A day in Helsinki, 2050

A day in Helsinki, 2050

Alternative futures, as imagined by the residents of Helsinki.

"What increasingly affects all of us, whether professional planners or individuals preparing for a better future, is not the tangibles of life—bottom-line numbers, for instance—but the intangibles: our hopes and fears, our beliefs and dreams. Only stories—scenarios—and our ability to visualize different kinds of futures adequately capture these intangibles."
– Peter Schwartz

This statement formulated the reason for doing this project. The City of Helsinki published its city master plan for 2050 last year. This got me wondering about how our everyday lives could be like in 2050. Technology is becoming ubiquitous and Helsinki is facing challenges such as climate change, economic recession, etc. A Day in Helsinki, 2050 project seeks to explore how these larger global phenomena meet with Helsinkiers’ wishes for the future, within the context of society and culture. The outcome is a series of possible pathways for developing futuristic services in the intensifying city that people relate with and that connect with today’s transformative global forces.

To work on the project, we formed a team of designers and urbanists – Timo Hämäläinen, Aina Borrego Marti, Leyla Nasib and I. Setlementtiasunnot was the production sponsor for the project.

Since I was leading the team and was doing such a project for the first time, we created a process diagram to guide us through the project. We began by conducting a desk based research to probe around the context of life in Helsinki.

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Process diagram for the project

Co-creation workshop

This was followed by a participatory workshop, which we conducted as part of the City of Helsinki's Kaupunkisuunnittelumessut 2015, where citizens of Helsinki could co-create the future of Helsinki.

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Co-creation workshop at Laituri

The workshop was organised on 18th April, 2015. Once the participants arrived, we played a small game to organise participants in different teams. We asked questions around were they lived and worked and how they travelled to create equivalent teams. Each team was given a toolkit to develop their scenarios. The toolkit comprised of post-its, coloured pens, butter sheets, flip-board sheets, technology cards (15 nos.) and context cards (5 nos.). Technology cards were created to help participants know about the existing technologies as well how these could be used in 2050. Context cards were created to bring awareness about the mega-trends and challenges Helsinki might face in 2050. Each team could use as many technology cards as they wanted, but only one context card to build their scenarios. The intent of both the cards was to help participants ideate and bridge what is 'now' and what 'could be' in the next 35 years.

Participants were given 3 questions to help them ideate about alternative futures for Helsinki. After ideating around the questions, we tried a short psycho-geography exercise with the teams. The aim of the exercise was to draw trajectories through the thoughts/ ideas that appealed most to the participants individually, to build futuristic scenarios of Helsinki. Each member of the team drew one path through their ideas to find that at some ideas, their thoughts coincided. These points were used a key points to build the final team scenarios. All the teams gave a brief presentation about the scenarios they had built.

Analysis

To analyse the findings from the workshop, we created a analysis map that would help us pick out the points that most resonated with the participants from the workshop. The larger dots show where all the team members' ideas coincided.

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Analysis diagram from one team

Building scenarios

The theme that remained common through all the teams was people's need to interact physically, have friends and the sense and need for a community. However, the ideas that came out from the workshop were quite broad and we needed to go deeper into them to extract a specific ideas from them. For e.g., 'leisure as an activity' could be very different in a Helsinki facing surveillance as compared to Helsinki facing climate change. Using this approach, we created 3 scenarios.

Exhibition

We presented this project during Helsinki Design Week, 2015 at Galleria Saima as a physical exhibition and presented the project in a movie format at Laituri from 3-12 September. To understand what each scenario comprises of and the explanations behind the components, please watch the film.

Here are some photographs from the exhibition.

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Exhibition at Galleria Saima

What did we learn?

The biggest learning from the project has been that people want simple and similar end results in general, e.g. people want to interact with other people, they need leisure time, etc. This might have been the case in the past and is the case in 2050 as well. So our role as designers is to facilitate the achievement of these end results through services/ experiences/ products, while suitably navigating the existing context comprising of technology, politics, the environment, etc.

While we intuitively studied only the 'challenges' that Finland faced, it is important to situate the scenarios in a 'locational context'. The context cards played a role in achieving this. This helped our workshop participants bridge the gap from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the known past and present to an unknown future.

The scenarios we made are mostly optimistic and represent facets of a future Helsinki. The future of Helsinki will most likely not be components of just one scenario, but will be a mix of them all in varying degrees. From the exhibition, we realised that when we tried to achieve a sustainable future, it was perceived as positive, in spite of the environmental damage already suffered by the city. However, surveillance, gene therapy, the civic net, etc. made residents pensive. We are also not entirely comfortable with the futures that emerged. However, the point of this project was also to make these futures visual, so that what elicits fear can be eliminated through conscious policy making.

Lastly, “Futurology is almost always wrong,” the historian Judith Flanders suggests, “because it rarely takes into account behavioral changes.” And, she says, we look at the wrong things: “Transport to work, rather than the shape of work; technology itself, rather than how our behaviour is changed by the very changes that technology brings.” It turns out that predicting who we will be is harder than predicting what we will be able to do.

With this aim in mind, we will be continuing to explore "who we will be in 2050", so stay tuned! In the meantime, please write to us if you have any suggestions/ ideas to this end.

Keywords: Futurescaping, futures, participatory design, co-creation, workshop, scenarios, speculative design, psycho-geography, co-design, design thinking