About Urban Planning and Ikigai

Today, I attended an intriguing lecture by the architect Hella Hernberg, the author of the book “Helsinki Beyond Dreams – Actions Towards a Creative and Sustainable Hometown”. This book came out in 2012, as Helsinki was a World Design Capital.

Hernberg is one of the key professionals behind initiatives that transformed the former cargo port of Kalasatama, still in the middle of its ongoing construction, into a hip area in Helsinki. This area was opened to the general public in 2010, as I moved to neighbouring Kallio myself, and has so far witnessed the creation of open-for-all graffiti fence, urban gardening, a pop-up sauna, and various self-organized events. It’s one of my absolute favourite places in Helsinki, especially in the summertime.

Hernberg’s book explores new perspectives of a city in transition. As Hernberg states, it’s the “new we-spirit and enthusiasm of its people” that has turned Helsinki into an inspiring place to live. “In the past few years our previously quiet and reserved Nordic hometown has been a source of constant surprises”, she says. Helsinki is indeed bubbling with new ideas and creative endeavours. “People are motivated by doing concrete things that have an impact – however temporary – on their environment,” Hernberg writes.

According to the Japanese, everyone has an “ikigai”. The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: “iki”, referring to life or spirit, and “kai”, which roughly translates to “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Finding one’s ikigai, according to the Japanese requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to everyday life. An ikigai is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’ – a reason to enjoy life.

Reflecting on the concept of “ikigai”, perhaps we would benefit from letting more people have an impact on their surroundings. As ikigai, more or less, consists of doing the things you love, which you are good at, which you can be paid for, and most importantly, that which the surrounding world needs, I think this concept is extremely useful in relation to crowdsourcing urban planning. One example of such co-design is the project coordinated by the University of Helsinki in the abandoned Marian sairaala hospital area.

According to Hilde Heynen “architecture – in its most broadly conceived sense – forms the framework for life”. Heynen also says that “But in accepting this as a starting point, one should also recognize that there can be something more”. In Heynen’s view, “the critical impact of an architectural project is not equivalent to its smoothly fitting into the international magazines”. Nor should it be. According to Hella Hernberg, the designer or the architect should act as an agent for a positive change. I am happy that my hometown is co-designing urban projects more and more.

Author: Iiris Konttinen

I am a digital service design and digital marketing professional based in Helsinki, Finland.