One of the main problems of contemporary planning is that it is done in silos: the various experts and decision makers all have their specific interests and practices, which are confined within thematic and geographical areas. Even if integration is the buzz-word, it is not easy to make it real. There is a certain path-dependency in urban and regional expertise: each profession has its own history of combining knowledge with power, and it is also important to defend one’s position in the planning commission. Who is needed, and what kind of knowledge is relevant? There is nothing self-evident in this. Different countries have used different experts; in Finland for instance, there is no actual planning profession, but planning is done by architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, planning and urban geographers, among others. They all have different educational backgrounds and, correspondingly, different priorities.
On the other hand, urban and regional governance is also confined within specific geographical areas. The cities are drawing their detailed and structural or master plans – mainly blueprints – and the regional authorities consider regional policies and land-use. At the moment the current government of Finland is planning a major new reform in regional governance, in which independent regions (with elected councils) would take care of social and health-care services, as well as regional land-use plans. The existing independent municipalities (many of which are too small to take care of their ageing population) would be left with local municipal plans and educational and cultural services. Whatever will be the result of this reform, one problem seems to persist: the different authorities take good care not to step on each others’ toes. Helsinki is careful not to suggest anything for the other cities of the metropolitan area (Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen), to say nothing of the larger urban region – and vice versa.
People – in contrast – are not confined. They may be living in one municipality and working in another – nay, they may be living and working in several municipalities and even city regions at the same time, changing their home and workplace as soon as it fits their purposes. They may have primary and secondary homes for both living and working, which is made possible by fast computer networks everywhere. In addition to the home and the office, they may occupy libraries and coffee shops for multi-local working. They would also like to use services according to their preferences and accessibility, but here they face a problem: urban and regional governance has no way of dealing with this fluidity and complexity. From the governance point of view, people are still conceived to be more or less fixed, with one place and neighbourhood of residence determining their local taxes, their public services, their local and national identity, and their political citizenship. Thus the functional urban region is not corresponding to the institutional framework that is supposed to govern it. This incongruence is only partly remedied by the voluntary agreements between the national and the local states, the so-called MALPE-agreements, trying to integrate land-use, transportation, services and the economy.
With nature we have another wicked problem at hand. Before the concepts of sustainable development and ecology came so widespread in planning discourses, the main functions of green areas and networks were recreation and preservation of endangered species and cultural landscapes. They fitted nicely with the overall scheme of functionalistic land-use planning, allowing the confinement of a suitable amount of green around or within the more profitable functions of housing, industry or transportation. At the same time they could be dealt with as structural elements connecting housing with recreational functions. Surely they were understood as having ecological roles as well, as e.g. corridors for species or water retention areas, but not necessarily analysed as such.
How different is our understanding of the urban and regional green today, after decades of research on green infrastructures, ecosystem services, health effects, micro-climates, stormwater management etc. that urban ecology is dealing with. Not so different as one might expect. The two functions of recreation and preservation still dominate the field: we are debating on how much green can be sacrificed for urban development, which areas should be preserved, and what form the green network should take. The main points seem to be too difficult to handle: the avoiding of the juxtaposition of urban development and urban green, the understanding of urban ecology in systemic terms (and not as end-states that can be represented with two-dimensional maps), and addressing the different qualities of the urban green and the respective ecosystem services. An urban forest and a golf course are both green, but they provide very different services, both ecologically and socially.
The issue, thus, does not seem to be the existence or the amount of knowledge, but the way that urban reality is conceptualised through this knowledge, whether it is scientific or professional. And if so, dealing with the complex and dynamic urban reality at hand requires re-concpetualisation, and this is exactly what we are interested in.
Libraries as transitory workspaces and spatial incubators
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. 2015 In : LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE RESEARCH. 37, 2, p. 118-129
Emerging workplaces in the post-functionalist cities
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. Forthcoming in JOURNAL OF URBAN TECHNOLOGY.
Exploring the concept of green infrastructure in urban landscape. Experiences from Italy, Canada and Finland
Di Marino, M. & Lapintie, K. Forthcoming in LANDSCAPE RESEARCH.
Nowadays, we almost weekly hear about various emerging transport technologies, bound to change our everyday lives. Some examples include ride-sharing and trip integration applications, unmanned aerial vehicles, and high speed transport tube. One of these emerging technologies, and potentially the most disruptive one, are self-driving vehicles . This technology is in its late foundational stage, with many pilots internationally, and several alternative visions. Lately we can hear about Tesla’s autopilot feature implementation in the US, truck platooning trials in Australia, or pilots of self-driving shuttles in Helsinki, Espoo, and Tampere.
