Turning suburbs into living labs

The Helsinki Innovation Districts project spread innovation activities from new areas to four suburban districts and the fastly growing Pasila area. The work continues within new projects in the districts. 

The Helsinki Innovation Districts project helped Helsinki to find smart everyday solutions and to create more functional urban space in Pasila, Malmi, Malminkartano and Mellunkylä. The innovation operations were brought to suburban regeneration areas from the developing new areas. These suburban districts have different needs and local networks to those of new areas, but the same co-creation methods still work.  

Collaboration through piloting programs

The Helsinki Innovation Districts project carried out three piloting programs and brought more than 20 pilots to the urban space. The role of the programs was to bring together businesses, the City’s experts, researchers and residents and to create collaboration. 

Agile pilots preceded the suburban regeneration projects and showed the local residents that the City is present in their district. For businesses, pilots provided an agile way to test their own solutions in a real-life environment in urban laboratories. With piloting, the objective is always to learn and discover as many things about new solutions as possible and do this openly, sharing the lessons learned.

“The agile pilots help us at the City develop our own processes,” stated Malmi Project Director Kimmo Kuisma from the City of Helsinki at the conclusion event of the Helsinki Innovation Districts project.

Pilots from lighting to play

The suburban neighbourhoods as urban laboratories differed from one another in terms of their infrastructure and needs alike. This was taken into consideration in the solutions developed in the areas. The focus was on urban greenery and vacant spaces  in Malminkartano, on wood construction and solutions for children and young people that encourage spending leisure time in Mellunkylä, on guidance in Pasila, and on lighting and the use of outdoorspace in Malmi.

The pilots were connected more closely than before to the City’s own development work, such as renewal projects of urban space. The Helsinki Innovation Districts project envisioned possible futures of the areas with pilots, co-creation, and new methods.

Mellunkylään rakennetaan värikkäitä istumiseen ja hengailuun sopivia katoksia ja penkkejä.

Pilots guiding investments

The lessons learned from the pilots steered the City’s investments by showing what kinds of solutions would work in each area. The pilots yielded more information about the feasibility of new kinds of solutions, making viability assessments easier. They also facilitated developing functional solutions further, as the City invested in their development. 

For example, the innovative lighting experimented in Ala-Malmi Park was expanded after the pilot as the City of Helsinki ordered a new lighting plan that utilises interactivity for the surrounding area of the cultural centre Malmitalo. 

In several areas, the City also invested in modular green temporary pop-up spaces that make the urban space more attractive, implemented through RaivioBumann’s Parkly and Innogreen’s green wall solutions. The locals were heard in the planning and placement of the pop-ups.

Co-creation and radical optimism as guides to future

Participatory foresight served as an important tool for co-creation with stakeholders throughout the project. The process used in the autumn of 2023 with the Nordic Works Collective yielded radically optimistic paths into the future, as well as bundles of ideas to steer cooperation in urban renewal areas in the future.

Five new projects have been launched to continue the themes of the Helsinki Innovation Districts project. These projects will result in many of the identified development needs, so the work in  the Helsinki Innovation Districts will continue at least until 2028. 

“It is great that collaboration with the local networks and the City’s divisions, businesses and residents will continue in the Helsinki Innovation Districts. Urban regeneration, co-creation, and innovation activities will provide a framework for creating radically optimistic futures,” comments Development Manager Kaisa Spilling from Forum Virium Helsinki. 

Next stop: food, healthy citizens and green infrastructure

The urban labs of the suburban regeneration areas will focus on developing a verdant city in the upcoming years. For example, the Pilot Green project will bring green infrastructure pilots to Malminkartano, while the GreenIn Cities project will promote participatory design and innovative green area implementations that take climate change into account in Malmi. 

Urban food and wellbeing play an important role when creating lively and attractive urban environments. The Urban&Local project involves carrying out co-creation and pilots in areas such as the Ylä-Malmi market square to improve the availability of local food. 

The KauKo – kaupunki kokeilualustana (‘City as an innovation Platform’) project launched in the autumn of 2023 involves city districts serving as urban laboratories for solutions to promote wellbeing, health and physical activity.

The publication: Co-Creating Innovative Districts 

Helsinki Innovation Districts project has utilised a wide variety of tools that support the innovation activities in the urban laboratories, from futures thinking to design sprints, and agile pilots. The key role of social innovation is highlighted in suburbs and suburban regeneration areas. 

The best methods used are presented with examples in the Co-Creating Innovative Districts -publication. The publication compiles key tools of innovation work and lessons learned, providing concrete examples of their utilisation in different districts. 

Smart City development is not just the joy of new districts, it is needed in the older districts as well. The city of the future is being built for an ever-increasing number of residents, retrofitting smart and sustainable solutions to the old infrastructure. Experimental and participatory development at the district level is crucial. Agile piloting is also a way for futures making, to actively build radically optimistic futures. 

In addition to Helsinki’s regeneration areas, the projects of Forum Virium Helsinki will continue to focus on the inner city, such as Pasila and the smart urban development model areas of Kalasatama and Jätkäsaari. 

The first photo: a clip from video made by The Flux
Other photos: Vesa Laitinen

In addition to suburbs, the projects of Forum Virium Helsinki will continue to focus on the inner city, such as Pasila and the smart urban development model areas of Kalasatama and Jätkäsaari. 

The first photo: a clip from video made by The Flux
Other photos: Vesa Laitinen