Helsinki – What makes a liveable city?

July 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Blog

Helsinki Ciy CouncilNokia, Sauna and Santa Claus Village are words you might associate to Finland but what makes Helsinki, Finland one of the top five livable cities of the world?

On a self-funded trip to Finland I wanted to find out what makes Helsinki unique. I had the awesome opportunity to meet Marko Karvinen the Head of Strategy for The City of Helsinki. In 2011, Helsinki was voted the most liveable city in the world and continues to be recognised as one of the top five cities in the world.  As an Elected Member of Auckland Council these are learnings I can take back to help improve the quality of life for our own community. My note book is packed with great ideas that are likely to be a big hit in Auckland.

Now there are some fundamental differences between Helsinki and Auckland:

Delivering outcomes

Helsinki is proud to have “basic services” and have a broader responsibility for education, health, social services, housing and transport for their 600,000 residents. Through this holistic approach to governance they are able to heavily influence the mechanism of creating a liveable city. This includes the provision of a large portfolio of housing. These are policies and outcomes shared between local government and central government.


There are also two major differences in city funding and economic development:

There is no property tax but 18% income tax (half of all personal tax) which generates 53% of all city revenue. The outcome of this approach is that if salaries are strong so is the city. This creates huge city competition in Europe to compete attract and retain large business.

In Helsinki there are 100 companies owned by the Council with the strategic and political intent to regenerate areas. Their approach is centralised and creates a social system of expectation for service as opposed to a western approach of decentralisation. Public Private Partnerships are almost unheard of due to this social expectation. One of the major challenges of their centralised approach is the level of bureaucratic cost which they cap through budgeting so that funds are directed to delivery services – a big challenge for most Councils!


When asked, what was the number one change you made? He said “Light Rail”. The large investment in city infrastructure has been in Light Rail which has improved the livability of the city providing people with easier access through and across the city. He mentioned that other European cities had made that investment to improve the quality of livability.

Thank you to the City of Helsinki for your warm welcome and sharing your experience.


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