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  • Writer's pictureElenah Mae Salen

Happy Helsinki

Updated: Nov 6, 2023


Finland was again this year crowned the happiest place on earth (watch out Disneyland!). Last month I visited Helsinki to deliver a keynote to the global leadership team of the Finnish elevator company, KONE.

Helsinki has long been one of my favorite places to visit, since I was there in 2019 to give a keynote at RecoTech, the real estate technology side-event for the 30,000+ person tech conference, Slush.


I have included below some insights into what cities can consider for making happier places and improving the quality of life for their citizens.

My observations focus on the experience of the city in shared spaces - both public and private. The city is what happens external to buildings, in the urban domain.

  • Support experiential retail - the Finnish post office, Posti's parcel store is a great example of experiential retail. I have long used Post as a case study. A far cry from visiting USPS!

  • Make the library a destination - Oodi, the Helsinki Central Library is a popular destination for people of all ages - especially teens! It has amenities such as gaming rooms, sewing stations, 3D printing, and an outdoor terrace where people can play games. Plus, book returns are sorted and delivered by robots!

  • Focus on well-organized streets - Helsinki is one of the cleanest cities in the world. No side-walk bridges obstructing sidewalks, trash is underground, a regular cleaning program, and no rats running around (attn: NYC - this one's for you!).

  • Support second-hand stores - Helsinki has a great selection of second-hand stores which seemed to be equal in number to regular fashion stores. Here owning a piece of pre-loved fashion is seen as a unique/one-of-a-kind piece and highly desirable.

  • Invest in public transportation - Helsinki has excellent public transportation. It is incredibly simple to get from the airport to the city center on regular public transport thanks to elevators, clean trains, and its reliable schedule. It's affordable, easy, and accessible for everyone.

  • Make the city more affordable - Helsinki is a very affordable city to live. This is due to decades of planning and sensible development.

  • Promote healthy food no fast food - Helsinki has a great food scene and it seemed that every second outlet was selling sushi (not fast-food). Food is well-labeled for allergies and intolerance.

Finland is not complacent. It is brave in investing in high-quality experiences, implement new technologies where it sees merits (eg delivery robots), and continually working to do better.

Responsibility for preserving and improving this great country is taken upon by all citizens who have a strong sense of custodianship over the environment. Here people are empowered and take that responsibility seriously.

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