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Field Trip: Hamina, Finland

Recently we traveled to Hamina to see their wind farm, and to find out how it got built.

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Located 1.5 hours east of Helsinki, Hamina used to have two industries: a port and the paper mill but the later closed down in 2008. Luckily for them, the mill premises found a new tenant who values cheap energy and the location’s essentially limitless supply of cool Baltic water: Google purchased the property in 2009 and set up a data centre shortly thereafter.

Although the Google story is interesting, it’s not the core of why we went to Hamina. We were there to learn about the way that the city has successfully fostered green energy, both as an energy source and as an industry. Early indicators point to Hamina as a positive example of how a community de-industralizes itself with as little structural pain as possible.

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Hamina, together with neighboring town Kotka, paid attention to larger structural changes in Finland’s economy and reacted decisively to find a new way forward. Google’s data centre was one positive outcome, and the other is WinWind who manufacture wind turbines. In parallel with these new developments in the local economy, Hamina’s municipally owned energy company courageously set up a modest wind farm.

We wanted to understand how this happened. How does a community make decisions about its future? Or in other terms: how do communities make shared decisions from a shared value perspective?

Shared decisions are those which are bigger than any one person. Things like building a new road or rail, cordoning off a nature reserve, or passing a law. And shared value is measured in financial as well as social and ecological capital. Although the term is borrowed most recently from Michael Porter, the basic concept is by now generic—you might even argue that figuring out shared value is the challenge which underlays all others at the moment.

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Our trip to Hamina was the first bit of research into this. How did they get the idea to build a wind farm? And how did it get negotiated in real space, with real euros, real local politics, and real personal opinions? How did Hamina decide to open its port area to new industries? How did Hamina propose for itself a new future?

With this as our first field trip, some basic details floated to the top in our various conversations. During the planning process for the turbines the stakeholders had to negotiate between areas zoned for permanent residential use and those zoned for mökki (summer cottage) use. We learned that the areas which are reserved for summer cottages actually have stricter noise standards than those used year-round.

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be visiting other communities that have made—or failed to make—shared decisions as we try to better understand how we might help these processes flow more easily and productively.

Why do I blog this?

Often one of the habits in doing case study research is to focus on the decisive actions that were taken to deliver success—or that led to failure. But that’s only half the story. Just as important as the things that were done on purpose are all of the contextual and contingent factors that made a positive outcome more or less likely. In the cae of Hamina, for instance, the confluence of a deep port, empty industrial buildings, and well-timed regional strategy work positioned the city to act quickly when the Google opportunity came up. In other cases we’ll be keeping a close idea at what these cities, town, and regions can do to manufacture luck.

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