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?



Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: I’ll start as the new CITO of the Future Cities Catapult

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 18.05.38

To follow the trend of the week and quote David Bowie, it’s time for Ch-ch-ch-changes. After a great decade in Forum Virium Helsinki, I have decided to take the next step. I have been appointed as the new CITO of the Future Cities Catapult. I will be moving to London in March, and start in my new position in the beginning of April.

There will be two new C-level people in the Future Cities Catapult. Dr Andrew Robinson joins as Chief Operating Officer (COO). He was previously Managing Director of Siemens Building Technologies and a member of the Siemens plc Executive team. Andrew has run major international business divisions through growth and change, led product innovation and complex technology projects across the built environment in construction, rail, highways, logistics and aviation in the UK, Europe, Middle East, the Americas and Asia.

Exciting times ahead.

OASC in Barcelona


Meet the new OASC cities from England, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and take part in the many interactive sessions to learn about the city-driven initiative to create a global smart city market based on simple, open standards at the Smart City Expo. Besides new countries, OASC also welcomes new cities to previous national networks. All cities have signed the OASC Letter of Intent to drive global smart city development based on city needs by implementing three simple standard mechanisms. Third wave brings the total of OASC cities above 70 cities, representing 15 country networks worldwide.

UK hosts launch event

The launch event takes place on November 18, 09.00–09.50 am, at the UK pavilion at the Smart City Expo, Gran Via, hosted by the Future Cities Catapult.

The launch panel speakers will include representatives of the Future Cities Catapult, OASC leadership, the European Commission and cities joining in the 3rd wave. After some introductory remarks, the floor will be open for an interactive Q&A session with the audience.

Apart from the launch, there are many opportunities to meet and engage with the OASC community and leadership. Below is a list of key sessions during the Smart City Expo. You can also meet representatives from OASC cities in many of the other panels.

Looking ahead: Conference, Strategy Forum

The focus of the OASC Task Force is to support the needs of the cities who are already working with the OASC mechanisms, and to inform those who are looking to assess the added value of joining the initiative.

In concrete terms, the Task Force prioritises network support through events and online resources, and technical development through working groups. The network support is targeting topics like technical issues and financing strategies.

The next big OASC event is the Connected Smart Cities Conference on January 21, 2016, in Brussels. Here, the OASC community convenes for a full day of inspiration, learning and networking at an event which is produced in partnership with key stakeholders in the global and European smart cities landscape.

The conference is scheduled back-to-back with the EUROCITIES Knowledge Society Forum and other events, essentially creating a “European smart city week”, so save the week of January 18–22, 2016.

Open & Agile Smart Cities – Smart City Expo World Congress

Tuesday, November 17

11.45–13.00: Juanjo Hierro, OASC Task Force – TE 41 Innovative platforms for multi- stakeholder processes to foster sustainable cities (Room 4).

Wednesday, November 18

09.00–09.50: OASC 3rd Wave Launch – UK Pavilion (Expo Area).
11.30–12.45: Martin Brynskov, OASC Chair – SO 63 Raising resources and creating platforms to develop more equitable cities (Room 6).

Thursday, November 19

11.30–12.45: Jarmo Eskelinen & Catherine Mulligan, OASC Task Force – GO 36 City standards and indicators spreading smart cities (Room 3).