Estimated reading time 6 min
This post has been archived and may include outdated content

A more energy-efficient society requires changes to the entire urban development chain

An expert team summoned by Sitra’s Energy Programme identified many challenges and looked for possible solution models. Implementing these models requires that all key operators in urban development and planning adopt new objectives and approaches.


A more energy-efficient society requires much more than state-of-the-art technical solutions. It is also important to develop systems with which communities and the environment is designed and built. An expert team summoned by Sitra’s Energy Programme identified many challenges and looked for possible solution models. Implementing these models requires that all key operators in urban development and planning adopt new objectives and approaches.
The Energy Programme invited 22 decision-makers and experts in urban development and planning to a one-day discussion dealing with the challenges and future of the zoning and planning system. The Round Table discussion took place on 5 February 2009.

Jan Vapaavuori, Minister of Housing, opened the workshop by highlighting the need for realignment in city development and zoning. According to him, the reasons can be found by looking to the future instead of the past.
– Currently, many changes to the operating environment do not follow the usual paths of development, which means that the time is favourable for a new approach, said Vapaavuori.
He stressed that we are genuinely in a transformation phase, and welcomed all new innovations that will help to implement the impact of the transformation as opportunities in urban development.
– It is very likely that we, as part of the international community, will undertake even stricter emission reductions for the time after 2020. This will definitely have profound effects on the developmental principles concerning our communities, Vapaavuori said.

According to experts, cities fail to identify weak signals to an adequate extent. They all agreed that society’s energy-efficiency can be impacted by means of zoning and urban planning. In addition, extensive renewal of operating methods is required.

In a rapidly changing society and economy, the reaction sensitivity has to be improved. The clumsiness of the traditional planning system was seen as a problem, and new approaches were suggested to develop it.

The expert/decision-maker panel provided the following ten directions for agile urban planning: 

  • According to a statement by President Ahtisaari in another context, profit-orientation is required, where every party essential for the process commits to teamwork. The motives for participation should not be ferreted out. The objectives should be specified together, and the solutions should be created in a realiser/user-oriented way by promoting new innovations. 
  • Identifying the features and needs of areas such as regions, cities and districts in a better way was seen as an important thing. Areas must be understood in a comprehensive manner, and the planning of individual parts should be replaced by package development and management. The objective levels for energy use should also be set for every area and included in the city plans. 
  • The planning system should be developed to better meet everyday needs and make everyday life easier over municipality/area borders. Region-specific master plans should be the minimum objective. 
  • A city is never complete, which is why city plans must be agile. They have to be adapted according to changing needs and purposes. The flexibility must cover the entire life cycle of buildings and areas. It is essential to ensure that the existing structure is flexible as well. 
  • The direction of joint development must be made visible and understandable for citizens, just like communities’ energy use in traffic, housing, services and facilities. 
  • Systemic changes are required. Service must become new kinds of logistics management based on resident needs. Services placement should be based on competition, the essential criteria of which include their quality and energy efficiency and minimisation of the service network’s carbon footprint. 
  • The rules need to be changed. The property tax, for example, should be linked to the value of the property, and to the location and energy balance of the area and the building in question. 
  • The development of a network of strong provincial centres should be supported, likewise the globally competitive capital area. 
  • In traffic systems, investments should focus on public transport and fluent and energy-efficient goods/journey chains. 
  • The starting points for the development of a carbon-free, ecologically efficient city have to be identified. Progress must be made in agile urban development and the planning of reachability and services related to moving from place to place. Investment-oriented thinking must be left behind for a world of maintenance and services.

Change is a shared issue. A systemic change in urban development and the planning system is possible, but requires time. The establishment of a comprehensive view, the development of slow and quick strategies, taking into account weak signals and adopting more agile planning processes requires that all parties share the same willingness to take action. Launching the change and implementing it through developmental projects requires seamless cooperation between the different parties. 

Further information:

Juha Kostiainen, Business Director
Tel. +358 400 721 475,

Jukka Noponen, Executive Director 
Tel. +358 9 6189 9430,

Tuula Laitinen, Business Partner Manager 
Tel. +358 9 6189 9429,

Sitra’s Energy Programme’s Round Table II workshop participants:

Karoliina Auvinen, Manager, Climate Programme, WWF
Harry Edelman, CEO, Edelman Group
Matti Kaijansinkko, Project Manager, Helsinki City Planning Department
Leo Kosonen, Zoning Manager, City of Kuopio
Tarja Laine, Senior Architect, Uusimaa Regional Environment Centre
Panu Lehtovuori, Researcher, Master of Social Sciences, Helsinki University of Technology
Jarmo Lokio, Planning Architect, City of Tornio
Kimmo Lylykangas, CEO, Arkkitehtuuritoimisto Kimmo Lylykangas Oy
Hannu I. Miettinen, CEO, HTC Finland Oy
Joni Mikkola, Business Director, Sponda Oyj
Antti Mäkinen, Director, Tapiola Development Project, City of Espoo
Aleksi Neuvonen, Research Director, Demos Helsinki ry
Ari Pennanen, Lecturer, Haahtela-kehitys Oy
Kari Ruohonen, Investment Director, the Finnish Rail Administration
Janne Rytkönen, Real Estate Director, SOK
Jani Saarinen, CEO, the Finnish Association of Building Owners and Construction Clients (RAKLI)
Aija Staffans, Researcher, Department of Architecture, Helsinki University of Technology
Mari Vaattovaara, Professor, Urban Geography, University of Helsinki
Tero Vanhanen, Development Director, VVO
Matti Vatilo, Building Counsellor, Ministry of the Environment

The workshop was prepared for Sitra by the Dynamo team:

Erkki Aalto, Development Director, the Finnish Association of Building Owners and Construction Clients (RAKLI)
Timo Metsälä, Project Architect, Pöyry Architects Oy
Paavo Moilanen, Chairman of the Board, Strafica Oy
Anssi Savisalo, Senior Inspector, Uusimaa Regional Environment Centre
Harry Schulman, Professor, Planning Geography, University of Helsinki
Kai Wartiainen, Professor, Creative Director, Pöyry Architects Oy  

What's this about?