Urban areas are the source of many of today’s environmental challenges – not surprisingly, since two out of three Europeans live in towns and cities. Local governments and authorities can provide the commitment and innovation needed to tackle and resolve many of these problems.
The objectives of the European Green Capital Award are to:
a) Reward cities that have a consistent record of achieving high environmental standards;
b) Encourage cities to commit to on-going and ambitious goals for further environmental improvement and sustainable development;
c) Provide a role model to inspire other cities and promote best practice and experiences in all other European cities.
European Green Capitals
The first European Green Capital was awarded in 2010 and nine cities have been awarded the title thus far. The European Green Capitals to date are:
2010 Stockholm, 2011 Hamburg, 2012 Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2013 Nantes, 2014 Copenhagen
2015 Bristol, 2016 Ljubljana, 2017 Essen, 2018 Nijmegen and 2019 Oslo.
Source: European Commission
Lahti is a city of 120 000 inhabitants in Southern Finland. Lahti and the neighboring municipality of Nastola merged in the beginning of 2016. The area of Lahti increased over three times and the population by 15 417 residents. Now, forests cover more than half of Lahti.
Located in between two capitals, Helsinki and St Petersburg, the City of Lahti has always been an important logistical route and marketplace (Fig. 1). Lahti has a special geographical environment and history. The ice age formation, the Salpausselkä Ridge, runs through the city from east to west, which is why some of the oldest human settlement remains, in all of Finland, are found in the area. The Salpausselkä Ridge provides numerous ecosystem services: large groundwater reservoirs (one of the most valuable in Northern Europe), recreational values for citizens and visitors, and a diversity of biotopes (Fig. 1).
For a long time, Lahti was only a small village linked to the wealthy agricultural municipality of Hollola. The last 50 years have proven to be a remarkable growth period for the city. After the Second World War, Lahti was growing faster than any other city in Finland. The rapid growth of Lahti City was a consequence of the industrialization and urbanization of Finland, during the 1960s and 1970s (Fig. 2), and it created numerous working opportunities, new industries and an economic boom for the area. Lahti was known as the “City of Carpenters” in the early 19th century.
The rapid industrialization and population growth also caused some unpleasant environmental problems. The nearby Lake Vesijärvi was badly eutrophicated during 1970-1980, although, the first sewage water treatment plant started functioning in the 1960s.
Eutrophication of Lake Vesijärvi
The Lake Vesijärvi Project (from 1987 onwards) is a classical environmental management project, where knowledge from university research groups, active participation by residents and funding from the city and companies have all created a positive cycle to improve the lake's condition. The badly eutrophicated lake is, today, in better condition, but further work is needed to meet the WFD goal of a good ecological status. Lahti's harbour area is a prime example of a sustainable, urban, design project that created a large open area near the now cleaner Lake Vesijärvi, the much used pedestrian and bicycle route along the Vesijärvi shore and the world-famous wooden Sibelius Concert Hall (Fig. 3). In the near future, the City of Lahti aims to find new possibilities for treating all city-centre derived storm water, in a more natural manner.
Decreasing Car Dependency
Development of the city centre towards a pedestrian and bicycle friendly environment is one of the key strategic choices that the City Council of Lahti made in the 2010s. The Lahti City Consortium has and is investing some 100 million € on city centre development, e.g. in the new Travel Centre (Fig. 4), underground parking places, new bicycle lanes and wider pedestrian areas during 2010-2020. All of these changes aim to increase the overall liveability and walkability of the urban areas of Lahti, as was proudly stated by local rap musicians in their YouTube video.
Decreasing car dependency in a cold climate country, with generally long travel distances is, however, still a challenge; although, the City of Lahti has upgraded public transportation service by 40%, in recent years (2014-2016). Moreover, we will soon launch a large project “CitiCAP”, funded by UIA-ERDF, to demonstrate completely new possibilities for enhancing sustainable urban mobility and cutting CO2 emissions.
Environment for New Cleantech Business
A circular economy and cleantech are the key focus areas of the Lahti Region Business Strategy. The long-term work and expertise in the waste management sector, and efficient resource use has created new potentials for businesses that utilize different side streams in their manufacturing processes. There is a clear social reason for the renewal of the industrial and business environment. The City of Lahti has had a very dramatic and difficult history involving manufacturing businesses that were producing goods for the Soviet Union trade market. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, together with the Finnish national economic depression, created a period of massive unemployment in the mid-1990s. Since then, the unemployment rate has rarely been under 10%. Currently, the employment rate is steadily increasing, but unemployment is still 15%, although Lahti has a job employment-sufficiency rating of 111%.
Today, the largest employers in Lahti are commercial operators (Hämeenmaa), training organizations (the Lahti University of Applied Sciences), the food industry (Fazer, Hartwall), the furniture industry (Isku) and mechatronics companies (Kemppi, Oilon). Lahti has a vibrant small and medium-sized enterprise cluster, with a lot of family businesses.
City Infrastructure Plan
The Lahti and Nastola municipalities merged at the beginning of 2016, forming a new City of Lahti with 3.3 times greater surface area (2015: 155 km2 --> 2016: 517 km2) and 118 000 inhabitants (2015: 103 000 --> 2016: 118 000) (Fig. 2). The larger urban planning area provides many new possibilities for housing, recreational activities and nature protection; but, it also poses a great challenge for maintaining a solid urban structure.
The City of Lahti has a strong, unique and strategic land-use planning instrument, and a continuous master plan process. This provides many advantages and occasions for citizens and companies to weigh in and participate in strategic city development questions. The most important questions for the current Master Plan Cycle (2017-2021) are: the combining of the urban planning and SUMP processes into a holistic entity, determining the growth possibilities and boundaries of the new City of Lahti (Fig. 5) and increasing the strategic importance of a diverse urban nature as a vital issue for citizen well-being and as a potential attraction for new tourism.