A fa­mous quo­te by the Greek phi­lo­sop­her Aris­tot­le says that pe­op­le come to­get­her in ci­ties in or­der to live; they re­main to­get­her in or­der to live a good life. To live a good life to­get­her with ot­hers re­qui­res bey­ond laws and go­ver­nan­ce a cer­tain deg­ree of ac­cep­tan­ce to com­mu­nal res­pon­si­bi­li­ty. In ci­ties, the de­si­re to live a good life in­di­vi­du­al­ly is by na­tu­re tied with ot­hers’ abi­li­ty to do the same.

As den­se com­mu­ni­ties of pe­op­le, ci­ties func­ti­on as plat­forms for many in­ter­con­nec­ted trans­for­ma­ti­ons cur­rent­ly im­pac­ting our world. Cli­ma­te cri­sis, di­gi­ta­li­za­ti­on, and the cur­rent co­ro­na epi­de­mic have been in their turn seen by many as the “last straw” of ur­ba­ni­za­ti­on; a for­ce that will turn pe­op­le away from ci­ties to­wards a “simp­ler” li­fes­ty­le. His­to­ry of man­kind has shown us that this will most li­ke­ly not be the case.

The abi­li­ty to live a good life co­mes from many at­t­ri­bu­tes that co-exist in a ba­lan­ce. Se­cu­ri­ty, equ­a­li­ty, free­dom of self-exp­res­si­on, well-being, and ba­sis for me­a­ning­ful fa­mi­ly life are some of the at­t­ri­bu­tes in stu­dies that have na­med Hel­sin­ki as the hap­piest city in the world. Good life is as­so­ci­a­ted with many Nor­dic ci­ties in many stu­dies. Trust in go­vern­ment and among pe­op­le is one of the com­mon de­no­mi­na­tors.

The co­ro­na epi­de­mic has ins­pi­red many to qu­es­ti­on the fun­da­men­tals of our de­moc­ra­tic sys­tems, the mar­ket eco­no­my, or glo­bal col­la­bo­ra­ti­on. Some see the cur­rent si­tu­a­ti­on as a ve­hic­le for their pre-exis­ting po­li­ti­cal am­bi­ti­ons. Some see the co­ro­na cri­sis as a dis­rup­ti­on that jus­ti­fies many me­a­su­res that un­der nor­mal cir­cums­tan­ces would not even be de­ba­ted. A per­sis­tent qu­es­ti­on re­la­tes to the deg­ree of per­so­nal li­ber­ty. In our path to re-buil­ding, we must be ca­re­ful to se­pa­ra­te what works in a glo­bal cri­sis and what works in nor­mal life.

As a Ma­yor of a fair­ly ad­van­ced, trans­pa­rent, and high-func­ti­o­ning city build on subs­tan­ti­al le­vel of trust I see the path to re-buil­ding as a more of a prac­ti­cal exer­ci­se. We must en­su­re that col­la­bo­ra­ti­on bet­ween state go­vern­ments, mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ties, ci­ties and the pri­va­te sec­tor works bet­ter in the fu­tu­re. We must keep our es­sen­ti­al inf­rast­ruc­tu­re in good shape. The ba­sic sup­p­ly chains fee­ding our ci­ties must en­du­re dis­rup­ti­ons. Re­si­lien­ce and pre­pa­red­ness must be built by pro­vi­ding ac­cess to in­for­ma­ti­on but al­so ba­sic pro­tec­ti­ve gear in all si­tu­a­ti­ons. We must en­su­re that ser­vi­ces to vul­ne­rab­le pe­op­le and com­mu­ni­ties are se­cu­red at all ti­mes.

Any Ma­yor knows that ta­king subs­tan­ti­al steps to­wards bet­ter re­si­lien­ce will not be done by laws or ad­di­ti­o­nal re­gu­la­ti­on. It will be done by em­po­we­ring com­mu­ni­ties, ma­king sure pe­op­le have the grounds to trust their go­vern­ment, and by buil­ding com­mu­nal res­pon­si­bi­li­ty to a new le­vel. Buil­ding re­si­lien­ce to com­mu­ni­ties is not a pro­ject. It me­ans that eve­ry de­ci­si­on ta­ken by a city must be eva­lu­a­ted against our abi­li­ty to sur­vi­ve anot­her cri­sis.

Ci­ties will keep flou­ris­hing due to their eco­no­mic, so­ci­al, and cul­tu­ral po­wer. They will keep gro­wing due to pe­op­le’s de­si­re to gra­vi­ta­te to­wards like-min­ded com­mu­ni­ties. Ca­pi­tal will move to­wards clus­ters of in­no­va­ti­on, ins­pi­ra­ti­on, and ca­pa­bi­li­ties. Wor­king re­mo­te­ly will not split ur­ban are­as but bring them clo­ser to­get­her glo­bal­ly. Co­ro­na cri­sis will for­ward many di­gi­tal so­lu­ti­ons and ser­vi­ces. A sha­red glo­bal re­a­li­ty will be much more tan­gib­le to many.

The so­lu­ti­ons to buil­ding the postc­ri­sis world will be dis­co­ve­red from the strengths du­ring the cri­sis. In go­ver­nan­ce, a high le­vel of so­cie­tal trust will still be a bet­ter op­ti­on than aut­ho­ri­ta­ri­a­nism. In­ter­con­nec­ted­ness will still pro­vi­de bet­ter and fas­ter so­lu­ti­ons than spo­ra­di­ci­ty. Eco­no­my build on mul­tip­le strengths re­co­vers bet­ter than re­li­an­ce on see­ming­ly simp­le sing­le so­lu­ti­ons. Equ­a­li­ty will cre­a­te stron­ger com­mu­ni­ties al­so in the fu­tu­re.

The co­ro­na cri­sis has taught us that epi­de­mics and fu­tu­re di­sas­ters will amp­li­fy the ext­re­mes in our so­cie­ties. The strengths be­co­me ne­ces­si­ties and over­co­ming we­ak­nes­ses de­fi­ning fac­tors in our sur­vi­val. From this pers­pec­ti­ve, the Fin­nish sys­tem and di­vi­si­on of res­pon­si­bi­li­ties bet­ween the state, mu­ni­ci­pa­li­ties, and ci­ties seem to work well. One must build on those strengths and not get caught on a myth of a “bro­ken world” where the on­ly way for­ward is more cent­ra­li­za­ti­on and less in­di­vi­du­al li­ber­ties. Ci­ties will be at the fo­ref­ront of this qu­es­ti­on.

Ar­tik­ke­li on jul­kais­tu SAM Ma­ga­zi­ne 2/2020-nu­me­ros­sa tou­ko­kuus­sa 2020.

Af­ter an ex­ten­si­ve ca­reer in Fin­nish na­ti­o­nal po­li­tics Jan Va­paa­vuo­ri be­ca­me the Ma­yor of Hel­sin­ki in June 2017. As his first task, he set forth a city stra­te­gy, la­ying ground for an am­bi­ti­ous four-ye­ar agen­da. The stra­te­gy cham­pi­ons Hel­sin­ki as the “most func­ti­o­nal city in the world” with a spe­ci­al fo­cus on sus­tai­nab­le growth, di­gi­ta­li­za­ti­on, glo­bal prob­lem sol­ving, cre­a­ti­vi­ty, and the best pos­sib­le con­di­ti­ons for hap­py eve­ry­day city life.