This will probably be Europe’s first airport vineyard
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Kimmo Jarva is Mayor of Europe for August ’22 in the Social City category.
Image: City of Lappeenranta
The promotion of equality and non-discrimination is a constant process that evolves step by step
Kimmo Jarva (1969, Tampere) is the mayor of Lappeenranta. He has been occupying this post since December 2011. Jarva has a master's degree in administrative sciences from the University of Tampere in 1995. He served as the municipal manager (equivalent to mayor) of Vihti for almost three years until December 2011, before which he was the municipal manager of Taipalsaari (2000–2003) and Kurikka (2003–2009). Mr. Jarva has two children.
Mr Mayor, what are your takeaways from the year Lappeenranta spent as the title holder of the 2021 Green Leaf Award?
Indeed, during 2021, the City of Lappeenranta celebrated the European Green Leaf Award. We were extremely happy and excited to receive this recognition for all the hard work we have been doing across various sectors for decades. The European Green Leaf win strengthened Lappeenranta’s recognition as an international green city and there are takeaways for the city as well as its citizens.
As a result, Lappeenranta was selected as a European pioneer as part of the European Union’s Mission on Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities. The Mission supports the selected leader cities in becoming carbon neutral by 2030. I am also happy to now participate in the Covenant of Mayors initiative, which is the world’s largest movement for local climate and energy actions.
In Lappeenranta, several of the improved outdoor, recycling, urban gardening and electric bicycling possibilities of the award year remain available for citizens’ use.
By combining nature paths of different neighbourhoods, the city has built a unified nature trail, which now forms a 20 kilometres long route along the shores of Lake Saimaa. To cross the lake between two peninsulas on the route, the city offers three rowing boats which can be booked on a website.
The city also renovated a nature trail in the city’s Pappilanniemi nature conservation area and built a lean-to shelter along another nature trail. These initiatives also serve the travellers and thus follow our sustainable tourism development strategy.
I am also excited about intelligent rubbish bins and charging stations for electric bicycles which again promote and facilitate sustainable mobility and tourism.
Your administration shows an image of concern for social justice issues. Could you summarize the aims of the Equality Plan for us? Is it already being implemented and if so, what are its impacts?
In its strategy, the city has promised to ensure non-discrimination and the well-being of its most vulnerable residents. The plan “Everyone is valuable and together we are more” for 2022–2025 promotes equality and non-discrimination in the services of the city in a goal-oriented way across its divisions.
The plan is currently being approved by the committees and will go to the City Council in the autumn. The equality and non-discrimination plan for the services of the city has been drawn up in cooperation with the city’s residents. The experiences and hopes of Lappeenranta residents for the realisation and promotion of non-discrimination and equality were central in the preparation of the plan.
Right from the start, we sought to broadly take into account different population groups and also consult different minorities. Information on the state of non-discrimination was gathered by means of a municipal survey and self-assessments surveying the baseline for the divisions.
The promotion of equality and non-discrimination is a constant process that evolves step by step. It is also the task of the municipalities to keep the subject on the agenda and to highlight the shortcomings observed. The City of Lappeenranta’s plan contains concrete measures for the Corporate Administration and the divisions, including the promotion of accessibility, taking different language groups into account and increasing personnel competence. In the plan, the city also promises to assess non-discrimination and equality in its own operations.
The plan will be published on the city website once it has been approved. The Equality and Non-discrimination Committee will be responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the plan.
More specifically, what steps has the local administration taken to remove barriers in the city and foster comprehensive accessibility?
The operations of the City of Lappeenranta are in accordance with the Finnish accessibility legislation, which is based on the EU Accessibility Directive. What this means is that the city is committed to considering accessibility in its online communications and in the implementation of digital services. By doing this, Lappeenranta can provide its residents with digital services that are as modern, equal to all groups of users and legally compliant as possible.
In accordance with the city’s policy, the aim is to achieve the best possible level of accessibility, while at the same time not undermining the transparency of the administration and the value of information.
Accessibility requirements will be included, for example, in the procurement processes of new digital services. Depending on the content and requirements related to it, communications will use, for example, descriptive interpretation, subtitles and alt texts, and will focus on using the most understandable language possible.
Accessibility is at the heart of the city’s ongoing website reform, and Lappeenranta is also expanding its English-language online content in connection with its website reform. The city still takes into account people who cannot be reached online by means of printed advertisements and announcements, brochures, the resident magazine and various resident events.
In addition to improving the website, we have striven to utilise the city services to communicate directly with different population groups who do not necessarily use online services or other official channels. Via the Roma Committee, among other things, we provide information to the Roma population, for example, on COVID-19-related instructions directly via the committee.
The Multicultural Forum has also been a way to reach the immigrant populations and to bring authorities, organisations and people of an immigrant background closer to each other and thereby improve their access to information. The low-threshold guidance and counselling service point Momentti and ME house operate in the city, where one can get information in different languages.
Our City Hall’s own customer service centre Winkki, in cooperation with tourist information services, provides comprehensive services in different languages, gives support in using the services and helps with integration.
Lappeenranta is planning to celebrate 2024 as the Year of Culture. Can you share with us some of the plans for that grand event? How important is culture for the social wellbeing of residents?
The year 2024 will be the Cultural Dream Year of Saimaa in Lappeenranta. This title rotates annually around the Lake Saimaa cities. It is a concept which offers each city and region its moment in the limelight and will increase its know-how and capacity to organize cultural events. Each city will, in turn, manage its own self-financed Cultural Dream Year program based on its strengths.
In Lappeenranta, we will also have our city’s 375th jubilee celebration that year, and of course, our exciting history will be part of the program. Another essential part of the year will be developing and updating our cultural strategy and working closely with art and culture professionals and operators in Lappeenranta and other Lake Saimaa cities.
We have already started to collect our residents’ dreams for the future and their wishes for cultural content. It will influence our theatre’s, orchestra’s, museums and library’s program in that memorable year. It is essential to hear the public because we do this for them. I find the role of culture very important as we speak about the social wellbeing of residents, and the Cultural Dream Years will make it even more prominent and visible.
I greatly look forward to this year of dreams! We may also be the European Region of Gastronomy then as an international jury comprising of four international experts, accompanied by IGCAT’s President, Diane Dodd PhD just recommended the application of Saimaa region for the title European Region of Gastronomy 2024.
In that light, can you tell us how the idea for Lappeenranta’s own Walk of Fame came about? How connected are local residents to their own town’s history and its memories? Can we speak of “town patriotism”?
The idea of Lappeenranta’s Walk of Fame came from residents. Unfortunately, two well-known and loved persons from Lappeenranta passed away last year, and residents wanted to commemorate them together. One way of remembering is this Walk of Fame. Its name is “Meijän tähet” said in Lappeenranta dialect. It means ”Our Stars” in English. The selected persons who have done something remarkable in culture, sports or science and have lived in Lappeenranta will receive their flagstones.
Based on this interest, we can conclude that Lappeenranta residents feel connected to local history. They want to remember the persons who have roots in this city or are meaningful to us.
We shall have interesting discussions soon when we decide who will have their names on our Walk of Fame. This discussion is also a kind of “town patriotism”, but one that I find caring, and not restrictive. There is also some humour in it. And in Lappeenranta, we have plenty of humour.
Author: Tzvetozar Vincent Iolov