The odds are against you when you’re located in a part of godforsaken, forest-infested eastern Finland near the Russian border with a name that’s impossible to spell. In today’s globalized, networked world, every place has to compete with every other place for its share of the world’s consumers, tourists, businesses, investments and capital, the best brains, skilled labour, respect and attention. Today, cities need to lead on issues of climate change, energy use and purposeful economic growth if they are to succeed. Taking a closer look, Lappeenranta actually has all the ingredients for developing a smart and resilient city brand. Cities need to lead the way – and Lappeenranta shows leadership.
The 17th century Saimaa lakeside marketplace with its tar-trading and spa activities has grown into a centre for tourism and a sustainable development leader in Finland. The south-eastern region is known for its forest industry and large inland lakes. Lappeenranta is Finland’s second most popular travel destination after Helsinki with around two million visitors a year, and its strategic goal is to become a model for renewable energies and a clean living environment. Lappeenranta was chosen as Finland’s climate capital by the WWF in 2014 and it is one of the finalists in the WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge in 2016.
Like our Lappeenranta University of Technology, LUT, the city is compact by size, with intensely focused operations. The city aims to fuel clean growth, to be dense and compact, with excellent public transport. Clean energy and water, a circular economy and sustainable business are the key questions of humankind to which LUT seeks solutions through technology and business. LUT’s Green Campus is an internationally awarded research and education environment. Cooperation with LUT has created multifaceted projects from a special pumping station on Lake Saimaa, which the Wall Street Journal rates among the five most spectacular lakes in the world, to a soon-to-be released hybrid bus, to a Where is the Bus app. We have a supportive academic community that serves as an innovation/start-up incubator outside the normal bureaucratic aspects of procurement and contract review.
A resource-efficient city with no waste, no emissions and no over-consumption is where Lappeenranta aims to be by 2050. We are creating our own brand as we strive towards this. Building on an already 38% reduction in CO2 emissions since 1990, Lappeenranta uses large-scale renewables like wind, solar, biomass and heat pumps as well as addressing energy consumption patterns, to put sustainable wellbeing at the heart of everything the city does. A brand is as strong as one’s actions in the making of it. We have consistent, long-term goals and have already shown that we are prepared to achieve these goals on time.
Besides being smart at the heart of the matter, the numbers of foreign visitors have resulted in us being the first Finnish city to open 18 tourist information stands around the city, while the locals’ mad love towards skiing in winter has yielded a cross-country skiing route app. Our museums provide multilingual virtual tours of the Old Town.
Cities need funding and partnerships with private enterprises. Lappeenranta has made strong progress in renewable energy with high-quality and innovative programs including ground-breaking projects in bioenergy, solar, hydrogen generation and transportation. The city already produces 90% of its energy from renewables and is aiming to reach 100% through Finland’s largest solar plant and largest inland wind farm. These programs have been pursued with strong collaboration with the education sector and industry incubation.
We continuously seek the kind of cooperation we achieved with the Kauvo joint power plant, which was created together with the forestry company UPM-Kymmene Oyj. It produces heat and electricity both for the company and for local citizens. Such cooperation has also enabled the development of a city theatre on the top floor of a shopping mall in the city centre. These examples have been an opportunity to lead and develop innovative public-private approaches that complement everyone’s own brand values. Citycon, the developer behind the IsoKristiina shopping area, recently won a remarkable initiative award for this cooperation.
Chinese visitors have taught me an important issue about size. Everything is small outside China. And being small is something desirable to many; it’s great to be able to easily get out to a place where you can feel free and find space – and breathable air around you. A luxury in itself! We are proud to be just the right size.
And the size expands. In a trend that continues, no city stands by itself; the greater region is drawn into the picture. We cooperate in regional development too, in sustainable actions and branding with the South Karelia region, which we call Finland’s East Coast. We further seek to build tourism around the whole of Lake Saimaa via the tourism brand goSaimaa. The time is now to grow together and share, to open our doors. Strong communication within the region and abroad brings results. The more mouths repeat the message, the better it gets heard.
Finnish East Coast video
Besides the discussion among officials, partners and neighbouring regions, we need dialogue with the citizens. We constantly ask: Are the investments going into things that make people’s lives better and the city more liveable? Because that is what matters. We also strive for civic engagement that makes the taxpayers an integral part of the process. We need to make ourselves the believers. Communications programs targeted at the current residents are fundamental to external city and regional branding strategies. We continuously try to engage the residents to actively participate in decision-making related to services, budgeting and improvements. Part of the Earth Hour City Challenge is to receive public input on how we can improve further.
One of the goals of the Lappeenranta 2028 strategy is to develop Lappeenranta into a model city for eco action in which having a clean living environment and a zero-waste world are sources of innovative business growth. Smooth and positive cooperation with residents, local businesses and universities are the keys to success. Lappeenranta will continue to provide a clean living environment and sustainable well-being for both residents and tourists while demonstrating the functionality of modern environmental and energy solutions in these northerly conditions.
Come and see yourself, or at least show your love and vote for Lappeenranta, giving your improvement suggestions at: www.welovecities.org/Lappeenranta or click here.