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.

iCapital

 

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.

Hiilikasa

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

Cities from seven countries boost 
open standards for smart cities

Thirty-one cities from seven countries in Europe and Latin America launch the 
“Open & Agile Smart Cities” initiative to accelerate adoption of 
common standards and principles for global smart city development.

CeBIT was the natural place for one of the most important announcements this year about smart city development in Europe. The Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC) initiative, signed by 31 cities from Finland, Denmark, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Brazil, aims to kickstart the use of a shared set of wide-spread, open standards and principles, enabling the development of smart city applications and solutions to reach many cities at once, by making systems interoperable between cities, and within a city.
As I told in the press conference: “Seen from a developer’s perspective, one city alone is not a market large enough. A number of cities in several countries or a continent, adopting a minimal set of de facto standards is a sizable market on which developers can start investing.”
Picture: Juanjo Hierro, Martin Brynskov (network chair), and me (vice chair).
The OASC Task Force  operates under the Connected Smart Cities (CSC) Network. The first national city networks to join the initiative are Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Tampere, Oulu and Turku in Finland; Copenhagen, Aarhus and Aalborg in Denmark; Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp in Belgium; Porto, Lisbon, Fundão, Palmela, Penela and Águeda in Portugal; Milan, Palermo and Lecce in Italy; Valencia, Santander, Málaga and Sevilla in Spain; and Olinda (Recife), Anapólis (Goiás), Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul), Vitória (Espírito Santo), Colinas de Tocantins (Tocantins) and Taquaritinga (São Paulo) in Brazil.
Cities commit to four things: first, to drive development by implementation, ie. taking concrete action and experimenting. Second, to support open APIs (Application Programming Interface) to services, such as FIWARE NGSI (lightweight means to gather, publish, query and subscribe context-based, real-time information). Third, to use and improve standard data models based on experimentation and actual usage, with data models coming from the work lead by Forum Virium Helsinki for the CitySDK (City Service Development Kit) project. And lastly, cities in the OASC Task Force will publish their open data in compatible open platforms, such as CKAN (Open Knowledge Foundation’s platform).
Commitment to adopt these common standards and principles is supported by the signature of a “Letter of Intent” by cities that become part of the initiative, several of which were present at CeBIT.
The announcement was the first wave in an ongoing series where national networks of cities join the Open & Agile Smart Cities initiative. The process is open to every city in the world which implements the mechanisms, as long as they join up at least two cities from a nation or territory.
The next wave is expected in early summer. Cities from the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Mexico are already on track.
This is a unique opportunity to develop de facto standards in an open and collaborative manner which complements the traditional standards development processes, and focuses on the needs of cities as a whole, including opportunities for local job creation and SME involvement.

Helsinki Praised In Guardian – Twice

Our presence in the Barcelona Smart City Expo (remember – the one where you could buy lots of smart cities in a box) was noticed by the press, more precisely the Guardian. Their focus is in the Open Smart City approach of Helsinki.

The New Smart City article quotes Hanna Niemi-Hugaerts of Forum Virium Helsinki: “Open311 interface allows citizens to send photos or update reports on anything from pot holes to traffic signs, the imagination is the limit. Open311 is also an open dataset, allowing third party developers or the citizens themselves to develop apps or services”.

In the provocatively headlined Stupid Mayors Are Putting The Wrong Things At The Heart Of Smart Cities  the newspaper points out, that “truly smart cities such as Helsinki are using technology that is already out on the streets and on the web, enabling residents to input and update via smartphones, while apps help them to navigate the city more efficiently.”

Thanks for the support & keep spreading the word.

ImageThe Helsinki issue tracking API makes it possible for developers to build different solutions for citizen feedback – and the city will hear.