About Jarmo Eskelinen

Wanna-be-nerd, music lover and road cyclist. Networker, at least sometimes. Busy for the University of Edinburgh, Data-Driven Innovation initiative.

Towards the Tipping Point

Read the University of Edinburgh and City Region Deal’s response to the report here

In August 2020, the Scottish Government published its review of Scotland’s tech ecosystem, prepared by Mark Logan (ex-Skyscanner). Few Scottish Government publications have created as much buzz. No wonder; it presents a tantalising glimpse into a bright future for the Scottish economy. It was a privilege to lead the University of Edinburgh and City Region Deal’s response to the report and we’re keen to continue discussion with government as plans emerge from the review.

The review was commissioned in the middle of the first lockdown and aimed to assess how the technology sector could support Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, but its recommendations reach further – they are ‘strategic’ in nature rather than ‘tactical’. It’s important to implement the recommendations in a holistic way, to push our tech ecosystem over the ‘tipping point’ and maximise the benefit.

As Mark Logan points out, universities are an exceptional asset to the Scottish Tech Ecosystem since we have a superb higher education cluster. Scottish Universities are a source of world-class research, support for accelerator activity, and generate intellectual property and talent across most of the key domains.

The challenges of ‘doing innovation’ should not be underestimated. The tech sector changes fast, and the tech ecosystem of tomorrow will be different from the one of today – we must future-proof it. As educational institutions, universities can have a vital role in this, ensuring our tech community is diverse and inclusive, and combining entrepreneurship with cutting-edge science. In our experience, even the initial process of securing funding for large innovation projects can take up to three years. That’s why it’s vitally important for us to work together and strengthen our profile as a global destination for talent and investment.

For its part, the University of Edinburgh has been the leading contributor to the evolution of the thriving start-up scene of the capital city, in collaboration with venture funders, accelerators and incubators, such as CodeBase.

In our response to the Scottish Government, we propose universities to join forces and develop a nation-wide plan to address these challenges, in collaboration between the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council, and the private sector. Scottish Universities are already at the intersections of entrepreneurial, innovative and technology-driven activity. We look forward to working with partners to push our tech ecosystem over that tipping point.

Smart Strategies Don’t Bring Success

Screenshot 2017-12-11 21.34.20Future Cities Catapult has published a fresh Global Review of Smart City Strategies in collaboration with Arup. We studied 20 global cities – some internationally recognised smart cities, others in different stages of development.

The strategies come in different shapes and sizes – some are top-down (mostly Asian cities), some grassroots up (Europe). Organisational models range from networked operations to strategies run by City departments and arms-length innovation companies.

For me, the most interesting insight was that there are no rules in how to turn the strategy successfully into reality.  Some of the best known Smart Cities, especially Amsterdam, does not have a smart city strategy at all. Instead, the agile, collaborative and data-driven way to manage technology has been embedded into the operational culture of the city.

So, to be a smart city you need to work in a smart way? No shit, Einstein.


Not one, but two Finnish finalists

Finland always finds itself in one the jumbo positions in the Eurovision Song Contest (with just one exception fortifying the rule, Lordi).

Comforting, then, that at least the country seems to punch above its weight in urban innovation. Latest recognition comes from the European Commission, which has not one, but two Finnish cities among the finalists for the next iCapital, European Innovation Capital. Both Helsinki and Tampere are on the shortlist of ten cities – established national capital vs. frantically growing regional capital. The other eight cities are Aarhus, Berlin, Copenhagen, Nice, Paris, Tallinn, Tel Aviv and Toulouse (tellingly, no UK cities), so it is going to be a tough battle.

The current iCapital, class of 2016, is Amsterdam. I was in the Charles Landry -led selection jury back then. The Finnish applicant was Espoo, whose hermetically inward-looking application did its best to hide the fact that Espoo is one of the three cities forming the Helsinki metropolitan region (sorry, Espoo). In general, cities were yawningly citizen-driven, best of this and that (with varying amount of proof), oh so international, and all over the place.

The shortlisted ones were able to prioritise, concretise and resource their ideas, balancing the big picture with realistic plans – after all, the iCapital award is just a million, and a year is a short time. In the last round the finalists presented their cases to the jury. Best cities managed to tell a believable and genuine story, adding colour to their written proposals and convincing the jury that they do master the content behind the buzzwords. They had also rehearsed their presentations well – an obvious thing, except it wasn’t.

Tampere and Helsinki are driving forces in the pioneering Six City Strategy, one of the last large projects I won while still in Forum Virium Helsinki. I know well the folks from both cities – rather happy to not to be in the jury this time.  Will just put my money on the Finns, either of the two. May the best city win.



