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City-to-city collaboration leads to smarter and healthier cities

Smart City Exchange Forum brought the flagship examples of smart city projects to Tallinn. Throughout the day, presentations were given about projects taking place in Estonian cities, projects from Estonian-Finnish collaboration and examples of international projects we are taking part of. Focus of the forum, that took place already 3rd time, was city-to-city collaboration and how these partnerships drive innovation and smart city developments.


We hosted this year’s forum together with the city of Tallinn. As Tallinn freshly received the title as the Green Capital of Europe for 2023, it’s a good chance to highlight the European smart city projects and how they put effort into creating smarter, more resilient, and human friendly urban environment.

What can Estonia learn from Finland?


Forum was opened by the mayors of Helsinki and Tallinn, Juhana Vartiainen and Mihhail Kõlvart. In their speeches, mayors emphasized that we shouldn’t think of any project as only projects but as real solutions to implement and use in our cities.

Mihhail Kõlvart talked about how Finland used to be the window to freedom for Estonia and today, we are in the role of a small brother – we need to offer interesting projects and partnerships, we need to be faster and smarter. And we need more knowledge- and science-based and less political decisions when creating urban environments.

Mayor of Helsinki, Juhana Vartiainen talked about how in Finland, the “let’s do it” attitude of Estonia is admired - things are done faster and there are less bureaucratic obstacles.

Juhana Vartiainen, Mihhail Kõlvart, Helen Sooväli-Sepping and Jaak Aaviksoo in a discussion about twin cities 

In a panel discussion about City Twinnings of Talsinki/Hellinn, Helen Sooväli-Sepping, Vice-Rector for Green Transition in TalTech, brought out a critical fact that our cities are making us sick, and 80% of global CO2 is emitted in cities. Turning cities from where people get sick to where people feel good and happy should be our main goal.

Jaak Aaviksoo, long-time academic and rapporteur of the vision of Finland-Estonia "Report 1+1=3" emphasized how Estonia being a very small country needs visibility. So, we need to think and act on the question - what is the strength of Estonia-Finland cooperation where we are better than anyone else in the world?

Greener cities with 3D nature catalogue and virtual planning

FinEst Centre's large pilot GreenTwins, project leads Fabian Dembski and Aija Staffans gave an overview of the project's process. GreenTwins is using the digital twins and 3D models of Helsinki and Tallinn to create a better urban planning process and collaboration tool. In GreenTwins pilot, a digital model of green layer with a plant library is created and it can be used efficiently for city planning to see the possible effects that change of greenery in the urban environment can cause. 

The importance of greenery in cities becomes more and more  important with reducing the effect of climate change and offering relief from various weather conditions. One of the takeaways from this overview is that smart city is a healthy city with enough green areas and we need to choose smartly for the next generations.

Fabian Dembski noted that information and mapping the plants in Helsinki and Tallinn is done and so far the age, types and changes throughout seasons are known and mapped. 


Prof. Fabian Dembski, GreenTwins project lead

Flagship examples of city-to-city collaboration in Europe

Broader view of collaboration across European cities was covered by six different projects that FinEst Centre and our researchers are somehow an important part of.


NetZeroCities that helps 100 EU cities to reach climate neutrality by 2030 recently launched a new Pilot Cities Programme, where cities will be coupled with twin cities. Will Wade from Climate KIC introduced the programme which will support European cities in testing and implementing new solutions and sharing feedback and reflections on the go, sharing know-how and experience and innovating and collaboration with other cities.

At the end of 2022, European Union and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched Urban Learning Centre – a hybrid learning ecosystem that works cross-borders and offers various tools and methods for better urban planning processes. Elina Järvelä from UNDP shared the ambition to set up an urban learning center for 300 cities in Ukraine, Armenia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova with Tallinn as a potential Nordic Star Inspirational City.


Jaanus Tamm representing City of Tartu gave an overview of the CityAM project that combines 3 larger Baltic Sea Cities (Helsinki, Hamburg and Stockholm) with 3 replicator cities (Tartu, Riga and Gdansk) for developing and implementing joint concepts for urban air mobility, related to landing sites, social acceptance and drone policy development. Liivar Luts representing City of Tallinn talked about CityScape project that aims to research the interplay between security controls and multimodal transport systems in the cities of Tallinn and Genova. 


Ediaqi project deals with emerging indoor air pollution in multiple cities across Europe, building onto DigiAudit pilot with cities of Tallinn and Tartu. Alessandro Paciaroni from Lisbon Council gave a thorough overview of the project that was launched just in the middle of January 2023 and that will last 4 years and involve partners from at least 10 European countries.


Riia Ränisoo from UrbanLIFECircles project introduced the adaptive community-based biodiversity management in urban areas for improved connectivity and ecosystem health for cities of Tartu, Aarhus and Riga. Riia was talking about the capacity building across project partnerships, organizing workshops, pilot site visits to participating countries and share good practices of biodiversity conservation in cities.

Smart City Forum in numbers

It was amazing to witness 110 people participating at least some part of the day!


There were altogether 24 presenters from 6 different countries.

Presenters were covering 18 different topics or projects.

If you are a representative of a city, entrepreneur or researcher and have ideas to collaborate – please contact us in any channel convenient for you. 

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