Two hours in pouring rain in the footsteps of Jane

On a Tuesday afternoon on the 8th of September a little group of people gathered together in front of a Aalto University building to walk two hours in a pouring rain among the Infrastructure of Otaniemi.

Picture 1: Walking in the rain. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The walk was arranged as a part of Helsinkin Design Weeks Aalto University’s program Designs for a cooler planet – Race for the future and hosted by Eeva Berglund and Idil Gaziulusoy, of NODUS, the sustainable design research group in the Department of Design, Aalto University. The philosophy of the walk comes from Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), who was a writer, urbanist and activist who championed the voices of everyday people in neighborhood planning and city-building. The idea is to walk in cities to honor and activate the ideas of Jane Jacobs. Jane’s Walk is a community-based approach to city building that uses volunteer-led walking tours to make space for people to observe, reflect, share, question and re-imagine the places in which they live, work and play.

Stupitidy as a designer 

One of the points was to observe what works and doesn’t in Otaniemi, which originates in 16th century but is rapidly built in the last 10 years. Focus was also to discuss about sustainability and what choices to use when building new. The environment it self had a lot examples what not to do. Since it was raining it showed us clearly that water it self is an infrastructure and if the surfaces are not designed with thought, future and climate in mind the water does not go anywhere but creates floods, slippery roads and possible accidents, like seen in picture 2.

Picture 2: Water as an infrastructure. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

It came to me as a surprise that Finland which is often considered a pioneer in technical development is actually not only delayed in infrastructure and environmental design but also traffic and water engineering. Even though the half a year of November weather would definitely need the special environmental solutions. Often pointed out in service design one of the problems is people working separably in groups of experts. And that is also the case in landscape and infrastructure planning where there is a huge challenge of silos.

What to do then

There is a need for long vision workshops and people working together to solve the wicked problems like climate change and sustainability. Also Jouko Lampinen says in the Aalto magazine that radical creativity means getting out of the silos.

The good thing is that many the solutions already exist. There are plenty of Nature-based solution (NBS) for urban stormwater management with Low Impact Development (LID) Methods like Bio Retention, Vegetated Swale, Green Roof and Permeable Pavement (see picture 3).  So it´s only about the politics, city patterns and old restrictions that need to be changed. And not forgetting the hardest part, people, that need to change for example from car-users to bicyclist. There is movement of change and future seems possible for the young students but 30 years that it usually takes to make an over all change is too much time, the development needs to happen sooner. The point is not blame anyone but to find solutions together. The nature it self also has the solutions. Just by mimicking the nature we can built a sustainable infrastructure. It was also said that having just a little spots there and there are not enough but if there is 10% of sustainable building in an area it is enough to make a change. The key is to over all design. And to make effort, keep up the maintenance and care.

Picture 3: Example of a NBS. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

The other good news is that also the knowledge and skills already exist in Otaniemi, in the Aalto University and work in deed is in progress. There are development departments and open innovation house for example (see picture 4). The new designs and innovations of Aalto are done first in small scale and then moved to to bigger development and infrastructure. Just like in prototyping in SD is usually done!

Picture 4: Aalto Open Innovation House. Source: Personal photos of the walk.

Author: Iiramaria Virkkala, SD student.

References and to look for more info: 

Designs for a cooler planet
Jane’s walks
Department of Built Environment
NODUS – Sustainable design research group
Aalto University magazine Unfolded #4, Radical creativity

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