartia, Specialist at the City of Espoo’s Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development.

The workshop participants have in front of them their dream houses, built of Legos. Next, the four-person workgroups put their dream houses together to form their vision of what a sustainable and smart Espoo block of the future looks like.

The workshop held at the Lippulaiva Library is the fourth future workshop for sustainable development. In the workshops, 25 Espoo residents come together once a month to work on the city’s climate and sustainability goals together with city employees. The theme of the October workshop is highly topical: soaring energy prices.

Solutions are available but their implementation is challenging

Before the workshop started, the participants had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes at a tour of the Lippulaiva shopping centre.  Under the shopping centre is Europe’s largest geoenergy plant located in a commercial building. It heats and cools the shopping centre as well as the eight blocks of flats to be constructed in the same block.

“The geoenergy wells also serve as a massive battery. In summer, heat is stored in the geoenergy field to be utilised in winter,” says Citycon’s

Sustainability Manager Elina Ekelund.

Joni Mäkinen, Energy Specialist at the City of Espoo, talks about the smart energy solutions of the city’s own properties. The new Monikko school centre in Leppävaara is heated with geothermal energy, as is Matinkylä Swimming Hall. 

Mäkinen points out that all residents are needed on Espoo’s journey to become a carbon-neutral city by 2030.

“More than half of Espoo’s greenhouse gas emissions are in one way or another related to energy,” says Mäkinen.

The Lego houses built by the workshop participants show that Espoo residents are familiar with the latest energy technology. However, their requirements for housing vary.

“So, I built a quintessential Espoo detached house,” says Kimmo Strengell as he presents his house.

“Nature is close by, and there are solar panels on the roof. The heating could be produced in a geothermal system shared by a few houses,” Strengell continues.

Sara Syvälahti and Terhi Mäkinen have very similar ideas. Sara Syvälahti’s ideal home is a detached house in small village community.

“The community would have a shared farmland and greenhouse, carsharing system and a small-scale local biogas plant to fuel the car.”

The old village community envisioned by Terhi Mäkinen is also powered by its own biogas plant. The geothermal pipes embedded in the bottom of the lake collect heat for the community, and trips are mostly covered by bike. 

The nonconformist of the group is Niklas Astala, whose rather urban ideal environment includes a street level full of daily services while living takes place on the upper floors. Daily trips are covered by foot, bike or tram. Local electricity production by solar panels is complemented by large-scale nuclear and wind power production. Neighbourhood security is overseen by a Lego police officer.

Shared vision by Legos

Today’s workshop puts co-creation to the test with the help of Lego bricks.

“We have no shortage of new ideas or technologies. The question is, how can we introduce them as part of city operations,” Jani Tartia says.

The challenge is to get all the actors involved in urban development – companies, organisations, universities and research institutes, residents and landowners – to work together towards a common goal. The first step of co-creation is to create a shared vision of what kind of a city we are building.

The goal for the next hour of work is ambitious: form a shared vision of a sustainable and smart city block in small groups. In real life, this could take years.

Coming to a synthesis on housing requirements in a group of four proves to be challenging. When discussing his group’s work, Niklas Astala admits that the challenge was difficult. It was not easy to coordinate the densely constructed pedestrian city and old village community into the same block. However, there were also common denominators: local nature and communality were important for all group members, as were progressive energy solutions.

At the end of the workshop, Niklas Astala’s role as a future urban planning professional is revealed. He is a traffic and land use planning student at Aalto University, who applied to participate in the resident workshop last spring. The workshops have given him the opportunity to apply the things he has learnt in his studies and also explore the political decision-making in the city. The group with its 25 members is also an excellent cross-section of how different the requests of the 300,000 Espoo residents may be when it comes to their living environment.

“Listening to the views and experiences of different people really brings you back to ground,” Astala says.

Utilising the results

Astala’s view is also confirmed by the results a survey conducted at the beginning of the workshop. The most common preferred housing option listed was a terraced house, but the options ranged from a yurt to a camper van. Walking was listed as the number one mode of transport for the future, and solar and wind power and geothermal energy were once again the preferred sources of energy.

“The results of the workshop will be discussed at the Espoo sustainable development steering group meeting in a couple of weeks,” says Suvi Jäntti, workshop coordinator.

The co-creation model tested at the workshop will also be further developed based on the experiences gained. The group will meet again in November. The workshop will then be hosted in Otaniemi by the Espoo City Planning Department.  The theme will be sustainable planning.

The whole Espoo
  • Sustainability