14 ways Helsinki gives people the freedom to take action

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Whether you cook up a feast on Restaurant Day or put forwards a successful proposal on OmaStadi participatory budgeting initiative, Helsinki invites its residents to play an active role in its development.

1. Living in Helsinki, you don’t have to sweat the small stuff, giving you time to spend on the things that matter to you.

Helsinki is a city that provides its residents with the services they need to live a comfortable and stress-free life.

2. We have a public healthcare system that works.

Public healthcare services are freely available to anyone who lives in Helsinki—and that includes critical treatments for undocumented migrants. The Global Clinic, which provides basic healthcare services to those without a residence permit, operates in Helsinki on a principle of anonymity. Their founding belief is that everyone in Finland is entitled to urgent healthcare. Children’s health is also monitored in city run maternity and child health clinics, as well as by school nurses. 

3. And our education system is the envy of the world.

Finland has been topping the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), PISA ranking for years. The internationally renowned PISA ranking tests the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in order to evaluate education systems worldwide. In 2019, Finland came joint second for reading literacy and third for science literacy.

4. Families in Helsinki get the support they need.

Finland’s new family leave policy gives each parent an allowance of 164 paid days off—and single parents are granted the whole 328 days. What’s more, childcare is heavily subsidised, according to the income and size of individual families. In instances where a family’s joint income is low, early childcare is provided free of charge.

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5. And there are plenty of services to help newcomers settle in.

International House Helsinki provides support, information, and signposting to people who have recently arrived in Helsinki. They also offer advice on all sorts of issues ranging from navigating Finland’s social security systems to finding housing and applying for the right to residence.  

6. Which means people can spend time on the things that mean something to them.

People in Helsinki tend to have lots of hobbies, and that applies to adults as well as children. From playing tennis with friends to learning another language, taking a woodwork class to ice swimming, Helsinki is a city filled with people who know how to make the most of their free time

7. Whether that’s finding a new hobby…

Ilmonet lists all of the upcoming courses at Helsinki’s Adult Education Centre and you should check out Arbis if you’re interested in courses in Swedish, too. In Helsinki, there are heaps of organisations, companies, and networks that run courses and activities that you’re more than welcome to join.

8. … or taking part in a community event.

The City of Helsinki has historically organised a whole host of public events that its residents enjoy taking part in. These include city-organised events like Helsinki Day, Lux, a traditional Baltic Herring Market, and an annual New Year's Eve celebration in Senate Square as well as national celebrations, like Vappu. In Helsinki there’s always a neighbourhood festival, block party, or gathering you can go along to.

Of course the pandemic means that many such events have been postponed, but that’ll just make it all the more fun when it’s safe to meet up again!

Standing together in a small kitchen, three men present their creation on Restaurant Day.
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9. If you live in Helsinki, you’ve probably heard of Restaurant Day.

In recent years, on the third Sunday of February, May, August, and November, anyone in Helsinki has been able to open a popup restaurant wherever they like. The event, which is based on a model of voluntary participation, was launched in May 2011 by a small number of Helsinki residents. Since then, on Restaurant Day participants have opened eateries in shops, on unused railways, in their homes, and even in bus stops. The event is considered a social movement as well as a day of celebration that everyone looks forward to.

10. How about Cleaning Day?

On a few earmarked dates, Helsinki has been turned into a giant flea market in which anyone has been permitted to sell their pre-loved and second-hand items.

Locals have set up stalls on the streets, in their gardens, and even in their homes—and everyone is responsible for cleaning up after themselves! An effort to encourage recycling and responsible urban living, it’s truly an event worth checking out after the pandemic, once it’s safe to do so again.

11. And it’s not just community-organised events that Helsinki locals take part in.

Helsinki’s Participation and Interaction Model seeks to promote resident know-how and knowledge by inviting locals to participate in municipal decision making.

Kerrokantasi is an online service, which allows Helsinki residents to give the city feedback on issues including parks, playground services, and cycle lanes. The City of Helsinki’s website also includes a section for providing feedback.

Four women discuss ideas for new city services whilst facing each other on swing seats in an event at Messukeskus.
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12. Helsinki’s residents play an active role in planning the future of their city.

OmaStadi, the city’s participatory budgeting initiative, encourages citizens to brainstorm and co-create proposals for the development of new city services before voting on them and ultimately helping the city implement them. The city has allocated 8.8 million euros to implementing ideas that are proposed and voted on through this service. All residents over the age of 12 are eligible to vote, encouraging children to take part in municipal decision-making from a young age.

13. And in turn, the city strives to keep its residents informed.

The city’s online video service is regularly updated with videos containing information relevant to Helsinki’s residents. Throughout 2020, for example, the website has been regularly updated with information on the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

14. Because in Helsinki, one person really can make a difference.

Whether you cook up a feast on Restaurant Day or put forwards a successful proposal on OmaStadi, Helsinki invites its residents to play an active role in its development.

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Whether you cook up a feast on Restaurant Day or put forwards a successful proposal on OmaStadi participatory budgeting initiative, Helsinki invites its residents to play an active role in its development.