Small places for a big change
Social infrastructure By Päivi Raivio 3 months ago
The covid-pandemic has shifted the elements of life in cities and directed us to look closer, enjoy the neighbouring surroundings and explore local districts. In the meantime, many people miss the social life and wish to have the good city life – elements close to the place where they live and work, which for many, has become the same thing.

Last autumn our work too had shifted from active projects to having more time to reflect and together with Daniel Bumann, we took time to create ideas and rethink our practice and the outcomes of previous projects. The pandemic has also broadened the access to urban design and placemaking-related online events and networks, which have been a source of inspiration, new collaborations and international exchange of ideas on the role of placemaking. 


We concluded that more than ever, placemaking and welcoming public places are needed to invite citizens outdoors to see or meet others; stop over, even for a little change of scenery and to enjoy urban green; even if it is small fragments. Words “small” and “little” are intentional –  they are a counterforce for vast, overwhelming global challenges and crises like covid-19, climate crisis and biodiversity loss – and from which a change can begin. We need more good beginnings in our cities and sustainable place-led stories to create a better future for after-covid cities.

We had an idea of simple, multi-use elements for public places for a long time, but it felt only now was it timely for us to materialize the idea. We wanted to combine our placemaking experience with modular outdoor furnishing projects to create people and pollinator-friendly pocket parks, parklets and other multi-use places. We founded Parkly to fast-track the transformation of public places and to accelerate sustainable urban change. Parkly is a modular and multifunctional outdoor furniture, which forms a platform for exchange and collaboration and easily adds more urban green to public places. The simple forms of the modules leave a lot of room for freeform use, which is important for having as wide a user group as possible.

These following concepts really inspire us on our journey when creating Parkly: Let's test big ideas in small places to create change; small places can create a network for a meaningful city and caring for your close places and neighbourhoods can inspire citizens to act for global challenges.
The modules are part of the circular economy - and as we want to point out, cities and public places have life cycles too, thus we need more flexible solutions to improve public places, to envision better futures and try and test more freely.
Modularity allows not only different use, but adaptability too, and during covid-pandemic, this is a key to creating safe outdoor life.

This summer we completed six Parkly-projects, most in Helsinki. To name a few, a pocket park was set up in Kalasatama-district with Forum Virium Helsinki. It also works as a hub for collecting local data with sensors. A grey public square turned a notch greener and more welcoming in Vuosaari-district with Vuotalo cultural centre. A safer school route is set up in Suutarinkylä as part of a Partnership for Healthy Cities-project to improve the schools surrounding the public sphere, a project led by Helsinki City and WSP, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies -foundation.

People coming to exchange books in Vuosaari, residents collecting herbs and kids coming frequently to check if strawberries are ripe yet in Kalasatama and children cycling to school on a safer street in Suutarinkylä – all these fragments and small scenes of everyday life are working towards/are part of a bigger vision towards a more friendly, sustainable and safer city for all. Small place stories matter, they build up the bigger picture.

Päivi Raivio is a designer, artist and placemaker from RaivioBumann -studio, founders of Parkly.

Photos: Parkly and Vesa Laitinen / Forum Virium Helsinki