If you send air quality experts from to Cairo to work on primarily local environmental issues, it's very difficult to justify how that will improve air quality in Los Angeles, or water quality in the Great Lakes, or redevelop contaminated land in Seattle or New York. But finding innovations that work abroad and bringing them to the United States is what Dale Medearis, now an Environmental Planner with the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, has championed throughout his career. A 20-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Office of International Affairs where he worked with urban sustainability issues and Western Europe, Medearis was a Humboldt fellow, studied in Vienna, and lived and worked in Bonn and Berlin with a think tank now called Ecologic. "My experiences awakened in me a very strong appreciation for the advances taking place in Europe that could be transferred to the United States," says Medearis. "There's very little connection here between the domestic environment, energy, climate work, and the international. We just don't take ideas from abroad that could be applied in this country."
In Helsinki, Medearis will meet with senior planners and the senior environment climate and energy officials to discover what has worked best in Finland's comprehensive approach to environmental challenges. He looks to transfer ideas about community energy planning, holistic approaches to energy and climate planning that blend land use, transportation, energy efficient building, and building codes with metrics that allow policy and structure to mature over the short term. "We just completed a transportation study and Helsinki is highlighted here as a leader in regional transportation planning and reducing climate emissions. I would love to work more closely with the Finns because they embody in their pioneering accomplishments in the environment and sustainability where we need to look for answers now."
Helsinki is essentially a maritime-flavoured city with a particularly rich shoreline. During his visit to Helsinki Dale Medearis will be introduced to the urban projects of the city's future waterfront development areas when he meets the town planning architects and the management of the Economic and Planning Centre of Helsinki. The visit will also include field trips to the new suburban districts of Arabianranta and Eco-Viikki as well as delightful experiences of nature in the parks and recreational areas in the heart of Helsinki.
The Helsinki City Planning Department is responsible for the city's structural and aesthetic development, town planning, as well as the planning and control of traffic. As an expert unit in management and deployment, the Economic and Planning Centre of Helsinki serves the top management of the city and the city departments. The Centre operates as the City Board's overall executive organ for planning, preparing and monitoring, e.g. site development, housing programmes and industrial policy.
The visit to Helsinki will be hosted by the Helsinki City Planning Department and the Exhibition and Information Centre Laituri. Mr Medearis's stay will be hosted by exhibition coordinator Reetta DeWan.
Reuniting with my wife and 3 daughters after my return / the fellowship of the reception at City Hall and hearing "Happy Birthday" sung in my honor
The joy of tasting Mämmi at Elina Nummi's House
The beauty of the seascape from Suomenlinna
My hosts, the kind and wonderful people of Helsinki
The view from the top of the Hotel Torni - tied with the view from the top of the Olympic Stadium observation tower
If you like, I can add another 50. It was a brilliant trip and a real privilege to be invited! Thanks!
Wow, I made it to Helsinki. It was a rough day full of delays and missed flights.
No matter. The day went brilliantly. I attended the SITRA conference on energy efficiency in the built environment. I had the great joy of seeing my friend wulf daseking, the chief of planning for freiburg, germany. Than I had the chance to meet with the planning and climate elite of helsinki, including maria jaakola,heikki manty, makituomas rajajarvi and last but not least, markuu siiskonen. then it was over toa meeting with kari silfverberg, the director of helsinkis environmental center. helsinki emits currently 6.5 tons per person and they are targeting 4 tons by 2030. despite the set backs getting here, every second of the visit has been worth it. I am really looking forward to tomorrow.
Since my last entry, Wednesday, March 31, I have returned home, and spent a week back at work. I often think back to the week in Helsinki and the thoughtful people and environmental policies of Helsinki. Looking down at some notes, I see that each person in the Washington D.C. region emits approximately 18 tons of carbon dioxide - or its equivalent. By comparison, the average resident of the Helsinki region emits approximately 6 tons. It does not take a genius to realize that the scale of change in this region's transportation, building, renewable energy and energy efficiency policies will have to be transformational. Here is a short collection of impressions, thoughts and information gathered during my time in Helsinki
April 1, 2009 (Wednesday)
Transfer and Application of Climate and Energy Policies
I was asked to speak before a collection of environmentalists and planners about the lessons that Helsinki might learn from the Washington DC/Northern Virginia region on climate and energy planning. It was a tough challenge - Helsinki seems to plan for energy, climate and the environment so very well The venue of the talk was an "information" center (Laituri) that hosted a wide-range of maps, designs and information about large-scale planning activities in Helsinki. The Laituri was practical, well-developed and informative. Every major city in the U.S. might consider developing a similar format to display large-scale urban renewable projects. I talked about how Northern Virginia had formalized cooperation with European regions, starting with Stuttgart in 1998. I added how that in 2008, cooperation had expanded to over 50 other European regional councils - including Helsinki. The cooperation is unique - it has been solely on the import of land-use, energy, climate, transportation, and planning policies from Europe to Northern Virginia - a unique process for any U.S. sub-national governmental agency. At the end of the discussion, I mentioned that Helsinki seemed to be learning fast from our mistake of neglecting a light rail connection to the international airport.
