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trailblazers Tuuli Kaskinen

Tuuli Kaskinen: “An urban environment should be made so that people would not need to constantly make only good choices and give up things”

Tuuli Kaskinen from Demos Helsinki says that sustainable urban planning requires centralised solutions. This is why the entire value chain of the construction field and its network effect need to be utilised as climate change progresses.

In the past century, urban development has been based on two factors that are central to climate change: cheap energy and private car ownership, says Tuuli Kaskinen from Demos Helsinki. These factors that served to speed up climate change were not as central during the early days of urban development as they are now. 

“Suburban structure, for example, was designed in the 60s and 70s, before the oil crisis, at a time when the energy challenge was not relevant at all. The role of cars was very significant in urban development, however. It is interesting to see that the ideal of having your own car is shared by people throughout the political field.”  

We are now in a situation where energy use should be minimised and private car use in cities reduced significantly. Kaskinen summarises that less energy should be produced and it should be produced locally. 

“Private car use that has been promoted thus far is no longer possible to this extent. Instead, getting around will be increasingly based on various public transport solutions and modes of smart transport,” Kaskinen says. 

What is sustainable urban development?  

“Energy and transport are the basis of sustainable urban planning. In the end, however, it is all about providing people with a good, safe and functional environment for their daily life,” Kaskinen describes. 

“The environment should be one where people would not need to constantly make only good choices and give up things. Instead, housing solutions, for example, should be sustainable by themselves.” 

An example of this is the structure of a carbon footprint of an average Helsinki resident. Even if they cut out every possible thing out of their lives, the proportion of heating produced with coal is still too large in the city. 

“This inevitably makes the carbon footprint of a Helsinki resident larger than the global average,” Kaskinen says. 

Coal will soon be a thing of the past, which will have a notable impact on the carbon footprint of residents. Kaskinen highlights that now is the time for decisions that are not dependent on people’s own actions. People’s choices can be steered towards better options through planning solutions, for example. 

“Every day, people make choices about transport, for example. We need to ensure that the forms of sustainable transport are an attractive option.” 

Kaskinen adds that the future urban environment will also need to be able to provide more experiences so that people will be able to forget their everyday troubles locally. For now, Western holidays are still strongly focused on travel. 

The entire value chain must work together  

According to Kaskinen, the value chain of the entire construction industry must now commit to the common goals. People must look beyond individual buildings and their own goals and move towards comprehensive sustainability thinking. This is why it is important to find a common language and shared indicators for the entire industry. 

“The UN’s sustainable development goals are a great discussion opener and will help to coordinate environmental and social perspectives. There are now even more tools for pushing comprehensive sustainability thinking forward,” Kaskinen believes.  

According to Kaskinen, facing a large problem can often feel like the ‘chicken or egg’ problem: people don’t know how to start solving the issue.  

“Each operator in the value chain feels that they cannot do anything, because the investors will not reward them, the client does not want it, the plan does not allow it or cannot be modified, because the developer does not know how to do it,” she describes. 

Kaskinen compares the situation to the food market, where the change has been rapid as consumers’ preferences and wishes have started to guide the transition. However, consumers do not make the decisions in the construction business. That is why the entire value chain, from cities to developers and investors, need to develop the operations together. 

“In this industry, activating only a part of the operators is nearly impossible. Faced with climate change, the entire value chain has to share the same, common goal, and network effect must be utilised.”