Helsinki is full of new ideas and urban initiatives. Yet, many of us tend to leave the realization of these ideas to others - the type of agency that they propose does not necessarily extend into our own personal lives. On Thursday September 6th, we organized yet another UrbanUtopia event at the WDC Pavilion. This time, we wanted to focus on giving rise to real personal agency by providing people with the means to do something practical in their own everyday environment. The staff consisted of a group of Utopia Consultants, whose task was to help people develop their utopian thinking and find ways to put their ideas into practice. We encouraged the participants to find their personal trigger for change and come up with ways to spread it around. We gave them a month to work on their idea; in addition, we asked them to document the events or changes that might happen and send the documents to us.
This approach was a response to the challenges that the project has been facing during the past half a year. Originally, our aim was to bring different groups to the same room and have them engage with each other; we were hoping to create new types of dialogue between urban planners, city officials, architects, activists, artists and citizens and change something in the process through which the urban environment is formed. However, these aims have proven to be too ambitious and slightly off-kilter. During the past year, there has been a clear rise in the amount of alternative urban projects in Helsinki, and many of them have the kind of back-up and momentum behind them that we could only ever dream of. Competing with these initiatives is both impossible and counterproductive.
What we can do in this kind of a situation is to focus on methods and perspectives that are particular to us. One of these is personal engagement and one-on-one interaction; another is the capacity to change something in a person's perception and experience of the environment. Luckily, these aspects are necessary when it comes to promoting change not only in public space but also in people's private lives. In my mind, the motivation and capacity to change urban space has to extend to the private realm; we have to be able to commit to doing things differently on every level, not only on the level of legislation and urban planning.
The next question is how to reach people and have them commit to doing something for real....