I met with Olli-Pekka Poutanen, Director of the Transportation and Traffic Planning Division for Helsinki, following the presentation at Laituri. Dr. Poutanen shared with me a presentation indicating that over 60 percent of all trips in Helsinki are on transit, bike or foot - the ratio for trips on bike or foot alone was between 5 and 10 percent. This is amazing in a climate as extreme as Helsinki's! The tram and the subway system are exceptionally clean and well-timed. Real-time signage is present at all tram and subway stations and the monthly passes are reasonably priced. Moreover, the presence of bedrock does not seem to be a cost factor in the City's and region's plans to expand the subway system. I shared with Dr. Poutanen that Helsinki's coordinated transportation and climate plans was included into a consultancy study we supported to inform our board and other regional leaders about sustainable transportation alternatives for the Northern Virginia region.
Lunch with Deputy Mayor Hanny Penttila
I was an honor to have had lunch with Deputy Mayor Hannu Penttila and Irma Karjalainen of the Regional Council of Governments from the Helsinki area - the YTV. Hannu, Irma and I talked about our cooperation with METREX. Hannu mentioned that he is campaigning for the Presidency of METREX - the Network of European Metropolitan Regions and Areas. The NVRC is currently an observer to METREX and has been involved directly and indirectly with METREX over the past decade. The NVRC is now in the process of formalizing a number of cooperative projects with METREX members, particularly on inventorying regional greenhouse gas emissions. We are to meet in Paris in May to talk about formalizing cooperation between U.S. and European regional councils.
Green Infrastructure Planning
Helsinki's regional plan is analogous in several respects to model "finger plans" of other Baltic cities. Development is organized around transit centers between "green wedges" of parks. Helsinki's green infrastructure is unique in that it extends to and beyond the island network of Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna is a unique mix of town for 900 residents, museum, recreation area and working shipyard in the middle of a National Park that also sits on a 4-square kilometer archipelago that is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is exceptional. Led by Maria Jaakkola from the City Planning Department (and former student of my friend Tim Beatley at the University of Virginia), we spent over 90 minutes walking over, around, under and through the fortress of Suomenlinna. Dinner at Elina Nummi's home with Mark and our friends was superb.
April 2, 2009 (Thursday)
Low2No Climate and Energy Initiative / Waterfront Redevelopment
Dr. Juha Kostiainen, of the City's Energy Office, hosted me for a discussion about Helsinki's long-term climate and energy initiatives and the redevelopment of 100 hectares of reclaimed port area called Jatkasaari. The Jatkasaari development initiative is one of the largest waterfront redevelopment efforts in Europe. In 2008, the City of Helsinki moved its container and bulk port operations 6 kilometers to the east. This opened up several hundred hectares of waterfront properties for redevelopment. The focus on waterfront redevelopment in a country so environmentally sensitive is remarkable given that Helsinki's worst-case scenario for sea-level rise is approximately 3 meters. Jatkasaari, one of the largest of these new waterfront developments - about 100 hectares. It will be the home to 16,000 residents and approximately 6,000 jobs. Like most of Helsinki, district heating and cooling and a new subway line was to be deployed throughout the entire project. Private car parking will be discouraged. One of the most innovative elements of the project was solid waste collection system built around a 4-tube centrally coordinated vacuum system. Waste portals from the tubes are built into the residential and commercial structures, which "suck" the wastes and transport them to a central repository where they will be transferred for further separation, recyling or disposal. Following a lunch at the City Hall cafeteria, I had the opportunity to visit Salmisaari and Helsinki Technical University as a guest of Timo Laitinen and Laura Schrey.
April 3, 2009 (Friday)
Viiki Environmental Village and Viiki Nature Reserve
On Friday, I was escorted to the Viikki Ecological Housing Project - a planned "ecological" neighborhood for 5,000 inhabitants, eight kilometers north of downtown Helsinki and adjacent to the University of Helsinki's teacher training, biosciences and veterinary programs. Viikki is the host to a variety of apartment, religious and commercial buildings powered by district heating, but also solar thermal and solar photovoltaic. I also saw a small 2kWh wind turbine near the Lutheran church. Like many large-scale development projects in Finland, the Viikki eco village was the product of a thoughtful international design competition. I was informed by my hosts, Markku Siiskonen and Heikki Rinne, that approximately ¼ of Viikii's residents commute to jobs at or near the university. I see multiple parallels with potential ecological development in this region. After lunch, I was taken for a tour of the Viikki Nature Reserve - a 250 hectare bird habitat at the mouth of the Vantaa River. My host, Eero Haapanen and Tuuli Ylikotila highlighted some of the tensions between the harvesting of biomass and nature protection.
Reception at City Hall
The tour of the Viikki Nature Reserve was followed by a reception at City Hall with Deputy Mayor Pekka Sauri, eight of my U.S. counterparts and many other officials from Helsink who were involved with the exchange. It was a wonderful experience to have had my birthday recognized by the mayor and all the participants of the reception.
There are numerous climate and energy lessons in Helsinki that can be shared with this region. I am now working with a variety of organizations to plan an exchange of my board and staff to Helsinki sometime later in 2009 or early 2010. I'll try to explore more formal exchanges of information, case studies and practitioners via METREX, as well as design and planning programs, such as Virginia Tech University and the Technical University of Helsinki. In addition, I will try to write a case study on Helsinki's energy and climate programs for "Environment and Planning." I also look forward to working with the Embassy to host the delegation from Finland when they arrive in this region in early May.