Cities & Eyes – Calvino’s prophetic vision

My family spent the Christmas of 1977 in a small cottage in an island in eastern Finland, in the middle of a frozen lake.  I remember two things from that holiday: it was very cold, and I read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities for the first time. It was a profound experience for the 15-year-old me.

Invisible Cities was one of the main reasons I wanted to become an architect. Later I learnt that digging that book is an equal architect cliché to wearing black polo shirts. Could not care less. I have revisited that book countless times, and there is always something to find.

My latest epiphany is the chapter Cities and Eyes 1, which is an accurate description of our cities made transparent by social media. We all live in Valdrada.

Cities and Eyes 1

The ancients built Valdrada on the shores of a lake, with houses all verandas one above the other, and high streets whose railed parapets look out over the water. Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected, upside down. Nothing exists or happens in the one Valdrada that the other Valdrada does not repeat, because the city was so constructed that its every point would be reflected in its mirror, and the Valdrada down in the water contains not only all the flutings and juttings of the facades that rise above the lake, but also the rooms’ interiors with ceilings and floors, the perspective of the halls, the mirrors of the wardrobes.
    Valdrada’s inhabitants know that each of their actions is, at once, that action and its mirror-image, which possesses the special dignity of images, and this awareness prevents them from succumbing for a single moment to chance and forgetfulness. Even when lovers twist their naked bodies, skin against skin, seeking the position that will give one the most pleasure in the other, even when murderers plunge the knife into the black veins of the neck and more clotted blood pours out the more they press the blade that slips between the tendons, it is not so much their copulating or murdering that matters as the copulating or murdering of the images, limpid and cold in the mirror. 
    At times the mirror increases a thing’s value, at times denies it. Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored. The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from the mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point. The two Valdradas live for each other, their eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them.


Coal pile near Merihaka, my favourite Helsinki neighbourhood, with the light installation “Counterlight”.

London’s CDO appointed

Big Hand to Theo Blackwell, who will London’s first ever Chief Digital Officer (CDO)!

According to the press release, “Theo will play a leading role in realising the Mayor’s ambition to make London the world’s smartest city, ensuring that the capital’s status as a global tech hub helps transform the way public services are designed and delivered, making them more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners.”

Theo has been a Camden councillor since 2002, so he knows city from the inside. He joins the city from the public sector accelerator Public. Earlier he was a Head of Policy & Public Affairs for the video games industry’s trade body, Ukie.

Theo will be working with the Smart London Board , which was appointed in July, yours truly being one of the members. A few months old London Office for Technology & Innovation will be in a key role in making seamless, interoperable and safe digitalised London a reality.

Theo will face a rather interesting, hopefully not impossible amount of challenges. A tough nut to crack will be the model of collaboration between the boroughs of London. As much as I am a fan of local democracy and devolution of power, trying to build seamless services and interoperability across 32 districts with their own mayors and council must be an absolute pain. In the digital domain joint initiatives are especially critical – Londoners move around a lot, and people should be able to access their services through the same interfaces if they move from Camden to Islington.

Interoperability is also critical when building the holistic picture of the city, which is increasingly important when managing urban systems. Digital twin of London needs data, and that data is often locked away in the legacy systems of the boroughs.

The key to success is in partnerships. According to Joy’s Law: “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. Hardly anywhere is this more true than in city administration. The secret sauce in urban transformation is to empower the people of the city of change it. As one of the leading tech hubs in the world. London certainly has all the necessary ingredients to succeed.


Liveable Cities Index, oh so safe & sound

The Liveable Cities Index by Economist gathers lots of visibility every year, with cities’ marketing departments bragging about high positions in social media, and local politicians using the scores as ammunition against their mayors in lower scoring cities.

The ranking measures cities on 30 factors related to safety, health care, educational resources, infrastructure and the environment. The top scores have been for years reserved for mid-sized cities from Canada and Australia, with some rather similar US and European cities making it to the top 10, as well. My former home city Helsinki is proud of its ranking in the 9th position this year.

These top cities are those of riverside terraces, great galleries, skillfully designed parks, flat whites whites and vibrant offering of established cultural events. They are like gastro burger restaurants, all original, all similar, populated by the global middle class educated elité easily swapping cities from Melbourne to Vienna.

Is that really all there is to liveability? At least that’s not all there is to vibrancy and creativity. Had New York been Vancouver-nice, we probably would not have had Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Basquiat, Mapplethorpe. Or even Madonna, the disco girl who lived through late-70’s boom. Had London been as safe and clean as Vienna, we would not have had Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols or Bowie. Or Banksy, whose works would have been efficiently washed away.

World’s mega cities are packed, clumsy, often dirty, sometimes dangerous. You can’t quite know what could happen, and you have to deal with all kinds of people. You might end up in weird places and odd situations. You see sights you might not particularly want to see.

That is the friction of the city you need to learn to cope with and digest which  But isn’t that what a City is all about?