In Finland, festivals aren’t just for music; they’re for urban planning too. At Flow Festival in Helsinki, the audience can listen to Sia, Morrissey, and M83, and envision the city of the future
There’s a certain ambiance that’s created at festivals: one of utopia and possibility. “What you have at these events is a kind of ‘miniature reality’: a sense of what life could be like in an alternate world,” says Roope Mokka, co-founder at Nordic think tank Demos Helsinki, which promotes civic participation and sustainable lifestyles. “People come to festivals to soak up new ideas and experiences; to join a group of equally curious people. They’re open to possibility. And in the process they become part of something bigger. Festivals are fertile ground for innovation and for getting people to work together.”
Demos Helsinki was asked to harness that power a few years ago by Flow Festival, one of the biggest and most respected music festivals in Europe. Each August, Flow draws over 70 000 people onto a power plant site in the middle of Helsinki. Previous headliners have included major acts from Major Lazer to Florence & The Machine. This year Sia, Morrissey, and Jamie xx will take the stage alongside Massive Attack, New Order and Iggy pop.
The result of Demos Helsinki and Flow Festival’s collaboration is Flow Talks, a huge co-creation jam organised at the festival for the third time this year. The event brings together curious citizens with public officials and large corporations. The aim is to entirely rethink the city: Helsinkians can design and envision new concepts for their home town with official partners including the City of Helsinki’s urban planning department; firms like M2 Kodit, who own a large chunk of the city’s rental housing; and funders like the European Fund for Strategic Investment, who want to help finance new urban concepts.
It’s an unusual setup, and a particularly powerful one. Because the city and its landlords are so involved, the workshops aren’t just for brainstorming, they’re for envisioning real projects with real results. The ideas from the event can easily come to fruition in a year or two. Last years jam’s fruits are already seen in the city, for example in the form of affordable urban housing by M2-homes.
Big festivals have until now existed far outside the urban sphere, in fields and deserts. Flow, however, will offer a huge co-thinking jam – with the mayor’s office as an official partner – at a major music festival in the heart of the city.
How did Helsinki get so cool? It’s a combination of a lively entrepreneurial population and a reactive, listening government. “Flow and other festivals in Helsinki are important for people to feel at home in the city. The events’ economic and other ancillary effects are significant, but still secondary when it comes to their contributions to urban life,” says Anni Sinnemäki, Deputy Mayor of Real Estate and City Planning for the City of Helsinki. Finland has always cultivated democracy in its cities – Helsinki boasts vast public spaces and there is a strong sense of shared ownership among its denizens – but it is only in recent years that people have started to take action and begun to shape their city.
This participatory urban way of life is also at the heart of the new branding project for Helsinki, unveiled earlier this year by the city’s officials: “Helsinki is one of Europe’s fastest growing and developing cities. It is an increasingly international place, where new districts are built right in the inner city. At the same time, the city has a new type of resource: an urban community life, which makes our city an even better place to live, to study, to visit and to be an entrepreneur. Good cities listen to what their residents have to say. Even better cities get out of their citizens’ way and give them the tools to do what they want,” Sinnemäki says.
Official partners include the City Planning Department at the City of Helsinki, European Commission, M2 Kodit, Habitare, Fira, and Nooa Säästöpankki.
Featured keynote speakers are
- Anni Sinnemäki, Deputy Mayor of Real Estate and City Planning at the City of Helsinki
- Trebor Scholz, author of “Platform Cooperativism: Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy” and associate professor of culture and media at The New School
- Gustaf Josefsson, founder of Makerspark, Sweden’s first 3D print shop and makersspace with a startup incubator and technology education platform