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Future city game in Kiasma

Background

It has been claimed that one of the main challenges Finland will have to face in the near future is to perceive itself as part of the world and the world as part of itself. In 2009-10, the City of Helsinki commissioned Comedia consultancy-group to address this challenge and compile a report with specific recommendations for decision makers.

Some of the recommendations mentioned in the final report Helsinki as an Open and Intercultural City (March 2010) by Comedia served as the starting point for playing the Future City Game, organised in cooperation with Kiasma’s Kultu-project. The game took place on Friday, 19 November 2010, and the players represented Kiasma’s Kultu-group, as well as youth groups from Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool and Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Objectives

The aim of the game was to compare best practice examples and experience from the UK, France and Finland, while working on the game’s challenge: how to make the centre of Helsinki a place that encourages greater cultural mixing and everyday social interaction. The young participants, through their fresh view of the city-centre, gave a very good idea of what they thought would make Helsinki culturally richer and socially more inclusive.

The final presentations were addressed to panellists representing the Urban Department of the University of Helsinki. Helsinki City Council (department of urban planning) has asked for the game report.

Winning idea

This particular game broke the tradition of voting for the best idea. The participants did not find this step very motivating, and we collectively agreed that all the ideas generated would be winners.

Time and patience

The group members proposed several steps towards interculturalism.
·    integration in institutions and schools; encourage and teach social and cultural integration
·    in order to encourage people from various backgrounds to interact, artistic and other events may be useful
·    facilitate interaction by providing welcoming publicly owned spaces that invite people to spend time in them and provide seating such as benches; such public spaces could also be part of museums or art projects
It was pointed out that integration takes time and, therefore, patience is an important virtue in this context; people need time.

Socio-cultural integration
The members of this group took a path similar to that followed by the previous group. They, too, thought of strategies to invite and welcome socio-cultural integration.

In particular, it was suggested that:
·    events such as neighbourhood parties to encourage interaction; a group member from Austria who has been living in East Helsinki said that she misses such events in her neighbourhood
·    there must be opportunities given to various cultures in the city to present themselves; in this way people would grow more accustomed to diversity and think twice before they protest against events such as gay pride.
·    housing regulations must encourage social mixing
·    architecturally and aesthetically, Helsinki ought to become more colourful and less homogeneous
·    provide non-commercial public spaces that would welcome people to spend time in them
·    organise as many free events as possible and animate the streets with live music
·    lessen the harsh winter conditions by providing “sun substitutes”
·    decentralise instead of centralise

In general, the members of this group advocated changes in the city’s laws and regulations. The group acknowledged the importance of the authorities in the context of interculturalism. At this point, it needs to be underlined that the authorities in Helsinki have already taken some initiatives along the lines of certain suggestions presented by the groups.

Mixing people
Here, too, the role of art and cultural events was highlighted; more concretely, the members of this group suggested:
·    public discussion of problems that may arise from intercultural dialogue; this would help to cultivate a critical understanding of interculturalism
·    encouraging socio-cultural mixing at school

The main question for this group is how to bring people together in Helsinki.

Their solutions are as follows:
·    work against elitism
·    at least biannual events that would provide platforms for people to express their identities and ideas (as an example, artists could be assigned to work in the city in order to stimulate dialogue)
·    free artistic events should take place indoors and around the whole city to attract various groups of people; such events would encourage people to exchange ideas knowledge, but also to have fun

The new element that this group brought into the discussion was the manifestation of possible critical standpoints concerning intercultural dialogue. Such perspectives should be allowed and negotiated in order for a sense of trust to be cultivated.

Arts in education
The members of this group staged a small and simple, but effective performance to demonstrate the senselessness of discrimination; they presented a parody of school bullying. Some forms of discrimination that lead to exclusion were identified, such as racism, elitism and classism; there are also others.

The question the group posed concerned our fear of accepting diversity. As a possible solution, they suggested the use of music, culture and art as means to teach youngsters that there is richness in diversity and that, at bottom, we are not all that different.

Winning ideas from the other teams

Three invited panellists who are involved in the urban field through their work gave feedback on the presentations of the four groups.

Vladimir Kekez, a post-graduate student at Helsinki University with a background in planning, remarked on the maturity of the participants’ ideas. He also agreed with the three elements that he recognised as underlying the presentations of all four groups, namely: culture, young people and the distribution of information.

Dr. Gareth Rice, a post-doctoral researcher and teacher at Helsinki University, summarised some of the findings of the groups that he found important:

- the use of culture with public and inclusive events

- the commercialisation of public space hinders much of its public use

- social and cultural diversity are difficult to accept even in places that are traditionally considered as multicultural, such as the U.K.

Gareth highlighted the importance of history in affecting urban space now and in the future, and gave the example of Belfast, where religious divisions are as evident as the instances of reconciliation are hopeful. Finally, Gareth raised the issue of the ineffectiveness of culture alone to resolve big social problems. In the brief discussion with some of the participants it became clear that there was an agreement that, despite their shortcomings, art and culture have healing effects worth exploring.

Last, but not least, the artist and doctoral candidate Lisa Erdman from the Pori school of art and media noted that artists often feel the need and desire to change the world, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Regarding Helsinki, Lisa recognised the need for change in many areas such as education, in restructuring public spaces, and the use of art and events; all mentioned by the groups. Indeed, art can create spaces for dialogue, and in this perspective, Lisa asked us to think about identifying such places for dialogue in Helsinki.