Helsinki 2012: Program overview

This collaborative project takes the form of an “open conversation” looking into the pros and cons, the possibilities, barriers and perhaps eventual impossibilities, of creating an equity-based transportation system at the level of a city and its surrounding region. This first pioneering project, in what we hope will become a series of leading world city projects building on this first example, is being carried out under the leadership of the Helsinki Department of City Planning and Transportation, and is taking place over the period mid-February through mid-April 2912. (You will find further working papers and supporting media sources in the second half of this introduction.)

A collaborative investigation of an unusual concept in Helsinki Finland

– Eric Britton, New Mobility Agenda, Paris

Let me start by presenting a few opening thoughts on what we mean by an equity-based transport system, and then move on to some information explaining how this project is intended to unfold, along with a few final words on how you can follow it and possibly even get involved.

1. What is an Equity-based transport system ?

We understand that in the transport sector this is not a well known concept, at least in the positive sense we are trying to develop here, so we are making every effort to clarify. I was discussing this project the other day with a bright young woman from the Emirates who is on an MBA program here, who smiled at me indulgently as I asked her views and said: ‘Don’t you understand Eric, life is not fair”. That gives us, I would say, a good point of departure.

The first step in this process just getting underway is to see if we can create a common understanding of our topic  — bearing in mind the fact that in most cities in the world, probably all of them to be perfectly frank and accurate, our transportation arrangements are not equitable, indeed far from it. There are winners and losers from the present mobility arrangements, worse here, perhaps a bit better there.

In all places, better and worse, there is a basic dominant pattern. Let’s call it if not a paradigm at least an inevitable result of the dominant paradigm now firmly in place.  A paradigm that is so deeply engraved as part of the received wisdom, that it is all but invisible. But the results are there for all to see.

Thus as a result of this invisible  paradigm women in virtually every city in the world are by and large less well served than men. Non-drivers less well than drivers. The elderly and frail less than the active and healthy. Children less well than adults,. The poor far less well than the rich. The unemployed less well than those with jobs. Those of us who cannot really (that “really” is an important word that we shall also be looking into) afford to own and operate cars as opposed to those who can. And if you care to think about it a bit, you can surely complete this list as well as I.

In a word, in most cities on this gasping planet for the great majority of all people the present transportation arrangements are inequitable. The dominant (a) all-car (b) no-choice transportation arrangements of the 20th century are not doing the job for the transportation majority. They are grotesquely unfair; they are also highly inefficient and unaffordably uneconomic.

So what if we were to turn the situation around and take as a starting point for public policy and investments in the sector not so much the twentieth century values of speed (ever faster), distance (ever farther) and indifference (ever more) but 21st-century values of equity , social justice and deep democracy?  And that of course is what this project is all about.

This project which i s taking place under the supervision of the city of Helsinki is in the two months ahead engaging an open public exploration of the concept of equity-based transportation systems in Helsinki. The project method keys on the participation of a small team who will meet with a good cross-section of groups and interests in various parts of Helsinki, and discuss with them both in general and very specifically such things as: what is already going on in their sector to create more equitable mobility arrangements; what are the worst cases; what are the ongoing plans and goals; and what would be needed from city or national government, or other sources eventually, in order to achieve some significant steps toward a more equitable transportation system.

One of the key pillars behind this program is a belief that, properly engaged, the move to equity-based transportation can lead to greater efficiency and economy both for specific groups and individuals, and also for the city and its region as a whole. That it is to say that it is going to be a step up, not a step down!

If we redraw the system to make it better for women of all ages and life condition, it will be better for men as well. Better for the frail and elderly, then better for the rest as well.  Better and safer for children, then better and safer for all. Better for the poor, then well, belive it or not, better for the rich as well. Etc.

At the end of the day, once you understand and accept the basic principle of equity a huge number of other good things follow. And you have only to look in one place to see if you have it — and that is on the streets of your city. If the mayor, all public servants, and the top economic 20% of your community travel by the same means as the other 80%, you have an equitable system. If not, not!  It’s that simple.

2. Project Highlights

  1. 15 to 29 February. Laying the foundation. Development of program plan, team organization, initial contact suggestions, events, schedules, and basic supporting documentation and organisational/logistical support for Stakeholder Focus Sessions, Master Classes and media.
  1. 1 to 14 March. In-place preparations and testing. Initial outreach program and finalization of Finnish documentation. Development and communication of basic documentation and interview and meeting arrangements with a broad cross-section of individuals, groups and programs working in sector. (Click here to get an idea of the organisations to be contacted for the project.)
  1. 15 to 27 March. Stakeholder Workshops. Presentations, discussions, interviews, site visits and conversations with key groups and interests in the greater Helsinki area to be carried out. (Workshops also lay the ground work for Stakeholder presentations in the Master Classes.) Media presentations, interviews, continuing contacts with even wider range of key interest groups, as well as review sessions with teams responsible for organizing the ongoing programs generating the Helsinki Master Plan, Metropolitan Area Transport System Plan and the Program for Promoting Cycling in Helsinki.
  1. 21 to 23 March. Invitational three-day Master Class. Held in the auditorium of the Department of City Planning and Transportation, with the formal presentations and public discussions running from 09:00 to 11:30 each day, followed up by continuing private discussions and exchanges with the team over the remainder of those days. Session 1: People: Equity and Transport. Session 2. Systems: Delivering equitable transport. 3. Strategies: at project and overall systemic levels.
  1. 27 March, 10:00. Public presentation and discussion to be organized in the auditorium of the Department of City Planning, both to report on mission findings, and seek further information and views to be included in the final report and recommendations.
  1. 29 March to 13 April. Report drafting, internal review with limited distribution for comment to external reviewers. Report finalization and submittal on 13 April.

3.International advisory panel.

We are in the process of creating an informal international panel of friends and colleagues around the world who might be interested in following this process closely, and perhaps also to make their views known from time to time. To help round out your information on this, the following section provides some one-click links to sources that you may find of use in this respect.

Working Papers and supporting media

In this section we are attempting to organize in on place the main postings and working materials being developed in support of the 2012 Helsinki project. A good place for you to start to get your orientation will be with the first two working papers that follow here just below.

  1. Initial project announcement (20 February)
  2. Outreach for success: Key actors and partners (28 January)
  3. Main events and project schedule (6 March)
  4. Master Class organization (working draft) (6 March)
  5. Notes on the organisation of the Focus Workshops (8 March)
  6. Who are the non-car majority and how do we serve them best
  7. Editorial: On the plane to Helsinki (14 March 2012)
  8. What is equity (and what is it not. Late night thoughts)
  9. Future of the automobile in the city
  10. Key role of the ITC interface
  11. A note on civil society and the social brain as an untapped resource
  12. What would an Equity-Based Transport system for Helsinki look like? – and what would be the best way to get there?

It can be anticipated that this list of topics will bounce around a certain amount over the coming weeks, but here you have at least our starting place. in the event, information on future working papers will be posted on the site.

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Further information/Sources:

  • Website: An informal website has been set up at Intended to provide a central depository of documents and comments, and in particular to help international readers of World Streets and others to follow and learn from Helsinki project .
  • Outreach: Inventory of groups, organizations to be contracted. Click here
  • Facebook page to support the project at
  • Twitter at!/EquityT
  • Project library: A small collection of useful documentation can be found here
  • Equity photo album: A collection of illustrative photographs can be found here
  • Equity/Transport videos : A collection of videos looking at the issues from a wide variety of perspectives can be found here
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We invite your comments and suggestions both on the above and all  working papers, media and postings that you will find here.

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