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UNESCO’s Hangzhou Congress in 2013 placed creativity, cultural heritage, knowledge and diversity at the heart of cultural sustainability: these values are inextricably linked to human development and freedoms. Based on this, Helsinki wants to give its residents the opportunity to live a life that they have reason to believe is worth living. We want to make cultural sustainability a new perspective in this sustainable development report.

The achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals requires cultural change. It will require a shift in many of the ways of thinking and acting that we have grown up with, that shape our lives and that we pass on to younger generations. In order to be able to build an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable city, we need to recognise and understand our culture – the beliefs, institutions and morals that shape our actions – in a more informed way.

Changes in the environment and culture and their effects can be most clearly seen through art and science. Art also allows us to address change in a holistic manner while finding creative ways to solve the challenges it brings. It is important that the City supports artistic freedom and pluralism and is open to the discussion that takes place through art. Art and culture are resources for the development of the city.

We build our perception of ourselves and our community on the basis of both our intangible and tangible cultural heritage. Cultural heritage and the built cultural environment that is interwoven with it provide the basis for art and culture. The present is the cultural heritage of the future. Helsinki is growing and becoming more culturally diverse, and at the same time the age structure has changed, with an increasing proportion of older people. We need increasingly culturally responsible action to deal with change in a way that enriches our culture and strengthens our creativity and resilience, rather than causing polarisation and conflict.

In this diversifying operating environment, it is good to remember that a clear awareness of one’s own cultural identity is linked to a good self-esteem and a sense of satisfaction. A strong ethnic identity does not mean that minorities become insular. Instead, it has been found to correlate positively with employment, education and moderate political views. Building a strong and accepting cultural identity begins already in early childhood. Helsinki aims to promote responsible cultural education and enable all Helsinki residents to form a connection with culture and art.

Everyone should have the right to know and be proud of their own cultural background and practise their own culture. In order to achieve this in practice, this right requires awareness of cultural needs, such as languages, traditions and customs, in the fields of education, leisure, urban environment and health and social services.

In this report, we examine the cultural sustainability of Helsinki from the perspective of the City’s cultural services, cultural heritage and design. The selected perspectives are not an exhaustive list of cultural sustainability phenomena and actions affecting Helsinki – however, they give an idea of how and where Helsinki works for a more culturally sustainable city.

Art and culture

Helsinki provides its residents with a wide variety of cultural and educational services and funds a diverse range of art-related and cultural activities, from basic art education to exhibitions. Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is still a work in progress in the field of culture, even though Helsinki made significant investments in the revitalisation of the field.

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Design has been part of the Helsinki City Strategy for more than a decade. For example, Helsinki is one of the world’s first cities to appoint a Chief Design Officer. During this strategy period, design is a more systematic part of user-oriented service renewal and the improvement of the City organisation’s productivity.

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Cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is the result of human activity and interaction with the environment. The changing of values, beliefs, skills and traditions is a key characteristic of cultural heritage. Helsinki will publish its Cultural Environment Programme in the spring of 2023 to create a unified policy for taking cultural environments into account, as well as maintaining and utilising them in Helsinki.

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