Field trip: Högsåra, Finland

Högsåra wind turbines

If you look very very closely at the photo above, you’ll see a string of windmills on the horizon, set against the perfect blue sky. This is Högsåra, an island that forms a small part of the archipelago that stretches from Hanko to Turku in south-western Finland. There are thousands of islands punctuating this beautiful landscape – approx. 180,000 off the coast of Finland, apparently – and today we were sliding across the ice and snow on a couple of them: Kasnas and Rosala, and getting close to Högsåra.

Here’s how you get there and back:

The Brickstarter team (me, Bryan, Kali, and Nina the interpreter, who was translating between three languages simultaneously: English, Swedish and Finnish!) is here to better understand the local decision-making cultures and stories – to explore how these wind turbines got up, including the resistance to them as well as those in favour. But our focus isn’t wind power per se; we’re looking at this case as it helps frame the wider debates about how to transition Finland to a more sustainable ‘bio-economy’, as our colleagues in Sitra’s Maamerkit (‘Landmarks’) programme call it.

So we’re interested in how communities might balance the desires of individuals with the desires of the wider community, the role of authorities and institutions as well as communities and industry, how we might reorient elements of bureaucracy such that they are more ‘user-centred’, how to use the powerful enablers of new communications platforms, alllied to the increased appetite for local engagement in decision-making, and so on. All of these come to play in stories like Högsåra’s.

We’ve started talking to several of the key protoganists around thes community. While we were there, we interviewed a local journalist and a local politician, and later we spoke to one of the residents on Högsåra who helped drive the wind turbines project forward, as well as a political scientist at the University of Helsinki, who organises a regular forum for the archipelago’s residents as well as editing the community newspaper.

The communities here are largely Swedish-speaking. Traditionally a fishing community – as the journalist pointed out, this area has used wind as a resource for centuries – the polluted Baltic and changing employment patterns mean that the permanent residents here are moving into service industries, like tourism. It’s a lightly-populated area, dispersed across the islands, overlaid with a large transient population of Finns and others coming to stay in their cottages (mökki, in Finnish), traditionally in the summer months.

This last point is key, as opposition to the wind turbines can usually be located in the mökki-dwellers, whereas support for the turbines is strongest amongst the permanent residents. This is a particularly interesting wrinkle in this culture of decision-making, highlighting the delicate balances and compromises between individual and community, settlement and nature, transient and permanent, tradition and progress, economy and resilience.

We’ll be reporting more from Högsåra, and a similar (though also different) case at Hamina, in eastern Finland.

Why do I blog this?

Developments like wind farms, which can be contentious for some, place these decision-making cultures under a microscope. They necessitate long-term decisions, with short-term investment producing return later, and force a series of agreements about what a finite resource (in this case, land, or real estate) should be used for. It concerns qualitative issues, such as aesthetics and notions of ‘natural environment’, as well as quantitative. There are different cultures at play here, as Swedish-speaking communities within Finland. And these villages are also part of the proposed municipality amalgamation in Finland, which will also affect local cultures of decision-making.

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