by Francesco Venuti
The University of Helsinki recently joined forces with the University of Eastern Finland, Aalto University, University of Oulu, and Turku University to embark on ‘Transformative Cities’ (TC), a project that seeks to provide a series of research tools that can be utilised by decision-makers to promote sustainability transformations in Finnish municipalities. The project is led by Professor Christopher Raymond from the University of Helsinki and is funded by the Academy of Finland.
TC is working with the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Lahti, and Oulu to unlock transformative pathways that would help contribute to meeting the goal of a carbon-neutral Finland by 2035. With a competence cluster that includes more than fifteen business partners, two fellow international academic institutions, and multiple representatives from each of the case-study cities, TC represents a unique opportunity to synthesise expertise from different societal actors and develop synergies able to go beyond siloed thinking and practices.
TC’s most innovative aspect is the variety of approaches used and the way they are combined, which highlight the project’s interdisciplinarity and the intent to embrace a systemic perspective in investigating urban transformations. Such a perspective is operationalised through research conducted in three main sectors, namely biodiversity conservation and restoration, smooth mobility and sustainable lifestyles, and law and policy. These themes are addressed through a variety of methods, including passive and active sensing, surveys, doctrinal and empirical legal research, and gamification.
TC examines citizen mobility choices and correlates them with the set of actions and strategies that the cities under scrutiny aim to realise to promote sustainable mobility and carbon neutrality. Furthermore, TC suggests measures that integrate municipal carbon mitigation goals with biodiversity conservation and restoration, emphasising the need to uptake green infrastructure such as nature-based solutions. To account for feasibility and be able to make a tangible impact on urban green infrastructure, the project also employs legal experts who analyse the legal and policy context to unpack the barriers and trade-offs impeding sustainable interventions.
By combining the data obtained through these processes, future desirable scenarios are developed and embedded in a serious game that will be played by experts involved in municipal planning and administration. The gamification gives the opportunity to address in a controlled environment the complex problems stemming from the coexistence of multiple interests at the urban level. In doing so, the serious game sheds light on what decisions need to be taken at the municipal level to accelerate the transformation towards urban sustainability.
In conclusion, the project will yield results that take into account different aspects of urban governance and, concurrently, encourage sustainable choices for human and ecosystem wellbeing. This innovative approach allows TC to consider the overarching themes of sustainability transformation, and climate change adaptation and mitigation in conjunction, designing scenarios in which adaptation and mitigation are intertwined and mutually reinforcing.
About the Author
Francesco is a PhD candidate at the University of Eastern Finland. His PhD project focuses on the legal feasibility of implementing urban nature-based solutions across European cities. The main research areas addressed by his project are conservation of urban biodiversity and improvement of climate change adaptation. Francesco is interested in analyzing the main legal challenges that hinder nature-based solutions implementation and scaling-up within the European Union. He received his LLM in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development in 2021 from the University of the West of England.