Connected Places Podcast Episode 32: Helsinki’s Road to Net Zero with Jan Vapaavouri

In this instalment of our City Leader’s dialogues, “The net zero road to COP26 and beyond”, we speak to Jan Vapaavpouri, former Mayor of Helsinki; the world’s northern most city region with over a million people and the most northerly capital in Europe.

Helsinki is often referred to as Finland’s only metropolis, the Pearl of the Baltic sea, and after Stockholm and Oslo it’s the third largest in the Nordic countries. Famously, Helsinki has one of the world’s highest standards of living and consistently ranks among the world’s most livable cities. In July this year Time magazine ranked Helsinki as one of the greatest places in the world in 2021 and the Boston Consulting Group ranked it as the third best city in the world to live, behind New York and London.

Yet Finland urbanized quite late compared to most European cities with the population tripling since the 1970’s and the arrival of the subway system the same decade. In recent years the city has become a world leader not only in public health and wellbeing, but also environmental sustainability and digital innovation. And now, as cities around the world are adapting to a rapidly changing global climate Helsinki, like most other large cities, has a suite of ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions and achieve net zero by 2035. Yet Jan Vapaavpouri attracted a lot of attention for his vision of simply making Helsinki ‘functional’.

So in this third episode in our City Leaders dialogues that we’ve been holding in the run up to the COP 26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow this November, Prof. Greg Clark met the Mayor of Helsinki as he prepared to leave office. He asked the Mayor how Helsinki is positioning itself for the monumental changes ahead; both the challenge of achieving net zero, but also the opportunities that digitisation is bringing to the city? How should the political leadership of a city bring people along with it? And is the intention to become a ‘functional’ city a bland sounding slogan, or surprisingly compelling vision?

This conversation was recorded in July as part of our City Leaders Dialogue and you can watch the full video here.

Music on this episode is by Blue Dot Sessions and Phill Ward Music (

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Show notes:

To read our CEO’s recent blog on the role that innovation hubs can play in accelerating the UK Government’s ambition to level up the economy, click here.

You can register for the live City Leader Dialogues with the Mayor of Bristol, Mayor Marvin Rees on 7th September.

You can also register for our Innovation Places Summit on 23rd September, as well as our Active Travel Summit on 29th September.

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