All of the possible variants have certain premises of their benefits, and some of the already identified burdens. This is where the roots of the wider disruption can be seen. For example, some of the possible benefits are the improvement of traffic flow efficiency, safety, and reduction of CO2 emissions. On the contrary, some of the identified issues are potential job loss in the taxi, bus, or truck driver sector, or potential urban sprawl due to the increase of acceptable travel distances. One can, after a brief reflection , see that the disruption will not be just about transport. Quite the contrary, disruption will be societal, including infrastructure and technology, public and private sector organizations, as well as citizen activities and practices, and societal norms and values.
Unfortunately, the current technological development approach largely neglects this whole range of societal aspects. While focusing primarily on the technical aspects, and aiming to minimize the time to the market ready product or service, the approach accounts only for “customers”. Thus, the result is a deterministic perspective on the future. To caricaturize, car manufacturers or public transport operators are not necessarily thinking of the future where biking is the primary mode of transport.
Taking into account the ongoing technological development, potential disruption, and dominant approach, what about your city? Or moreover, what about your city administration? Certainly, planners and policy-makers cannot shy away from the emerging complexity, and the unavoidable uncertainty when accounting for self-driving vehicles? Surely, the city administration is responsible for requiring to be engaged in the technological development process, in order to think of a wider range of alternative, desirable, futures? Moreover, thinking about self-driving vehicles probably requires timely account of general and localized societal values, accounting for the potential conflict among them? Perhaps this is the time to start thinking about some integrative envisioning processes? Integration, as one aspect, could be accounting for horizontal and vertical policy integration, with the inclusion of citizens throughout planning processes? Envisioning, as the other aspect, could be focusing on the lives in the future, and not solely on technology in the future?
The big question remains – is your city prepared for future mobility technologies? More questions follow this question. However, perhaps we should first ask the following – who will ask the questions?
 The author intentionally uses the word ‘vehicle’ instead of ‘car’, in order to avoid constraining the concept of this technology.
 P-L. Blyth, M. N. Mladenović, B. A. Nardi, H. R. Ekbia, N. M. Su (2016). Expanding the Design Horizon for Self-Driving Vehicles: Distributing Benefits and Burdens. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine.
BEMINE -consortium gathered together on 26.-27.10.2016 to find common themes and points of interest within the consortium. In the beginning every research group presented the earlier research they have done related to BEMINE. The aims of the seminar were to find common inter-disciplinary themes and define collaborative research questions.
State-of-the-art presentations can be found here:
Aalto – Raine Mäntysalo
UTa – Jarmo Vakkuri
Aalto – Kimmo Lapintie
UTa – Jouni Häkli
SYKE – Ari Nissinen
VTT – Juha Honkatukia
UoM – Joe Ravetz
JYU – Hannu Tervo
NMBE – Petter Næss
Raine Mäntysalo: Breaking MALPE paths
BEMINE -consortium gathers together on 26.-27.10.2016 in Finnish Environment Centre to find common themes and points of interest within the consortium and integrate research groups and their research themes.
10:15-10:30 RE-DEFINE forum lessons & Interaction in SRC projects
10:30-11:45 State-of-art -session 1
12:45-13:30 State-of-the-Art WIKICAFE 1
13:45-15:00 State-of-art -session 2
15:00-15:45 State-of-the-Art WIKICAFE 2
16:00-16:45 IRG reflections
16:45-17:00 Day 1 wrap-up
19:00 Dinner, restaurant Kappeli
09:10-09:30 Introduction to Phase 2 collaboration
09:30-09:45 Learning from day 1: central issues; Introduction to workshops
09:45-11:30 Phase 2 parallel workshops
11:30-12:30 Presentation of workshop findings
13:15-14:00 Collaborator/stakeholder workshop
14.15-15:00 Communication/media workshop
15.00-15:30 Wrap-up and next steps
The State of European Cities 2016 has just been published as a joint effort by DG REGIO of the European Commission and UN-Habitat ahead of the Habitat III Conference. It contains invaluable information about the progress and potential of European cities in 28 EU member states supplemented by the EFTA countries in the areas of people, environment, governance and the economy.
In the report, cities are seen as solutions rather than hotspots for challenges, Dr Terämä rejoices.
”In the report, cities are seen as solutions rather than hotspots for challenges”, Dr Emma Terämä, a Senior Research Scientist at SYKE and a member of the BEMINE consortium, rejoices. She comments the report in a blog post at syke.fi. ”What we wish to explore further, as supported by this excellent report, is the much-needed European comparison of sustainable and liveable cities, what demographic and diverging trends cities and regions are experiencing, and how to increase evidence-base for decision-making and collaboration in tackling the upcoming issues”, she paints for the future.
You can read more about Dr Terämä’s reactions and comments on her blog post at syke.fi.