Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään 2009–2012 Let’s Make Mellunkylä More Attractive An experiment in local democracy Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään is an attempt to develop an effective lightweight model for local democracy, which can later be transferred to other districts in Helsinki. All local actors who want Mellunkylä to be a livelier neighbourhood involving all local residents are welcome to join the project.
Mellunkylä is a neighbourhood of over 36,000 inhabitants on the eastern boundary of the City of Helsinki. Mellunkylä’s strengths are the diversity of its housing, its lively shopping centre, its excellent metro links with downtown Helsinki, its wide-ranging facilities for physical exercise and its verdant surroundings. Threats to Mellunkylä’s development are posed by the scarcity of jobs in the area, the long distances to services situated on the perimeter of the area, socio-economic and ethnic segregation and the pockets of poverty and unemployment they bring, together with a certain amount of apathy and low turnouts at elections.
Vetoa jaVoimaa Mellunkylään came into being in 2008 as an initiative from local organizations. They took the view that the development of Mellunkylä should be continued even after the EU Urban Programmes and the City of Helsinki’s own Neighbourhood Project ended. The organizations brought together influential people in the area, such as local councillors, local government officials and local entrepreneurs. This provided the initial boost for the Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään project which was included in the Central Government Lähiöohjelma (Neighbourhood Programme) in 2009.
What can we do to make the voices of ordinary people heard properly in the decision-making process? How can we involve those people who want to participate but are not equipped to do so? How can we involve those people who are equipped to participate but do not want to? How can we achieve better contact with young people and with immigrants? Can we create new channels of influence? How can we make information flow better and interaction more fluent? How can we engender and reinforce local cooperation that will transcend sectoral boundaries within the City of Helsinki organization? How can we strengthen partnerships between the City and other organizations? The project is seeking answers to these questions through local action and interaction and by trying out and evaluating both old and new approaches.
Open-air events: culture and living together Various organizations arrange festivals and other events in and around Mellunkylä. The children’s rock festival in May has already become an annual tradition, as have the celebrations for Helsinki Day in June and what has become eastern Helsinki’s major event, the KontuFestari (Kontula Festival), which gathers thousands of visitors in August. Smaller, local ‘village fetes’ are held in different parts of Mellunkylä.
Ideas Tent and Ideas Week Local organizations invite the various political parties to open-air events at the Ideas Tent. It has become natural for the parties to meet the people on a regular basis, not only during election campaigns but in the periods between. This makes it easier for people to interact with politicians. We believe that this closer approach increases interest in politics and in participation. Once a year, key politicians are invited to Mellunkylä to speak on topical issues at Ideas Week.
Cultures Week and the EtnoFestari
Every year, the project organizes eight local forums on subjects proposed by residents and entrepreneurs. Experts and decision-makers are invited to these, and participants are given the opportunity to get to know some of the decision-makers. At local forums, you can express your opinions and present your own proposals, listen and join in the discussion while seeking possible ways of implementing the initiatives or avoiding the pitfalls pointed out by the other participants. For instance, participants were able to influence solutions to a number of problems occurring in local health centres, at a series of three local health forums. These local forums have become a local tradition and there is a good deal of satisfaction with them; they reach the middle-aged and the elderly best, but young people and immigrants to a lesser degree.
Cultures Week in November gives the mainstream population an opportunity to get to know something about the life and culture of local ethnic minorities. So far, little experience has been gathered about modes of operation. Immigrants have been enthusiastic, but we still have to find new ways of approaching the mainstream population in order to involve them. The EtnoFestari (Ethno Festival) has been arranged once and this has provided a window onto minority music. Unfortunately, it has proved difficult to secure permanent funding for this.
Me Kans (Me too) – The Mellunkylä People’s Academy
There are several community centres in Mellunkylä, both large and small, where people can meet each other and where organizations or groups of residents can operate. Some of these have come into being as a direct result of the project. These community centres can be used for meetings or cultural events, for study or using the Internet, for parties or just for taking it easy; in fact, they can be used for anything the residents can think of. They create a basis for social life within the community.
The latest experiment is the Mellunkylä People’s Academy, an Internet-based peer-group study network, launched by the City of Helsinki Cultural Office in collaboration with the residents’ associations. Through it, anyone can use the network to enrol as a student or teacher of a specialist subject. This service is free of charge and is based on a model used in Japan. So far, things look very promising.
Why I am committed to the Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään project
“As a decision-maker, it is important for me to know what people are thinking.” Risto Rautava Chair of the City Board, National Coalition Party
“It is a privilege to work with this crowd to make improvements.” Hannele Luukkainen
Communications Communications is an important part of the Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään project. Twice a year, the organizations publish the Mellunkylä magazine, which contains articles on topical themes including the results of the Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään project and forthcoming activities, interviews, columns, opinions and so on. The organizations maintain a local portal, www.mellunkyla.fi which can be used to keep in touch with Mellunkylä affairs and contribute to the general debate. Back numbers of the Mellunkylä magazine can be read on the same website. Every other week, volunteer residents broadcast a one-hour radio programme on topical issues. In addition to all this, the organizations collaborate with a free newspaper issued in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, which regularly publishes articles about Mellunkylä. Articles have also been published in the media nationwide, on television and in the national daily press. Favourable publicity is of great importance in strengthening the identity of the neighbourhood.
Cooperation group Local organizations, local councillors, local government officials and local entrepreneurs have set up a cooperation group which meets once a month to discuss topical issues and plan future activities. All elected councillors who live in the area, all district residents’ associations, all entrepreneur associations and the local football club are members of the group which also includes a number of local government departments. The success of project activities is evaluated on a regular basis. Success in jointly planned activities increases mutual trust and encourages people to respond to new challenges.
For further information, contact Eeva-Liisa Broman Social Services Department, City of Helsinki email@example.com
Chair of the Audit Committee, National Coalition Party
“Mellunkylä is a fine place to live and I want to be involved in making it even better.” Jouko Malinen Chair of the Health Care Committee, Social Democratic Party
“This eastern Helsinki gem deserves to have more jobs, intermediate-level education and more provision for culture to include theatre.” Pekka Saarnio Chair of the Rescue Committee, Left Alliance
“Strength lies in cooperation.” Kalevi Salo Chair of the Kontula Association
“As a resident, I want to know what’s going on locally and pass it on. I also want to have a hand in decision-making.” Jouko Kokkonen Editor of Mellunkylä magazine
“Local culture encourages people to take action to renew their own neighbourhood and make it a more congenial place to live.” Ari Tolvanen City of Helsinki Cultural Office
“I believe we need local democracy to combat segregation. It’s one of the measures we need, but not the only one.” Eeva-Liisa Broman Social Services Department, City of Helsinki
A brochure about a local democracy project in Helsinki, Autumn 2011