Empower local stakeholders to develop the neighbourhood

Overview
Type
Service & Strategy
Year
2017
Role
Research, ideation, concept development, prototyping, and graphics
Duration
7 weeks
Client/Partner
Vahanen/Aalto University
Team
Jaakko Ranne, Sanni Honkanen, Soyeon Park
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Background
Develop a concept to inspire and empower residents who own their apartments,
or investors renting apartments, to participate in the development of activities in their neighbourhood.
The brief of the project was to develop concept solutions to inspire and empower residents who own their own apartments or investors renting apartments in the Helsinki suburb of Kontula.

Private investors are the silent group when talking about suburb development. In the case of Kontula, investing in real estate dwelling generates stable rent income for a relatively low purchase price. However, developing the area and clearing Kontula from its negative reputation would benefit the investors significantly, by raising the value of their property, as well as attracting more trustworthy tenants. So why is it so difficult to get them to participate in development projects and housing committee meetings? How can we activate this group? This is what the team set to solve.
Approach
Based on the brief, research was set out to study Kontula – a suburb in eastern Helsinki that it was known for having a bad reputation.
Kontula is located in eastern part of Helsinki. It is a part of Mellunkylä district which includes five different sub-districts: Kontula, Vesala, Mellunmäki, Kivikko, and Kurkimäki. In the early 1960s, Finland’s largest suburb Kontula was built in record time: a housing estate for more than 20 000 people arose in only a few years. Other sub-districts have been built later. Because of old dwelling stocks, houses are constantly on a renovation. The most demanding renovation is plumbing renovation which takes a lot of time and money.

Observations were carried out in Kontula to get a better common understanding of the area. The team included four people who have really different levels of knowledge about Kontula so observation was a good place to get a better understanding about the neighbourhood. The locals seen were mostly elderly. The mall and some houses were in a relatively bad shape. The mall had also a lot of empty business premises. Services of the mall included, in general, grocery stores, restaurants and bars. The mall area also seemed relatively restless even at 10:00 on a Wednesday morning mainly because of people drinking on the street. Overall, the area seemed peaceful.
In the research phase two different methods to gather information were prepared: a survey with questions for tenants living in Kontula, and investors renting out their apartments in the same neighbourhood; followed by interviews with some of the investors in Kontula. Some of the questions in the survey were in relation to their opinion about Kontula, the relationship between landlord and tenants, and investment related - this one was targeted for the investors.

The online survey was sent together with the invitation. We posted on Facebook groups, and also sent it via email to the Finnish Landlord Association (FLA) and investors with apartments in Kontula and other neighbourhoods.

Interview with private investor.

Private investors were interviewed, and a workshop was held with
the client
. The main goal of the interviews was to collect qualitative data, and deeper insights to support the creative process and discover potential opportunities.
Ideation

The interviews provided a lot of information related to private investors needs and bigger areal concerns. The workshop with the client helped to get a better general understanding of the current situation. After that it was easier to start ideation process of possible concepts.

To better explore the concept we created a visual narrative. The main character of our story is a landlord, who never goes to the board meetings. One day, he gets an invitation to a special event, and decides to join. In the event, people with different interests regarding Kontula gather and discuss ways they can change the neighbourhood together for the better. With all the active stakeholders, they ideated about how they could develop Kontula.
Outcome
The goal is to connect and inspire local stakeholders to develop the area on a strategic level, and to increase wellbeing and value through in the neighbourhood.
Strategisen Kehittämisen Yhteisö - Kontula (Strategic Development Commmunity - Kontula) is a strategic concept that connects local stakeholders to develop the area on a strategic level. It is facilitated by Vahanen, who wants to hear the opinions of 'silent' shareholders and realise the potential value of Kontula. The current problem of the area is that local housing companies are not working together. This rules out bigger scale areal development and collaboration among people who have same intentions in improving the neighbourhood. 

The active board members of housing companies, private investors and house managing companies, urban development experts, and decision makers are invited to gather together under the same roof. The goal is to increase wellbeing and value through development of the neighbourhood. The intention is to create a quality experience for each participant – something else rather than another boring meeting. 
The goal of the community is to unite active motors of the area to discuss and create solutions that will increase social and economic value. This will be happening by increasing wellness, social connections, services and safety. After each gathering participants feel more connected and valued. The goal of the association is not just to get people in the right location - but change opinions towards meetings and encourage members to be active. ​​​​​​​
The personal invitation is a fresh version to activate people to participate into the gathering.
It is not just another formal community meeting. The concept enable participants to take an active role in the gatherings.

Invitation sent to investors for community gathering.

Prototype of invitation.

The speech tokens are a tool to facilitate collaboration among the people that participate in the gathering. 
The tokens work in this way: 
1. Investor receives invitation and tokens by post mail 
2. Investor chooses categories that want to discuss 
3. Investor writes notes on the back side of the token 
4. Investor comes to the gathering and joins the tables 
5. To join a specific table, the investor needs to “chip in” the token that matches the topic discussed at a given table 
Implementation
In order to get the project going, it's fundamental to co-operate with experts from different fields. First, connection and collaboration between City of Helsinki would be important to create. Secondly, create a plan with other experts such as Suomen Vuokraturva and house managing companies like Kontulan Huolto Oy. Thirdly, it is important to get the most active members of local housing companies as well as private investors to take a part of meetings. Activating the right persons can be done with marketing and invitations which states the reasons to why exactly they should join us. It can be done by discussing the future of area and telling that they actually have the possibility of influencing the development.
The concept is designed so that it is scalable to other areas. It can be used in other parts of Kontula, other districts in Helsinki, or in other cities altogether.
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Reflection
During the first weeks of the project we were lost, and it seemed like a distant dream to come up with a solid concept. This was because of constant challenges with getting information from our most important stakeholders: the private investors of Kontula. During the fifth week we started getting more progress. Meeting with our client helped us a lot. He had a key role in contacting local investors and telling us who we should contact for interviews. This helped us to define key development targets of the area related to our project. 
According to our research it was clear that focusing in co-development on a strategic level would be more valuable for our client and the area itself. It took a while to define the evident stakeholders that should be taken into consideration, but a meeting with our mentor helped us to clarify the concept.

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