Helsinki's goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 is challenging the city to turn its historic centre into a smart, energy efficient district. Climate Street is playing its part by involving residents and businesses in turning ideas into practical and replicable actions. To become carbon neutral and climate resilient as rapidly as demanded by its climate roadmap, Helsinki had to develop innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. While awareness of environmental issues was high, motivating organisations and people to act remained an issue. To address this, the city recognised the needed to take a cooperative approach, open the conversation up, mobilise all stakeholders, and encourage climate-friendly choices.
Learning from climate-smart initiatives in Amsterdam and Cologne, which proved the value of piloting small-scale solutions in specially chosen streets, the municipality developed its own Climate Street project. Brought about by the city of Helsinki with the Vantaa and Helsinki Environment Centres, the Green Building Council, Helsinki Region Environmental Services, and Aalto University, the project
received €820,000 in funding from the ERDF and €100,000 from the Helsinki City Innovation Fund.
Iso Roobertinkatu (Iso Roba), one of Helsinki's central shopping streets, was chosen as a testbed. The Climate Street team set about working with residents, property owners, housing associations, businesses, and NGOs to co-create and share knowledge of smart and clean solutions and implementation.'
Iso Roba was a wise choice for several reasons. Its mix of traditional jewellery and florist shops and 'hip' restaurants and boutiques provide opportunities for diverse practical applications. It is also home to a growing community of climate-aware professionals keen to make a difference. The street was about to be renovated, which meant Climate Street could access some of the €1.3 million allocated for
improvements. Solutions co-created with the community for future implementation include planting climate-resilient trees, creating underground rainwater retention tanks and installing LED lighting.
The piloting programme at the heart of Climate Street adds great value by enabling experimentation with prototypes in real-life conditions with real users. The municipality runs open competitions for proposals and acts as a matchmaker, bringing together local people, specialists, startups, and SMEs to turn ideas into reality. Ideas such as a new kind of restaurant terrace with eco-friendly lighting for dark evenings. Simple, straightforward guidelines are produced for each pilot project to make it as easy as possible for other streets and cities to replicate them.
The issue of food waste prompted four pilots, as well as crowd-sourced solutions. For example, ‘From Waste to Taste’ uses ingredients that would otherwise be wasted to create the snacks it offers from its solarpowered rickshaw. A local NGO has partnered with a supermarket on Iso Roba to reduce food waste through a specially designed website, which alerts users of unused produce available for collection. Climate Street has encouraged residents to look at how their homes
could contribute to its goals, through workshops and events. 'Happy Houses' workshops, run by environmental organisation Dodo, have brought together several housing associations and numerous residents to share their thoughts and worries and explore opportunities. Many have signed up for energy audits, others for advice on reducing their carbon footprint, and to understand their home's solar energy potential.
The solar power campaign has been one of the most successful to date. Not only have many residents received detailed practical guidance on installing solar panels on their roofs, the city now has its first apartment building solar power plant in the historic downtown area. This was built in close collaboration with Climate Street, which provided technical, practical, and personal support to residents. A similar process has been used to transform the inner courtyards of
housing association properties into attractive climate-adapted green urban spaces.
At its halfway point, Climate Street already met many of its initial targets. Its impact owes much to the co-creative nature of the project, seeking views from all stakeholders from the beginning, and building trust and engagement up gradually. The project has also set itself up for the future - residents are educated and engaged and the strong business community to emerge from the networking boot camps will go on sharing and partnering for progress.
Climate Street has been sharing its experience nationally, through the active climate network of Finland's six largest cities, and across Europe via ClimateKIC, the Covenant of Mayors and the Smart Cities Network. Cities in neighbouring Nordic countries and Italy have already shown interest in Helsinki's ideas-to-action model, which is transferable to any urban environment irrespective of infrastructure and building age.