CO-CREATION: A GERMAN-FINNISH EXCHANGE
During two workshops in Puolanka and Lauscha we brought together delegations representing different stakeholders from the two towns to compare and reflect the situations in their towns. They discussed what is different or similar, what challenges the towns are facing and what strategies are being developed.
Visiting Lauscha (5th – 8th May 2022)
The first exchange visit of the local stakeholders from Puolanka and researchers from Aalto University to Lauscha took place in early May 2022.The project team got to know the town of Lauscha and its glass-making history, learnt about the current state of childcare and education infrastructure in the town, participated in the annual food & hiking festival “Mellichstöckdooch” and visited a punk rock concert at “Kulturkollektiv Goetheschule”, one of our partners in this project.
One afternoon was reserved for a first out of two workshops, designed and moderated by Steffen Präger from the NGO Kulturhanse, who has long lasting expertise in supporting initiatives and start-ups in smaller towns. The participants of the workshop consisted of the visitors from Finland and different stakeholders from Lauscha, including members of the town council, administration, educational institutions, artists and activists. Even though time was limited, language barriers a hindress and the format “workshop” new and demanding for some, the participants from both countries managed to reach a bottom line understanding of each other's positions and perspectives on Lauscha, Puolanka and their town’s respective specificities, strengths and weaknesses.
While both towns consider their overall livability as high, the exchange spurred discussions and brought relevant differences to the surface: the differences in systems such as health care (public health care in the neighbouring town in Lauscha, privatised, mobile health care in Puolanka), housing (seasonal vacancies in Puolanka, owner-occupier-based family housing and rising vacancy rate in Lauscha), municipal household (long-term austerity policies in Lauscha versus more generous state support in Puolanka), and education (significantly less children per nurse or teacher in the kindergarten and school in Puolanka). Both towns however struggle with declining public transport and car dependency.
Participants also discovered in the workshop - spurred by contributions of young people who study elsewhere but keep feeling attached to their hometown - that multilocality of young people can be an asset. They remain attached to the town and continue to return, taking part in local artistry (glass artists, musicians) as well as associations and thus keep being part of community life.
The results of this workshop were documented and carried into the second workshop, taking place in Puolanka in August 2022.
Visiting Puolanka (2nd-5th August 2022)
The second workshop was organised in Puolanka in August and the German team got an opportunity to visit Puolanka and get their first-hand experience of the place. Some representatives of two towns had already met earlier and could continue discussing the same topics in a new light, some locals who did not take part in the visit to Lauscha, also joined the workshop. They explored Puolanka and its surroundings together, visited the administration, new business development projects, different tourist attractions, local initiatives, and places for education and sports activities.
Visiting the newly built kindergarten, school or leisure facilities, one of the very important topics was once more the financial set-up of the municipality. Guests from Lauscha wondered how does Puolanka make it possible to finance projects despite shrinkage? The guests also noticed the amount of new buildings in Puolanka and suggested that buildings are heritage and can be refurbished to secure the sense of place and its history. It was also noted that the large number of multi-locals (people working and/or living in several places) in Puolanka also makes a difference for the service provision in Puolanka. As the amount of people doubles in the summer and during holidays, there is for example enough consumers to have two super markets in the centre of the town.
During the workshop, participants discussed their impressions of what they had learned about the place and exchanged ideas. The older participants brought up several important issues. They expressed that many previously available state services are gone, people moved out of Puolanka and there is now a strong feeling of loss of services and people. They also noticed mindset differences, claiming that young people are not very involved in activities in Puolanka and that there are many initiatives for older people while young people do not organise on their own. This was challenged by one of the young participants who emphasised that Puolankas Pessimist association involves many young people, but their way of doing things is different than that of the older generation. People also discussed the balance between voluntary and paid work: what can be on the shoulders of civil society and what should be organised by the state or the municipality.
The results of both workshops inform the general findings of the project.
Collaborative Future Making
Future Search Conference in Lauscha (2nd-4th September)
Additionally to the two workshops, the German team organised and implemented a Future Search Conference in Lauscha in September 2022. A local group of stakeholders (so-called steering group) defined and prepared the goal of the event as well as its content. Such a format is intended to facilitate a participatory process of future-making. The Future Search Conference in Lauscha followed the motto „Wies wor wat nümmr – Ower wie wellmer`s denn?“ (local dialect, translates to “It will never be as it has been in the past - but what do we want for the future?”). Up to 40 local citizens worked together for 2,5 days and discussed relevant issues, developed future visions and translated utopian ideas into feasible work packages and projects. In the end, eleven potential projects were designed, some of them are now in the process of being realised.
A few weeks after the event, the steering group came together again for a final reflection. Good projects and ideas were developed, that’s a consensus of the group, yet they are limited to those issues people can take into their own hands and influence locally, so to say “internal politics”. This concerns the maintenance and beautification of public space, a better coordination of festivities and events through a regulars’ table of members of different associations, or an attempt to documents housing vacancies and develop strategies to market them. The "outside politics", e.g. the lacking political representation of the interests of Lauscha beyond the local governance level, came off a bit short, the group reflected. This was but seen as a symptom of a structural dilemma of shrinking municipalities, whose challenges are big, but whose opportunities for shaping them - politically, in terms of personnel and financially - are limited. Likewise, volunteerism and local initiatives cannot fill in all the voids that are opening up in the face of declining populations, ageing and limited finances.
The results of the Future Conference made it clear that Lauscha civil society is a key asset for the towns liveability, but also that key levers are beyond the reach of the local community and thus cannot be tackled through a participatory format like a future search conference. Nevertheless, numerous and good project ideas that can be implemented locally have emerged and are in process of realisation. All of these are aimed at supporting the life-quality of the town such as networking, green infrastructure, meeting points, local media, and organising info and support for (household level) investments in green energies.