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This Finnish architect says more sharing will create sustainable cities

WATCH: Who thinks about whether cities are socially sustainable or not? Architects like Inari Virkkala do. This is the fifth instalment in “Everyday stories of transformation,” a series about ordinary people who are finding ways to lead more sustainable and meaningful lives in European cities.

"The impact we can have is huge", says Helsinki-based architect Inari Virkkala. Inari is dedicated to improving the sustainability of buildings and unused spaces. Using what she has learned as an architect, she says, she can work to alleviate poverty and increase sustainability in cities. She explains: “Buildings are consuming so much of the energy that we use. Almost 40% of all the energy that's been produced is used in buildings.”

Sustainability breaks down into three different strands, says Inari, the economic, the ecological and the social. Feeling that architects often focus on the ecological side of sustainability, she decided to work on its social aspects: “there was already a lot of efforts in the highest level of society, like the Ministries, they were already focusing on how to do low-energy building. Then it was maybe the social aspects that I felt were not considered that much.”

She is involved in a number of social sustainability projects, including The Recycling Consultants, which promotes a system of free bicycle borrowing in major organisations including IBM and the Ministry of Finance, and Wasted Space, which transforms unused spaces. One Wasted Space project involved creating a small urban garden on the roof terraces of Nokia Headquarters, where around 50 employees could grow vegetables and meet people from other departments.

This is the fifth instalment in “Everyday stories of transformation,” a series about ordinary people who are finding their own ways to lead more sustainable and meaningful lives in European cities. For Inari, greater sustainability means recognizing a mixture of solutions, both macro and micro.

For one, social sustainability will increase through small changes in peoples' lifestyles. She says: “There are certainly some choices that I'm making. For example, I'm not really flying...I'm trying to choose a vegetarian diet when I can, I'm living in the city and moving around with a bicycle...what many people are already doing.” And more sharing is also key: “You don't have to buy everything starting from hairdryers and coffee machines...we could have small recycling rooms where you could maybe leave your skis and tools like hammers that you maybe use once a year.”

“Cities need to be designed to be pleasant enough to live in a sustainable way,” she adds, but it's a complicated task that needs a combination of big and small solutions.

About the author

Ólöf Söebech was born in Reykjavik and now lives in Brussels. She studied human ecology, environmental studies and contemporary dance, and has worked in the fields of dance, education, research and activism. After conducting research in academia on sustainable consumption and production, Ólöf left her job to search for people who are defining their own creative ways to lead sustainable and meaningful lives, and launched a new website at www.everydaystories.be to share their stories.