Photography & video — Vilja Pursiainen
Text — Annaliina Niitamo

Helsinki’s Smartest Neighbourhood Adds One More Hour to the Day: Kalasatama


The smart city concept is often understood as a city of efficient energy solutions, full of different sensors measuring information. For Kalasatama’s residents, smart city means a smoother daily life and good city services. The services are good, because they have been tried and tested together with the residents.


A completely new neighbourhood arises from the midst of asphalt and sand, a five-minute metro ride away from central Helsinki. It has a six-kilometre beach promenade, the refurbished industrial premises of Teurastamo and Suvilahti for cultural use, and the soon to be completed largest shopping centre in Helsinki, in connection with six habitable skyscrapers. The area will become Helsinki’s densest neighbourhood, but also something more.

“Kalasatama was also decided to be made into Helsinki’s smartest neighbourhood,” tells Veera Mustonen, head of Smart Kalasatama.

In Kalasatama, design is experimentation. Kalasatama is a living innovation platform where together with the residents, start-up businesses and the third sector, different urban services are tested. At the moment the residents are testing the application encouraging neighbourly help, Nappi Naapuri, the connective application for different modes of transport, Tuup, the food wastage reducing application Foller, and a service that monitors the filling up of waste containers. All parties benefit from the experiments, says Mustonen.


“Businesses get to know how their new services work among real users. The residents get to share what kind of local services they want, and the city can create cost-effective municipal services that are really used.”

The city enables good design, which is born out of a dialogue with the users. When the services have been tested and experiences have been gained from Kalasatama, their teachings will be shared elsewhere too.

One extra hour to every day

“Cities have to be constantly renewed in new ways. We are facing a huge period of growth of cities and that demands new and sustainable city services,” Mustonen says.

Among other things, this means that our traffic jams will reduce and our energy behaviour is sustainable. All of this can be regulated with good urban design, but also with good urban services. Good urban services improve the comfort of residents without necessarily having to change the constructed environment or other heavy infrastructure.

“That’s smart’s advantage. Services can be brought to the residents more lightly,” says Mustonen.


Helsinki is making a smart city, where every solution has a bearing on the daily life and lifestyle of its residents. Design means planning good services so that the solutions truly benefit residents.

“When boring things such as sitting in a traffic jam don’t take up so much time, it leaves more for what’s most important: a comfortable life.”

In practice it means that residents have the opportunity to work, study and spend their free time close to home. Among other things, Kalasatama is testing whether its residents could telecommute in nearby empty spaces, benefit from electric cars, order food to their homes from a local food ring, and use an application to get help from their neighbours with washing windows.

“Time is a person’s most valuable resource. The urban environment and the digital services that support it can help us give residents one more hour for each day,” Mustonen envisions.

Not just for digital natives

Merja Tuomela, a resident of Kalasatama for three years, enjoys Kalasatama’s laboratory feel and experimentation culture.

“It’s great to be a part of developing your own progressive neighbourhood, and see how the local identity forms at the same pace with the area’s buildings,” she says.

Tuomela often participates in Kalasatama’s co-creation workshops and residents’ meetings. The previous workshop concerned the advantages innovative street lighting could achieve in the urban environment. Tuomela also uses several mobile applications tested in Kalasatama.

“I thought I would ask someone from Nappi Naapuri to help attach a light to my ceiling,” plans Tuomela, who lives with her dog Topi.

Kalasatama’s largest resident groups are young families and seniors, so the digital services have been designed together with the users so that they are effortless to use. You do not have to be a computer wizard or a digital native to live in Kalasatama.

“It’s never been a problem to get people on board to participate, but it requires regular work such as good communication,” Mustonen says.


Inspiring sustainable living with the help of design

Kalasatama also wants to move the energy behaviour of its residents in a more sustainable direction. Two housing associations are pilot testing Helsinki’s HIMA, the home’s remote control service, which helps residents to observe their energy and water usage, and allows them to remotely control their home’s electricity with a smartphone or tablet.

“We decide what time of day to use the sauna, for example, based on the cost of electricity. The price difference can be as much as fourfold depending on the time of the day,” reveals Kalasatama resident Mirka Saarholma.


“When we leave the house we turn off the electricity switch by the door. Our home then uses almost zero kilowatt-hours, and this shows in the electricity bill.”

“When smart energy solutions and city services are well designed, people use them willingly. This way cities really become socially and ecologically sustainable,” Veera Mustonen says.


Key lesson: For Helsinki, being smart city means doing things together with its inhabitants. The city answers to its citizens needs effectively when urban services are not piloted merely inside a bureau, but on the city streets with real people.

Read on


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The next big change in design


Using public services in a smart city is simple and even pleasant, say Jaakko Salavuo, Director of Information Technology and Communications and Santtu von Bruun, Head of the Competitiveness and international relations unit at the City of Helsinki.

Smart Cities


User-centered design helps create services that citizens actually need, say Turkka Keinonen, Professor of Design at Aalto University and Päivi Sutinen, Service Development Director of Espoo.

User-centered design


Helsinki is known around the world for its design thinking that reaches throughout the city, all the way to its leadership. According to Design Foundation Finland’s Jorma Lehtonen, it's thanks to education – but we still need a lot more.

Helsinki and design thinking


Participatory design is most productive when other groups in addition to the end users are also involved. Then it becomes co-design, say innovation adviser Tuula Jäppinen at The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, and Tuuli Mattelmäki, Professor of Design at Aalto University.

From participatory design to co-design


Using design to develop cities will offer plenty of work in the next few years. Different public actors would like to buy design expertise, but first it is necessary to know how to make a good call for tenders, says Tiina-Kaisa Laakso Liukkonen, former Project Director for Design Driven City.

Tendering for design