Eco-Viikki and urban sustainability transformation?

The results from the KEMUT project start to unfold as the research project draws to its end.

Preliminary results were introduced to a wider audience in the final seminar in Laituri at the beginning of October. City representatives from Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa also commented and reflected on the results of their own work in supporting sustainability transformation in cities. Eco-Viikki has served as an interesting experimentation platform and provided new information, as well as technical and policy solutions from the beginning of 1990s, when sustainability was only beginning to be taken into account in building and urban planning.

Multiple new policy instruments were experimented with in Eco-Viikki. Particularly successful instruments were the inclusion of ecological sustainability criteria to the site transfer conditions, as well as the project steering executed through area specific working group. After experimenting with the instruments in Eco-Viikki, the City of Helsinki adopted these two instruments into their planning process tools. Also, the PIMWAG-criteria were especially developed for Eco-Viikki process for a tool to measure the ecological sustainability of the solutions. The criteria laid out the minimum levels for sustainability in five areas: use of natural resources, pollution, health, biodiversity and food. Since then sustainability indicator tools have been further developed, partly inspired by the PIMWAG-criteria.

The project also analysed energy and water consumption levels in Eco-Viikki, which indicated that regulation is a very viable steering instrument to reduce the consumption. Our study shows that the minimum levels that were demanded in the PIMWAG -criteria have been achieved to most extent. Criteria demanded reductions in the consumption of heating energy (34%) and water (19%) in comparison to the reference level of normal residential areas at that time. On the other hand, electricity consumption reductions were not demanded in the PIMWAG-criteria. Over the years, the electricity consumption in Eco-Viikki buildings has been even slightly higher than in the reference areas. More ambitious solutions for reducing the consumption levels were not strived for through the technological solutions. In order to further lower consumption, perhaps a financial support system could encourage the construction developers to aim for more ambitious solutions to reduce consumption.

There were a number of issues during the maintenance and user phase, which may explain the results in the consumption levels, mainly the lack of appropriate technical knowledge of the systems. Dissemination of knowledge throughout the process seemed to be lacking in Eco-Viikki. Technological solutions, such as solar panels were misused as the janitors of the area did not have enough information on their maintenance. Also, once the area is built, the residents play an important role as users of the technology in reducing the consumption of heating, electricity and water through their everyday habits.

Furthermore, more attention should be paid to residents as decision makers in their housing cooperatives. When discussing the future, the interviewed Eco-Viikki residents seemed to be eager to develop their neighbourhood to be an even more sustainable one. Residents hoped for more environmentally friendly solutions that would help them to reduce their carbon footprint. For example, solar energy systems were seen as outdated and in need of an update. Could the city provide more information or financial support for the residents in order to support their activities in updating the area?

A more sustainable future?

Serious action is needed from the city mayor as City of Helsinki has laid ambition to be carbon neutral by 2035. Eco-Viikki has served as a good experimentation ground but more ambitious execution of sustainability agenda is needed. Building only separate ecologically sustainable neighbourhoods is not enough anymore. Sustainability issues should be integrated into overall city planning and building.  As the commentators from the cities stated in the seminar, focus should be turned onto how to renovate the already existing building stock to meet the sustainability demands of today. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged that land use planning and building design can affect the sustainability of a city only to a certain extent. It should not be forgotten that the City of Helsinki has power to make city-wide sustainability decisions also with their public utilities providers, such as energy production company HELEN and housing company HEKA.

The inspirational speaker of the seminar Idil Gaziulusoy stated that transitions are three-fold design challenges. Inflicting transitions requires bold creativity to imagine and conceptualize future systems that are beyond the realities of today. Imagination should be supported by suitable technical innovations. Most importantly, these visions require strong political engagement in order to implement solutions into practice.