Espoo’s Mayor, Jukka Mäkelä, talks co-creation, ambitious sustainability goals, city story-telling, ice hockey and more.
The city of Espoo has 280,000 residents and is the second-largest and fastest-growing city in Finland, and a part of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.
In June, Espoo was named the 2018 Intelligent Community of the Year by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF). We caught up with the city’s Mayor, Jukka Mäkelä, to find out what the city is doing to warrant the title.
He talks co-creation, ambitious sustainability goals, city story-telling, ice hockey and more.
What does being a smart city mean to Espoo?
Intelligent community and being a smart city means that we put the citizen and the customer at the centre of development and not the technology. In Espoo, we aim at involving and engaging our inhabitants in developing their daily services – this includes everyone from teachers and nurses to school children and hospital patients.
Sensors, big data analytics and other new technologies are there to help to improve the quality of life, but we need to engage the end user in this development.
What was your route to the position as Mayor?
I was born in Tapiola, Espoo, and the city has always meant a great deal to me. Espoo is my home. I completed my Master of Science in Technology at the Helsinki University of Technology which, despite its name, was located in Espoo.
Social matters and having an influence interested me already back then. I was elected a City Councillor in Espoo in 1997. Since then, I have also served as Chairman of both the City Board and the City Council. Before I was elected Mayor, I was a member of the Finnish Parliament in 2007–2010.
Can you describe a typical day?
Every day is different from the other, but what’s common to all my days is that I get to meet a lot of interesting people. The key word is collaboration.
What is your #1 priority right now?
Globally, the main challenge is to find ways to tackle climate change and to make cities enablers and regional innovation ecosystems. This is also a priority in Espoo.
Espoo’s population has grown ten-fold during my lifetime (during the same period, the population of the entire Helsinki area has multiplied by 2.5). The population is growing by 5,000 new residents every year.
Keeping our citizens and the environment onboard in this growth is very important – although we are growing fast, we can still grow sustainably. Espoo is and intends to stay the most sustainable city in Europe and maybe also in the world.
As Espoo has a quite large surface area, the networked city structure helps at keeping the whole city vital but also close to nature. It also ensures that services are offered all around Espoo, so the quality of life is excellent.
Good public transport connections are key here and Espoo is growing strongly, particularly along the railway and metro lines.
What is your biggest challenge?
Keeping the growth sustainable and making sure that no one is left behind.
We want to learn from others and to share experiences and best practices with our fellow cities in Europe and around the world.
We have the same challenges in cities globally and working and co-creating together with each other and with the local innovation networks is the right way to find new solutions to these shared challenges. We want to invite all cities, companies, educational institutions, residents and other stakeholders here to cooperate with us – to ’Make With Espoo,’ so to speak.
What do you see as your biggest achievement since you started the role?
An excellent example is our city strategy – the Espoo Story – which we have co-created together with all our residents, companies and other stakeholders.
It has been a success story in engaging the citizens in co-creating the city strategy in a bottom-up way.
When I became Mayor in 2012, I decided that we need to involve our residents more and to make the city strategy more participatory.
The Espoo Story gets its name from the form – it is written in the form of a story. It tells us where we are coming from, where we are at the moment, and where we are going to.
Espoo being the most sustainable city in Europe and the world’s most intelligent urban community is a sign that we have done many things right together. Now is the time to move even further.
What is the best part of the job?
It is very challenging to be a Mayor of a growing city. The best part of the job is the collaboration between the universities, companies, city and its residents.
What keeps you awake at night?
Our greatest challenge is responding to the ever-growing need for services. However, I don’t lose sleep over it, as I trust that this is a challenge we will overcome.
For example, the city-as a-service model is a new way of meeting growing and diversified service needs and providing functional, cost-effective and high-quality services to residents.
In the city-as-a-service model, the city provides services in a networked fashion with its partners, making use of digitalisation and the city’s existing resources (premises, equipment, competencies). The participation of residents in service design has a key role. We are opening our data so that everyone can develop service technologies.
If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?
As this is my dream job, it is hard to say, but when I was a little boy, my dream was to be an ice-hockey player.
I think that no matter what, I would be a very active resident of Espoo and perhaps serve as an elected official. We have such a fine city moving towards such an interesting future that I would certainly want to contribute to it in some way.