Envisioning the future of a city
Futurists seldom get an opportunity to participate directly in building a vision of the future, let alone a situation where a future is already being implemented. Recently, however, I was fortunate enough to be granted one such opportunity, and an extremely interesting one to boot: I was asked to lead a team tasked with building a vision for the future of my own university city of Turku, particularly in regard to its centre.
So, let’s get out our tools and start by asking crucial questions: How is the functional environment of the city changing at the moment? What is the city’s current status? What is the general direction of the vision – what things does the city absolutely need? And what solutions are needed to implement the vision? These fundamental questions, and many others, established the basis for our futures work.
To begin with, I asked the group some more brainstorming questions: What does the Turku of your dreams look like? How do you see the transportation system of the centre? Imagine strolling in the market square in the future – what are the things that catch your eye? What will people instinctively think when you utter the name of the city?
These questions were on our minds when, just under a year ago, we began envisioning a future for the centre of our beloved city. The City Council appointed me to chair the group, and we recruited a variety of experts to represent different aspects of the city: politics, civil service, economy, culture, science and so on. We were even fortunate enough to get Eero Lundén, one of the most talented architects of his generation, to flesh out our ideas visually.
Yet more questions arose: What is the one thing that the current centre of Turku lacks more than anything else? And we found a word that puts it in a nutshell: liveliness. So, a livelier centre became a tangible goal for the vision.
It’s clear that the centre as it currently stands is not sufficiently attractive. As a consequence, trade suffers, there are no new development schemes and the centre lacks the very thing we all want in cities: urban culture with its cafés and cultural attractions. In short, there is not enough “life”.
The river Aura and its surroundings is a different story. It attracts people, new restaurants keep cropping up along its shores and its attractiveness is praised far and wide.
We future researchers work with scenarios. They are scripts for the future. We are also aware that our intentions as regards the future are of crucial importance. The question, therefore, is: What sort of a script do we draw up for the future of the Turku’s centre?
Turku and the surrounding regions are currently doing quite well. They are drivers of economic growth in Finland. But, as history tells us, the economy is fickle and may turn at any moment. That’s why we must create a much more durable foundation for success. And over the next decades, that can be done by developing the centre of Turku into a place where people, as well as companies and other organizations, can thrive.
We based our vision on three pillars.
The first pillar is the need for Turku to underline its European identity: Turku is a city of science and culture, and that fact should be evident throughout. What if, instead of an Old Great Square bisected by a thoroughfare, Turku had an entire Old Town, complete with boutique hotels and cafés, extending from around the Turku Cathedral to Aboa Vetus and beyond? What if people from both the university and new enterprises would be drawn into the centre where they would be considerably closer together than if located at University Hill or Kupittaa?
The second pillar consists of major investments in improving the atmosphere in the city centre. More space is needed for pedestrians and bicyclists, and private vehicles need to be directed so as to minimize their interference with slower forms of traffic. A logistically improved system of public transportation needs to be established that will allow the centre to be expanded and movement in the area to go unhampered. Private cars will have easy access close to the core of the city, while kept out from the city centre. In a nutshell: Turku gets a more functional centre that attracts people, commerce and jobs.
The third pillar, naturally, is the unique island landscape alongside and nature within Turku. Our vision is that when you arrive in the centre of Turku, you’ll feel as if you were entering the archipelago. That is why the inimitable qualities of island life – greenery, proximity of nature, smooth mobility – must be evident everywhere. People should be able to move around within the centre of Turku as easily and unhindered as on a small island of smooth rock situated in the sea. The atmosphere along the banks of the river, with nature surging forth in an urban environment, should prevail everywhere in the city centre.
We have worked really hard to show how this change might come about. We have created a vision of a new transport system. We have created a vision of an enhanced Old Town of Turku. We have redesigned the commercial centre and the market square with its surroundings. We have envisioned a cultural area on the eastern bank of the river. We have also built up a vision of how in the future Turku can expand in the direction of the port and beyond, into the islands. And much, much more.
Our vision, which extends to the year 2050, is a vision of a more human Turku, which people around the world will come to admire. In our vision, Turku is a special place on the map of the great cities of the world.
That is how we built a vision of a better city!