With the EUROCITIES Culture Forum currently taking place in Chemnitz, we took a moment to get to know Jaana Jalonen, chair of EUROCITIES Culture Forum and member of Espoo city council.
1. What is your current job title and what experience do you bring to the role?
I’m a member of Espoo City Board, City Council and the Business and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the City Board. In a few months I will chair the cross-sectoral development programme Inspiring, dynamic Espoo. Previously I have chaired the Cultural Committee. I’m also a member of the Board of Directors of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet and chair of the board of Buddy Healthcare Ltd, a private company engaged in wellbeing.
Alongside my societal and political responsibilities, I coach companies in change leadership. I have a vast experience in business development, marketing and consulting nationally and globally.
In all these roles, I facilitate and enhance cross-sectoral collaboration. I believe in a culture of doing things together to develop the community. I think this is a valuable experience and aim as chair of EUROCITIES Culture Forum.
2. What is your favourite thing about your job?
As a member of Espoo City Board, I take part in making decisions on the most important aspects of Espoo’s future. To be able to contribute to the development of a rapidly growing and changing city, my home city, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
I also highly value the resident-oriented vision of the city. According to our city strategy, the best resources of Espoo are its citizens, communities and companies. I believe that the active involvement of citizens is the key to a good future. I also personally enjoy engaging with people with different ideas and backgrounds.
3. What would you tell a first time visitor to your city?
Espoo is a rapidly growing international city and home to international company headquarters, high-technology businesses and a vivid hub of knowhow, research and development. Our sustainable city structure relies on five city districts, each equalling a small Finnish town. Espoo has excellent results in global sustainability evaluations, with competence, safety and nature as our biggest strengths.
I would showcase our most innovative city services, such as the Iso Omena Service Centre. It brings together people and a wide range of city and state services in a lively shopping centre. It has a very popular library in the middle of it. Our city libraries, on a whole, are highly appreciated among our citizens. Espoo City Library also recently won the international Best Library of the Year Award at the London Book Fair. Our national equity-based school system, and top-class schools are also a pride and joy. One important feature of schools in Espoo is that they provide continuity in arts education and have an established collaboration with cultural actors.
I would also recommend visitors to go to the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, EMMA, or a concert by our city orchestra, Tapiola Sinfonietta. Among nature lovers our national park, Nuuksio, and its nature centre, Haltia, are very popular. Also our archipelago is stunning.
4. As chair of EUROCITIES Culture Forum what do you hear most about from your peers or consider a top challenge in culture?
As the chair, we think that the Culture Forum should increase the understanding between people, cultures and cities in Europe. Europe is built on a variety of traditions, ideals and aspirations. We need dialogue and collaboration to keep its spirit thriving.
We also wish to emphasise the role of culture in sustainable development and sociocultural sustainability as an aim in itself. Culture has a significant role, for instance when new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, are developed. Culture and art foster empathy and emphasise humanistic values. This is especially significant in a digitalised and an increasingly diverse world, where the understanding of the ‘other’ is challenged.
5. Ahead of the European election, what role is there for cities to contribute and lead in Europe?
European cities all face similar challenges, such as urbanisation or climate change. By 2050, almost 70 % of the world’s population will live in cities. Cities actions, and lack of actions, will affect the lives of most people in the world. Therefore cities should work together towards a joint European future, where cities needs are considered. As cities, we must make our voices heard in the European dialogue and take a stand on issues affecting us. We owe it to our citizens.
6. What is your vision of the future city (e.g. in 2050)?
Our city strategy, the Espoo Story, sets out a roadmap for where we are coming from, where we are now and where we are going. The goal of the roadmap is an economically, ecologically, socially and culturally sustainable city, where everyone can enjoy a good life and look forward to a good future. This is something I think every city aims at.
To build such a city, though, it is crucial to involve those whose future we are building. I think we should put special emphasis on involving children and young people in creating sustainable cities. In this field, citizen participation, I think we as cities could do more.