Solving clusters of challenges in sustainable city transition

Published 10 March 2023


The Sustainable City programme, coordinated by Finland’s Ministry of the Environment, convenes a group of motivated cities and municipalities to join a one-year problem-solving journey to address the numerous interrelated challenges that slow down sustainable city transition. The challenges are related to urban planning that considers sustainability goals and prosperous communities in a socially sustainable city.


Cities face high expectations in transforming themselves into sustainability powerhouses. While many cities are motivated to meet these expectations, they face multiple barriers that are often systemic and thus hard or impossible to be solved on their own. For example, growth is deeply ingrained as the key objective in urban and regional planning, but growth and sustainability are mutually exclusive. The programme’s contribution is that it creates the conditions for cooperation, thus expanding problem-solving capabilities. Where one city could not achieve ambitious transformation independently, it now has partners working towards the same goals. Solutions can be new single practices but, preferably, broader reforms that question the existing procedures or even the prevailing paradigms of sustainability and wellbeing in cities.


Demos Helsinki is helping the cities make sense of the clusters of challenges together with other invited experts. As a result of the work, we expect to see novel solutions accelerating the sustainability transition.


Our hypothesis in participating in this programme is that the city representatives are truly committed to change. Their challenges, however, are so deeply rooted, that they become insurmountable. A second hypothesis is that cooperation at this strategic level will enhance problem-solving and will result in breakthroughs. We will report back the results of this programme in November 2023, when it is expected to end.


Our methodology

For over 15 years, Demos Helsinki has been collecting and developing knowledge about the role of cities in climate action. During this time, we have helped the Helsinki region drive sustainable choices, kickstarted the transition to timber construction, developed climate-neutral and joyful strategies for cities, and convened partners to promote a sustainable mobility transition. More recently, as members of the Horizon-funded NetZeroCities consortium, we explore what governance structures can accelerate the path to climate neutrality in cities. These experiences show that cities can do better at driving meaningful action instead of simply facilitating it. We have collaborated with cities and municipalities to expand how these public institutions can support local wellbeing in new ways. For example, municipalities can play a significant role in supporting a vibrant civil society. We have studied what structures and practices enable flourishing collaboration between civil society and public institutions.


This programme will be the second time we use Humble Governance as the main methodology to overcome political gridlock in the Finnish city ecosystem. On top of the Humble Governance model, we will host workshops with cities, create benchmarks, and mentor the participants to push for meaningful transformations.


We’re working on this programme with MDI, the Finnish Green Building Council and THL. You can find out more about them and the entire programme here.


For more information about this programme or to explore how your city could launch and support a low-carbon society, contact:

Kaisa Schmidt-Thomé
Senior Expert, Regenerative Infrastructure


Feature Image: bruev / iStock.