Offered since 2014, the Urban Academy minor subject programme provides the foundation for the new Master’s Programme in Urban Studies & Planning. The Urban Academy’s first multidisciplinary research course examined the development of the Myllypuro district of Helsinki by focusing on the new campus to be built there for the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.
The aim of the course was to pilot the Urban Academy model, in which members of the academic community collaborate with city representatives to solve current problems in urban areas. In the case of Metropolia’s Myllypuro Campus, this meant identifying the challenges and opportunities associated with Myllypuro’s brand as well as integration in the area. The course participants included students from many fields, including geography, sociology and urban ecology. Research was conducted in small multidisciplinary groups, which meant that the students were able to improve their expertise outside their specialist field and to examine the research question with cross-disciplinary methods.
At the beginning of the course, the students learned more about the background to the Myllypuro Campus project and reflected on methods of implementing the project and on the significance of the campus for Myllypuro and eastern Helsinki more widely. The significance of choosing Myllypuro as the campus’s location became clear: the city’s goal is to improve the reputation of eastern Helsinki and change people’s negative impressions of the district. Meanwhile, Metropolia will be able to maximise efficiency, for the new campus will integrate the premises it currently uses in different locations.
Institutions of higher education provide a range of positive externalities for regional development: they bring with them highly educated employees, young students and financial capital. At present, socio-economic indicators show that, on average, Myllypuro lags behind other Helsinki districts. However, the challenge for the course participants was to consider how the campus can be integrated into the area designated for it and how its positive externalities can benefit current Myllypuro residents.
After learning more about the campus project and the Myllypuro district, small groups of students began to generate concepts for developing the district. The groups agreed that the development should be based on the district’s special features, so the concepts focused on promoting Myllypuro’s image as the city’s sports and exercise hub and on designing environments and services which do not compete with existing services in the vicinity.
The groups also considered how Myllypuro’s reputation and people’s impressions of the district could be changed alongside the campus project. Marketing and media visibility will be crucial for the district’s development. The groups’ concepts showed that the best way to give the district a face-lift is to help both current and potential future residents feel a sense of community and even pride in Myllypuro.
The students were assisted in their group work by active members of the local residents’ association and representatives of Metropolia’s administration. As the groups were multidisciplinary, the students also learned how the same research problem can be explored in different ways, depending on the discipline. In creating the concepts, the aim was to bring together knowledge and skills to ensure that the end result would be valid from as many perspectives as possible. This kind of cross-disciplinary training was highly rewarding for the students and good practice for their later careers, as collaboration and communication are key to finding new solutions in the job market.
Text: Aliisa Priha, Student in Urban Academy