I haven’t received my new issue of Monocle in the mail, but the editors just announced that Helsinki (population 590,000) grabbed the top spot in this year’s “Most Liveable Cities” ranking. Now that I’m resettling back in St. Louis after eight months in Europe, I found myself watching the magazine's video segment on Helsinki thinking, What could St. Louis learn from that city’s successes? From the segment’s narration:
With major public-service initiatives underway, Helsinki is doing much to grow intelligently, in part by recognizing that its smallness is an asset… Helsinki’s small size and tight-knit communiities, where everyone seems to know one another, might be seen as a weakness when it comes to fostering a dynamic urban environment.
Obviously, that’s followed by a pretty significant ‘But…’
I was also struck by these two comments from two of Helsinki’s own:
You can make a very small thing, and it becomes very significant.
It’s partly from realizing that we can’t have another Nokia — that Finland is such a small country that going for big isn’t the way to go. But it’s more about really creating a lot of small initiatives and a lot of small companies that then together make the big Nokia.
Trust me that I know St. Louis is not and never will be a Helsinki. But that attitude — embracing high-quality, of-scale projects; comfortably admitting what kind of city you’re not; recognizing that you’re more than one company’s HQ — has some major appeal to these ears.