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Q&A

jan vapaavuori

Mayor

Helsinki

How do you sell a city? We asked Jan Vapaavuori, who has been mayor of the Finnish capital since 2017, how he has gone about marketing Helsinki to the world and the challenges facing cities in 2021. 

Tell us a little bit about the city that you took over.
I think our challenge was that Helsinki was not very well known around the world. Because in our case, the product itself is already quite good. My idea was that the biggest triumph of Helsinki is that we are a reliable, predictable and functional city. So what we have done during the past four years is to put special emphasis on marketing the city as such.

“When the whole world has been suffering from the pandemic, I dare say that it has made stability sexy”

Functional, reliable, dependable: those are all great values to have. But in the past people have heard those words and not found them particularly exciting. Has that response changed?
I know that a vision of the most functional city in the world is maybe not that media-sexy but I’m certain that it is relevant. It’s relevant for our inhabitants, for our corporations, for tourists. And now, when the whole world has been suffering from the pandemic, I dare say that it has made stability sexy. In the post-pandemic world I think that those attributes, which you usually link to Helsinki, have become much, much more important. But you should be fun and functional at the same time. You need to show a comprehensive picture of the idea of a good life.

With the world coming out of lockdown, how do you see vitality returning to our cities?
We are facing a totally new era in the economic world after this pandemic. There will be a really tough level of competition between cities – for talent, for tourists, for innovation, for investments and so on. This poses a challenge for us as the number of vacant jobs in Helsinki for people who do not speak Finnish or Swedish is still relatively low. I think that we have made progress but still I’m worried that this will be an issue for the city when we are facing tougher competition for talent in the post-coronavirus world. The issue of making the city a little bit more international is something we need to overcome. And so far, we’re only halfway.

For more from Helsinki’s mayor Jan Vapaavuori, tune into ‘The Chiefs’ on Monocle 24.

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Making shore

hainan — culture

Often described as China’s Florida, the southern island of Hainan is looking to broaden its appeal beyond sun, sea and duty-free shopping. Capital city Haikou is making a push for the cultural crowd with Pavilions by the Seaside, a series of 16 structures designed by leading Chinese and foreign architects dotted along 32km of coastline. In March, “Wormhole Library” by Ma Yansong of Beijing’s Mad Architects became the first to open, offering a breezy place to read amid a curved, white concrete pavilion. Others, by the likes Winy Maas, Thomas Heatherwick and Sou Fujimoto, are due to follow by the end of 2021. “A return to humanism is the trend of urban development in the future,” says project director Weng Ling. 

Cliff notes

bastia — transport

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Much of what makes a city great is the landscape that it’s set in. So it’s especially satisfying when transport infrastructure, from bridges to bike lanes, responds to that setting. Take the new pedestrian walkway in Bastia, Corsica, which connects its fortress – the city’s most popular tourist attraction – to an existing path to the city centre, via its old port. Designed by Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes, the concrete walkway is nestled into the cliff-face 5 metres above the sea, providing both a pedestrian connection and spaces for people to linger, with views of the citadel and Mediterranean. It’s a good example of how infrastructure, when grounded in a natural setting, can be used to elevate a city’s landscape while also serving the needs of its citizens – and visitors too. 

Illustrator: Rina Jost. Image: Shutterstock, David Boureau/DFA 

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