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How citizens take over public park maintenance in Espoo

Edited on

26 February 2021
Read time: 3 minutes

Imagine, that you were given a public park of your own to take care of – you can cut the grass, clear off brushwood or remove invasive species, even to mow reed at the shores of a lake or sea. In Espoo, this is all possible, thanks to Our park concept.

In Espoo, the citizens are invited to take part in the development of their local environment – through Our park concept, (finn. Meidän puisto), an individual resident, group of people or a community have been given a possibility to maintain their appointed local forests and parks on their own.

Agreement-based maintenance for the best of the environment

The initiative to establishment of Our park concept was raised by the residents by a desire to take part in the maintenance of their everyday environment. The city was eager to involve the enthusiastic residents to the nature management, but only if no extra resources were used for improved maintenance of the sites they took care of. Common practices and guidelines for the Our park agreements were developed in conjunction with the city´s cross-departmental development programme Participating Espoo in 2014.

Currently more than 150 different Our park sites are located all over the city. The city has so far accepted almost all initiatives for parks maintained through Our park concept, apart from parks and forests where natural assets are exceptionally notable. Jaana Junkkari, the head of customer services of Espoo’s technical department acknowledges differing expectations the residents have. “The citizens are free to suggest actions for a park, but the city must keep in mind all the people – the city must find compromises and ground rules for public spaces, somewhere in between differing desires of impenetrable forests and top-class picnic lawn,” she notes. Also, the nature and landscape values must be acknowledged in maintenance, and in this the expertise of the city is put into use through the maintenance agreements of Our parks.

A greater impact by cooperation

Potential actions and common practices on the Our park sites are described in the written contracts, which ensure that all the stakeholders are aware on what they are allowed to do on the public site: Our park contracts do not, for example, allow a resident to enlarge their personal garden to public spaces, but the responsible residents are allowed to, for instance, take care of plantings, cut grass or tidy up undergrowth vegetation in a forest.

The experiences gained from the project during the years are highly positive and with a growing interest by various kinds of people to participate in the project. “The Our park concept helps the city a lot, since we would never have been able to achieve the same results the residents have achieved. And, of course, the activities are a great pleasure to the residents, too, when they are allowed to have an impact over their own local nature,” Junkkari describes.

In Finland, the culture for working together for one´s local environment is strong, thanks to the long traditions of communally conducted work parties, called talkoot, which are arranged once or twice a year and often to people from single or several housing cooperatives. Socially performed outdoor activities fit well also to the URBACT Health&Greenspace programme, in which Espoo is one of the project partners. The programme aims for healthier communities and wellbeing of the citizens by urban nature and natural vegetation in cities.

Through Our park project, the partnering residents have a possibility to spend time outside and meet other like-minded people, when also the overall pleasantness of the local milieu is improved. At the same time the nature thrives, when, for example, removal of invasive species allows indigenous flora and fauna take over.

Our park Valapuisto brings the people together

The Our park areas are maintained by both individual residents, housing cooperatives and communities and vary in size and scope of actions.  All actions conducted at the Our park sites are voluntary, and the residents are not obliged in taking actions.

One of the good examples on actively working Our park sites is Valakuja´s housing cooperative, which took responsibility over a nearby Valapuisto park in 2016. Many of the residents of the housing block have previously lived in single detached houses and still have a desire for gardening, even if the housing management agencies take care of the maintenance activities at the housing lot.

Valapuisto park is an important part of the local landscape, since all the balconies at the housing block are oriented towards the park. In the communal work events at the park, the residents have planted flowers, tidied the undergrowth vegetation, picked trash and set up nesting boxes to birds. By the years, Valapuisto park has become important to the residents, who are happy over the chance to participate in improving the appearance and wellbeing of their landscape.

Our park is your park!

The concept of participatory park maintenance is easy to put into practice in various kinds of cities and contexts – all you need is a common understanding on the purposes, practices and outcomes of the project. In Espoo, only relatively little resources are used for communications on the project and contract arrangements. Jaana Junkkari encourages all cities to establish their own activities based on the Our park concept in Espoo: “Both the city and the residents have been satisfied with the concept. Just give it a try!”.

on the main photo: Communical work parties are common in Finland and lay a firm basis for communal maintenance of public sites as well

Written by Anna Hakala, project assistant in URBACT Health&Greenspace at the City of Espoo.