What essential actions can a city put in place to boost economic development? What are the most impactful programmes in retaining foreign talent? Which social services are most likely to prevent exclusion?
In the Finnish city of Espoo, these questions will find an answer in Restart Espoo. Thanks to this long-term recovery programme, the municipality will rely on open source data and artificial intelligence to take a thorough look at its own needs, public spending and financial resources. The goal is to find solutions to bounce back from the Covid pandemic crisis, foster business growth and a return to normality.
In a successive step, the city council will analyse that information and identify the most impactful local actions, in tandem with the Technical Research Center of Finland.
For Harri Paananen, Director of Economic Development at the Espoo City Council, Restart Espoo will provide the municipality with the knowledge to ensure that “when we put a euro here, it has the maximal impact for the wellbeing of our society,” he explains.
The Finnish city will present the Restart Espoo recovery model at this year’s Eurocities Annual Conference which it will host from 8 to 10 June.
The long-awaited recovery
With governments easing up pandemic restrictions across Europe, it’s time for cities to focus on long-term planning and resiliency building.
Paananen says that Finland, and Espoo in particular, attract foreign talents thanks to their thriving scientific research centres, tech companies and innovative universities. Restart Espoo will allow the city to retain those talents, Paananen remarks. “We want to understand what activities [from a data-driven perspective] are most impactful when keeping those people as happy residents,” he explains.
Restart Espoo will not only pursue economic development; the scheme will be replicated to other sectors to promote – for example – social development and environmental actions. Paananen calls this “a sustainable approach,” that will help highlight lessons learned from the recent past. For example, is the city reacting more quickly and efficiently thanks to the experience acquired during the pandemic? What kind of early interventions in social services are most impactful to prevent exclusion?
We will have actual knowledge that when we put a euro here, it has the maximal impact for the wellbeing of our society
No development without sustainability
Espoo has a long-standing commitment to the environment; and its future plans to boost economic recovery will continue to take nature into account. “We engage in partnerships with our local and international companies to create solutions that make sense both from a business point of view and an ecological point of view,” says Paananen.
The collaboration with Microsoft is an excellent example of how the city puts the environment at the forefront.
Last month, Microsoft announced that it will build a fully sustainable data centre, in partnership with energy company Fortum. The heat and energy generated in excess by the new data centre will be used to heat and power private homes in Espoo and two other municipalities nearby.
We have ambitious carbon neutrality goals, and we are driving those through the corporate partnerships
This will become the world’s largest scheme to recycle waste heat from data centres.”It will significantly decrease our need for other kinds of fuels for warming our homes,” claims Paananen.
“We have ambitious carbon neutrality goals, and we are driving those through corporate partnerships,” Paananen adds. It is estimated that recycling emission-free energy sources for citizens will provide 40% of all the district heating needed by Espoo, Kirkkonummi and Kauniainen (two neighbouring smaller municipalities).
One of Espoo’s strengths is its ability to cross sectoral boundaries and to reach out to industries, academia and other cities.
“We want to bring the taste of working towards common goals across borders into the conference,” says Paananen. The director refers to the 2022 Eurocities Annual Conference. As the event’s host, Espoo will offer sessions on economic development, social inclusion and climate, fostering an exchange among local representatives.
Espoo will also focus on co-creation. Paananen says that the Annual Conference will be participatory “on a scale we have not previously seen at Eurocities. It will be quite inspiring to all our guests.”
The immediate response
At the peak of the pandemic, Espoo put together a comprehensive approach to help both companies and communities survive the crisis. Solo entrepreneurs whose businesses were impacted by the pandemic, restrictions or lockdowns were entitled to grants from Finland and distributed by Espoo.
We want to bring the taste of working towards common goals across borders into the conference
“We played a big part in helping very small companies survive through the worst part,” Paananen proudly recounts.
In addition, the municipality took action to assist local enterprises. For example, it bought goods in advance to provide companies with much-needed cash.
This strategy was part of a rescue package that the city put in place three times over the past two years.
Today, the outlook is a lot more positive, says Paananen: “There probably will not be a need for similar measures simply because there are no longer large-scale lockdowns that would immediately impact our businesses or NGOs.”
Thanks to help from the city, local businesses have remained viable. “Our companies have survived remarkably well considering what a shock this has been,” notes Paananen.
For Espoo, now’s the time to restart the economy, invest in digital transformation and continue to climate goals.
This article is part of a series charting local recovery efforts made by cities all over Europe – cities want #MoreThanRecovery