2. Changes in the external environment

Back in 2017, we identified climate change, digitalisation, urbanisation, ageing and growing segregation as the biggest global forces affecting the way our city functions. A number of local forces were also identified, namely continuing population growth especially in respect of children, young people and older people, the reforms of Finland’s health and social services system and regional government, as well as the need to respond to changes in service needs. As the strategic planning period draws to a close, we are still concerned about the health disparity between population groups and neighbourhoods. While the majority of people in Helsinki are doing well, the coronavirus outbreak has unfortunately accelerated the accumulation of problems relating to health and living conditions. We recognise the growing role and significance of environmental issues just as acutely now as we did in 2017. Our strategy was designed to address global and local drivers of change in five areas. We sought to transform every aspect and every level of our operation and organisational culture in order to give Helsinki a chance to grow sustainably and stay on top in the face of a myriad of challenges and increasing global competition.

Flowers and metro

Some of the changes that we have seen in the external environment in the last five years were expected; however, the coronavirus pandemic added a number of unprecedented and unpredictable challenges towards the end of the period. The pandemic has widened the health gap between the haves and have-nots, increased unhappiness among young people in particular, and deepened economic uncertainty. The economy remains difficult to predict, and employment forecasts make for grim reading.

The characteristics that make Helsinki special – our relatively young population, international and multicultural ethos, diverse economic structure and strong service sector – have both helped and hindered us in dealing with the economic and social impacts of the pandemic. The pandemic has caused a temporary dip in Helsinki’s attractiveness, but there are no signs of a more permanent change so far. In relative terms, the pandemic appears to have weakened the growth projections for Helsinki’s previously strong tax base. Apart from actual coronavirus cases, the pandemic’s most notable after-effects are likely to relate to the education and wellbeing of children and young people as well as population groups who were already suffering before the outbreak. In terms of the labour market, some service industries in particular (especially the tourism and hospitality industries) as well as the cultural and events sector are in trouble. Employment in the ICT, technology and consultancy sectors, on the other hand, has improved.

The global economy is beginning to recover from the pandemic, but predicting its course is still difficult. The pandemic has also accelerated transitions that were already under way. Rapid digitalisation, online shopping and teleworking, for example, are trends that will only intensify. The fight against climate change has not progressed as expected. Growing global inequality and the targets of the UN Agenda 2030 slipping out of reach will be critical driving forces as we move to the next strategic planning period.