Aiming for ecologically sustainable and socially fair cities

YIT Corporation News, February 21, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

Konepaja area in Helsinki
Konepaja area in Helsinki

Urban design is becoming a hot topic, and for good reason. As cities grow and change at a rapid rate, it is important to focus on the quality of urban life.

City planners create zoning plans to indicate where housing and jobs are to be located. The zoning plan also shows where and how people can move and get around the city. But where do people really move? What do they do? How can their lives be made easier and richer? These are the questions on the mind of an urban designer, who often poses them directly to the city’s residents.

According to Anne Stenros, Chief Design Officer of the City of Helsinki, local residents have been increasingly engaged in the city planning process in recent years.

“The methods of urban design make it possible to harness the creativity of local residents for the common good, to solve the complex and often difficult challenges of urbanisation,” Stenroos says. She says urban design can be focused on areas such as services, the urban environment or administration, and it can be quite diverse, open and experimental.

The city as a meeting place

According to Juha Kostiainen, Senior Vice President, Sustainable Urban Development at YIT, the rise of urban design is a welcome phenomenon in Finland, where the rate of urbanisation keeps accelerating.

“People’s lives are increasingly moving to the cities and, at the same time, from private spaces to public spaces,” Kostiainen explains. He says it is important to keep creating public spaces in cities.

“Good cities are structured to maximise random social encounters,” writes Professor Kim Dovey from the University of Melbourne in his book Urban Design Thinking: A Conceptual Toolkit.

The question of what it takes to facilitate these encounters is one that a changing city must keep answering, time after time. Dovey emphasises the fact that a higher concentration of buildings and people is not enough in itself, although cities are defined by a certain level of density.

Diverse urban life

According to Kostiainen, anyone who opens a new café, organises an event or builds a house contributes to urban development.

“The city is not developed only through participation in formal decision making. It is developed through the concrete production of urban space,” he explains. One of these producers is YIT, a company that aims to play an increasingly significant role in the development of attractive and sustainable urban environments.

“We want to develop areas that have good public transport connections as well as diverse local life,” Kostiainen says. This increasingly means brownfield development, which gives new life and purpose to buildings that have already served their original role. This process of conversion and repurposing is complemented by new construction in the same areas. One example of this approach was YIT’s work in the Konepaja district of Helsinki, where the state-owned railway company VR’s 100-year-old industrial buildings provided an atmospheric setting and attracted local residents to events starting from the early stages of construction.

Resilience in the face of change

More and more buildings are designed to be flexible and adaptable to the needs of the local population. According to Professor Ramia Mazé from Aalto University, flexibility and the capacity for renewal is something that entire cities must also possess. Like many researchers, she refers to this quality as resilience.

Mazé says resilience is increasingly necessary in our rapidly changing world. The rapid growth of urbanisation coincides with other social challenges, starting from the changing age structure of the population. Urban life is also substantially affected by ecological and economical objectives, changes and transformations.

“Resilience requires new thinking in urban planning. We need to consider how we live together in these increasingly diverse and complex urban environments and how we can cope with changes in the long term,” Mazé adds.

She underlines the importance of researchers and planners aiming to develop ecologically sustainable and socially fair cities.

Urban design... people-oriented urban planning that starts from the needs and wishes of the city’s residents and other users. The use of design methods is aimed at ensuring that the city organisation develops the city through a process of interaction with local residents and expands urban planning from the physical environment to human activity. The methods of urban design include, for example, user-focused service design and participatory design processes.

Further information:

Juha Kostiainen, Senior Vice President, Sustainable Urban Development, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 40 072 1475,

Hanna Malmivaara, Vice President, Communications, YIT Corporation, tel. +358 40 561 6568,

YIT creates a better living environment by developing and constructing housing, business premises, infrastructure and entire areas. Our vision is to bring more life into sustainable cities. We want to focus on caring for our customers, visionary urban development, passionate execution and inspiring leadership. Our growth engine is urban development involving partners. Our operating area covers Finland, Russia, the Baltic countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. In 2016, our revenue amounted to nearly EUR 1.8 billion and we employ about 5,300 employees. Our share is listed on Nasdaq