Kalasatama (Finland): a blueprint for the ultimate Smart City

Text: Kenneth Vanhoutte, Com&Co

The Smart Kalasatama project in Helsinki, Finland, is a prime example of an innovative Smart City project. This modern urban district will be fully transformed into a ‘living lab’ where residents experiment with multiple smart initiatives. Veera Mustonen, Project Leader of Smart Kalasatama, joined us via Skype for a brief interview ahead of the Smart City Forum to be held on December 2nd.

As Head of the Kalasatama project, Veera Mustonen is a widely sought speaker in her native country and abroad. When we finally get hold of her for this interview, she’s right in the middle of evaluating 52 pilots for the agile piloting program. Start-up businesses are invited to put innovative ideas forward through pilots. Some of these will make the cut and will be tested in the Kalasatama Smart City living lab for a period of six months. “Most of these pilots present a solid concept,” says Veera. “Unfortunately, I have to narrow it down to five, so I’m facing quite a big task.”

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Testing new ideas

Agile piloting is a key element in the Smart Kalasatama project and is aimed at user engagement and experimentation. “I have worked in ICT for fifteen years,” Veera continues. “That’s where I learned that it is absolutely necessary to test new ideas in a real-life environment. When I was given the opportunity to spearhead the Kalasatama project three years ago, I immediately jumped on board.”

One extra hour of free time

The urge for innovation and experimentation is reflected not only in the quest for smart technologies, but also in the target objectives of Smart Kalasatama. Contrary to other cities or urban districts, the project in Helsinki is not explicitly aimed at achieving zero waste or energy neutrality, but at gaining ‘one extra hour of free time a day for every resident’. Veera: “We wanted to make the project and the objective as relatable as possible to our citizens. Free time is a precious commodity to most people. One extra hour of free time a day will allow them to make more conscious choices in terms of energy consumption, for instance. This can indirectly help us achieve our environmental targets.”

Digitization of senior citizens

Apart from her background in ICT, Veera is trained as a cognitive scientist. Her knowledge in this field proves useful in the Smart Kalasatama project. For instance, how do senior citizens cope with the ever-increasing importance of technology in their day-to-day lives? Veera: “It’s true that some degree of digital literacy is required. But, I’m feeling positive about this. Technologies and services are becoming more easily accessible and easier to learn. In Kalasatama, there is one building that has been entirely designed by and for senior citizens, aimed at ensuring they can continue living in their own home longer. It is probably the most highly digitized building in the district. In the end, it’s all about creating the right mindset.”

Think bigger

Veera has one piece of advice for Belgian cities and towns aspiring to become a Smart City: “Approach the project from a strategic perspective: make sure your solutions address real needs and that they are easily scalable. That’s what we do in Kalasatama: even though this is a locally bound project, we continue to think bigger. When we manage to successfully transform one whole city into a Smart City, we will have the perfect blueprint for other places.”

Veera’s positive outlook on the success of Smart Cities is well-founded: “Knowing that small changes, such as installing LED lighting, can reduce your energy usage by up to 70% – what’s not to smile about?”

Want to hear Veera share her fresh, Finnish perspective on Smart Cities? Register now for the 2015 Agoria Smart Cities Forum & Award event on December 2nd. More information and registration details at www.smartcitiesforum.be.

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