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Future Earth Finland Living lab event discussed the challenges of sustainable urbanization

Urbanization is a global megatrend and, in the future, the majority of people will live in cities also in Finland. In September 2015, Future Earth Finland gathered an extensive group of experts from different backgrounds to discuss the challenges of sustainable urbanization. The event was part of the “Living lab network for global change research” run by Future Earth Finland.

Changes in nature and societies are interlinked

The day started with a talk by professor Markku Kulmala, a renowned climate scientist and the Chair of Future Earth Finland. Kulmala stated that if we want to tackle the grand challenges of our lifetime, we must grasp the big picture of the dynamic interactions between nature and societies.

– Challenges related to food, water, biodiversity, epidemics, chemicalization, air-quality and climate change are not separate problems. On the contrary, these problems are deeply interlinked, Kulmala stressed. Scientists need to study and understand these interlinkages and convey the knowledge of the interdependencies to decision-makers.

Kulmala emphasized that tackling global challenges requires closer collaboration among researchers and users of scientific research. According to Kulmala, scientists are responsible for the scientific excellence of research. However, co-design and co-production of research with the end-users is an effective way to make sure that research answers societally relevant questions and that research is in a format that is easy to use.

Kaisu Anttonen, Director of environment of the city of Tampere, underlined that cities play a central role in global change.

– In the end, most global problems and their solutions are created at the local level. Municipalities and cities take these problems seriously and work hard to respond to the challenges, stated Kaisu Anttonen.

The invited speakers gave examples of best practices on how to advance sustainable urbanization in cooperation with researchers and stakeholders. Pia Hastio, head of urban planning for the city of Tampere, introduced the Tampere city master plan and the necessary tools to evaluate its sustainability. Other speakers talked about, for example, the upcoming tram initiative in Tampere and the global connections of wood construction. The speakers highlighted the importance of engaging citizens and other key stakeholder groups in planning the future of their own cities. The speakers also emphasized that the effective use of research is vital to sustainable city planning.

Five challenges of sustainable urbanization

After the presentations, the participants moved into small groups and discussed the most pressing challenges in urbanization. The participants agreed that sustainable urbanization needs solutions-oriented research and multidisciplinary research collaboration. In order to succeed, research needs also dynamic interaction and dialogue with the users of research, especially with city planners and residents. After identifying a number of challenges, the participants voted for the five most pressing ones:

  • From fragmented planning to holistic perspective: a shared, sustainable city
  •  Decision-making in the city: co-production of ideas and information and transparent decision-making in long-term strategic planning
  • Optimizing sustainable growth and carbon-neutrality
  • Sustainable and high-quality mobility; advancing public transportation, walking and biking in the city
  • Decentralized renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable energy management

Finally, the participants formed research proposals based on the five key challenges. In their proposals, the participants identified, for example, the key stakeholders and the different fields of science that should be involved in the proposal.

The discussion and the proposals will be presented for the most important research funders in Finland such as Academy of Finland and Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation (a private foundation focused on environmental issues).


Text: Iina Koskinen and Tanja Suni, Future Earth Finland