In terms of urban development, the Finnish capital has found its way between the all-technological and the all-participative.

Surrounded by the calm waters of the Gulf of Finland, architecturally contemporary brick buildings rise block after block into a crane sky over the ancient port of Sörnäinen. The Kalasatama district ("fishing port" in Finnish) is one of Helsinki's major urban developments. Nothing futuristic at first sight, yet this operation of 175 hectares is one of the most interesting attempts in Europe to give substance to the nebulous concept of smart city. "We have chosen Kalasatama as a field of experimentation, a platform for cooperation and innovation for the city, economic actors and citizens," says Anni Sinnemäki, the deputy (ecologist) to the Mayor of Helsinki in charge of the urbanism. The innovations that work in Kalasatama, we will spread elsewhere. "

The Finnish capital must solve a delicate equation: in September 2017, the municipality set the goal of achieving carbon neutrality in 2035, even though its population is expected to jump from 640,000 residents today to 780,000 in 2035. "We want to build housing for everyone, but to achieve our climate goals we must think in terms of smart city, paying attention to the social aspect and not just to technological innovation," says Sinnemäki.

"Public-private-population partnership"

The district summons the heavy artillery of the sustainable city. Kalasatama is served by the metro, and several tram lines are under study. All buildings have the obligation to connect to the urban heating and air conditioning network powered by huge heat pumps recovering energy from the city's wastewater. The Katri Vala underground power plant, buried in a cave dug into the rock close to Kalasatama, is the largest of its kind in the world. Buildings must also integrate a smart grid ("smart grid"), which will pool the electricity produced and consumed by the million square meters of housing and 390,000 m2 of offices. The requirements for energy efficiency are drastic, buildings must produce 30% of their energy this year and rise quickly in power: Kalasatama wants to show a neutral energy balance in 2030, when 25 000 inhabitants and 10 000 employees will populate the neighborhood ...

But the most interesting is not there. "We do not just want to save energy: we want to focus on the human, the quality of life, the uses, create a spirit of community," says Veera Mustonen. The young woman works for the Forum Virium, the innovation department of the city of Helsinki, a cell of 35 people set up by the municipality to accelerate the implementation of the smart city. "This is a public-private-population partnership: we are here to support large groups, start-ups, facilitate their experiments, connect them with City departments, research centers, but always include citizens, who are co-creators and testers of all innovations, "she explains.

The main idea: the smart city must save one hour per day for everyone. "When companies come to us with an idea or a product, we always ask them how it will free up people's time," says Veera Mustonen. Kalasatama wants to embody a "third way" of the smart city, between the all-technological - sensors and Big Brother - and the "all-talk" without action on the ground. "Cities like Copenhagen have set up a big data platform without thinking about the uses, it's a failure," says Veera Mustonen.

To guarantee the social utility of the innovations, the inhabitants are put to contribution. Three thousand people are already living in Kalasatama, 2,000 more will join them in the coming year. The Virium Forum multiplies the workshops between all the actors to bring back ideas and reactions. A thousand inhabitants have already taken part in about twenty pilot programs for two years, to test in real conditions solutions proposed by start-ups: application of energy management, platform for sharing food for avoid wasting, sports coaching application, electric car sharing, connected ring to monitor the tension ... all subjects are possible. "The participation of the inhabitants is also an issue of education for citizenship and democracy, it is important for the future functioning of the neighborhood and the city," argues Veera Mustonen.
Community spirit
This place left to the citizens invites itself into the construction program. Each block combines all types of housing around hearts of islands whose gardens and children's games are open to everyone, far from the French passion for grills and fences. Above all, the city subtracts part of the plots from the appetite of the promoters and reserves them to co-operatives of inhabitants so that they conceive and build their own project. Half a dozen of them are already built or under study, sometimes pushing the community spirit away. Marjut Helminem can testify to this. This former journalist and still writer lives since 2015 in the Kotisatama seniors' residence, entirely designed by the 80 residents of its 63 apartments.
"We worked for four years defining common areas and apartments with an architect," she says. Here, there is no director or employees, it is not a retirement home! The inhabitants, organized in teams, do everything themselves in turn: prepare meals for everyone in a professional kitchen, maintain and clean the common areas: the refectory, a large library, shared offices, a laundry room collective, a bed and breakfast, not to mention, on the roof, lounges, terraces and the inevitable saunas. "It's a lot of work, a lot of sometimes frustrating discussions to come up with collective decisions, but it's also great to get involved and keep learning," says Helminem.
Sharing economics

Connected to the neighborhood by a digital screen and shared tablets, residents of Kotisatama take part in Kalasatama experiments. Like patients and doctors at the ultramodern health center opened in February. As are the parents of the neighboring school, whose innovative teaching methods attract visitors from around the world and which is essential, with its colorful architecture, as the heart of the neighborhood. The chairman of the school board, Juhana Harju, a public affairs consultant, also heads the Kalasatama Residents' Association. "Parents 'and residents' associations are essential to building community and neighborhood design," he says. The smart city must be integrated services in everyday life, it must not be intrusive and not ask too much learning, the technology must remain in the background. "
Among these high-value and low-tech services, the municipality wants to generalize in Kalasatama a sharing economy applied to public and private spaces, thanks to digital key systems and smartphone applications: all car parks are accessible non-resident users to accommodate pooled and shared electric vehicles; residential buildings have on the ground floor coworking spaces, common kitchens, multipurpose rooms that can be booked and rented, for an hour or a day. The system could be extended to public facilities, such as school, outside school hours. "We used to solve all the problems by pouring concrete, but in reality we must think in terms of needs and services, so sharing," says Juhana Harju.
In Kalasatama buildings will not lack. Voluntarily dense, the district sees rising day by day the very first skyscraper of Helsinki. A total of eight 20- to 37-storey towers are expected to rise above a large shopping center expected in September, a complex that provoked lively debate in the capital. "The skyscrapers are outside the historic center, and there will be enough people in Kalasatama to combine a shopping center and busy streets," says Anni Sinnemäki at City Hall. Even in Helsinki, the smart city remains a compromise.
source: Le Monde, July 6th, 2018 - by Grégoire Allix