Smart urban planning makes daily life easier in Finland
For several years in a row, Finland topped the prestigious World Happiness Report, bringing a lot of attention to the modest Nordic country of 5.5 million people. What’s the recipe for a happy, healthy city in a country roughly the size of California?
“A functional and happy city like Helsinki should facilitate a harmonious daily life for its inhabitants. There should be access to nature, recreation areas and a child-friendly environment”, says Marketta Kyttä, professor of spatial planning at Aalto University.
“We also want the public to be involved in the planning. I think having a say in your own environment plays a huge role in happiness,” she adds.
Nowadays, city dwellers in Finland’s capital can make their voices heard in ways that go beyond conventional practices, such as voting online for special projects or budgets. Through groundbreaking research that polls public opinions about their city, researchers have begun to understand what types of environments are perceived as positive and what elements elicit negative reactions. These results could be the secret of developing cities that promote the health and happiness of their inhabitants.
To your health, your happiness and your environment
“A person’s environment plays a big role in their happiness, which makes the theme of health promotion in cities very important. It is closely related to social sustainability and whether you feel connected to your community,” says Kyttä.
The data suggest two important factors for promoting mental and physical health in cities, at all ages.
“There are two main takeaways from the information currently available. The first is that nature supports mental well-being – it has this incredible ability to reduce stress in minutes. The other data focuses on physical health. Here, we’re talking about environments that support an active lifestyle,” Kyttä emphasizes.
An active lifestyle can take many forms, but in a city like Helsinki it means that “people can easily get to their daily destinations, which means having car-free mobility and access to recreational areas”, describes Kyttä.
Children and their communities
All over Finland, children grow up trusting their environment, which allows parents to breathe a sigh of relief. Through smart urban planning, children benefit from the mobility and freedom to easily travel to their schools and social structures, helping them to navigate their surroundings independently.
For example, a 7-year-old child walking alone to school is considered part of normal life. These everyday elements of trust help foster a sense of shared responsibility between parents and, ultimately, their communities.
“There is a silent understanding that if something happens to my child at the park, another adult will step in and make it right. This notion of trust and shared responsibility is unique to Finland and is an important contributor to health and happiness” , says Kyttä. .
She explains that Finland is a good example of how data on environmental health promotion can be combined with public opinion on how to improve a city, to help guide urban planning.
“We hope to influence decision-makers by encouraging people to be an active part of the city they want to live in.”
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