(I figured I will just write this in English since I would have to do that anyway and everyone reading this probably reads English well, so why do it twice.)
163. That’s where I ended up, that’s how many wanted me to serve in the city council.
First of all, thank you. Really. That is a lot of people. Not enough to put me in the council but still a lot. I was left about 30 votes shy of a reserve position, so that was pretty close. An actual council seat would have needed more than twice as much so there is no “if” with that. Still, I can’t feel too bad. For a first timer that’s a good number of votes.
Also, I was close enough to getting a spot that I will most definitely get some sort of board position in city administration. A number of those always go outside the council members and reserves and I was the 5th one in our party. So there are some concrete results from this. Again, thank you.
But more importantly, there is something I have realised from this. The 163 people have sent a clear message that I cannot ignore. What I have said over the last few months has obviously resonated with people. They showed that by voting for me.
About 5 months ago I had not even decided if I would get into politics. On Sunday evening I was the 33rd (out of 100) green party candidate on the list with 163 votes. That does not make me a council member but it makes me a player in the game. If someone was thinking that I’m not fully invested or otherwise not necessary in the party since I came aboard so recently, no one is thinking that anymore.
When the results rolled in I felt a little disappointed. Mostly because I got so close. I have said over the last several weeks that I had no idea how well the campaign was going. I had nothing to compare it to. Well I do now.
Not that I ever got into this thinking that it would just be a one-time shot in the dark, but I really wasn’t sure what I would do with regard to politics if I didn’t go through. I knew it would take some time to figure that out. I guess it took about 30 seconds.
I have received 2 new likes on my Facebook page after the results came in. After they came in. That cannot be a show of support for the campaign, not anymore. Those people expect that page to still be there in the future. They expect me to keep working. Out of the current 150 those 2 likes may well be the most important. They force me to remember that I have work to do.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
Maybe I wasn’t quite ready or maybe this wasn’t the time. But this certainly was the thing. I have felt tired, frustrated, scared, embarrassed and stupid during the past 4 months. But all of the time I have felt right.
There is another election coming in about 9 months. I think I just barely learned how to campaign in the last week and that still landed me 163 votes. I know I’m supposed to just relax now and be happy for our party’s success. I am, but that’s not enough. I’m not satisfied. 163 is not enough. There is work to be done. And I’ve never been one to shy away from a fight.
As Ernest Hemingway put it:
The shortest answer is doing the thing.
I am not done.
So, the election draws close. I wanted to take one more chance to write in English before we get to the big day. If for no other reason, at least to remind everyone one more time how important it is to vote. Only 20% of immigrants did so last time so if we could bump that number up, you might actually change the outcome dramatically. See my previous post about the subject here. I have no idea how many non-finns ever read this blog but I’m an optimist.
I had a great conversation about voting (and bicycles and traffic and education… but really mostly bicycles) with an American who has been living in Finland for a few years and now gets to vote for the first time. He had already lived in the Netherlands and Denmark (hence the bicycles) but was never able to vote in those countries. He was very clearly excited about getting to do it for the first time in years. I wish everyone felt that way about democracy. And he is the perfect example for immigrants. He didn’t know much about the issues in Tampere so he asked me about them. The important thing for him was simply the opportunity to vote. So please do follow his lead!
My big theme, students
My number one theme for this election is students and schools (and education in general is the key theme of the green party) but I only recently talked about it in this blog. So let’s summarize a little in English.
Students make up one sixth of the population of Tampere. International students make up a big proportion of students so I know I have a potential audience here. The student population lives with all the consequences of the decisions made in the city council, on top of which they have many needs that the general population does not. They are in many cases much more vulnerable than other low-income residents. So I really hope they show their strength in this election.
International students are eligible to vote under the same rules as anybody else. An EU-citizen can vote after having lived in the city for 51 days. People from outside EU need to have lived in Finland for two years. Doesn’t matter if it’s permanent or temporary as long as you fill that criteria. And many of the decisions made at city level will affect internationals. Anywhere from housing to transportation and medical services.
Even though it is a national level issue instead of a city one, I just want to mention that I strongly oppose any tuition fees for international students. Our free education is one of the great prides of the nordic welfare state and it needs to be free for everybody.
To keep this text at a reasonable length, here are some bullet points with regard to students:
That is a very quick overview of the things that I find important. There is of course much more depth to all of it. If you’re still undecided about your vote, you can always contact me for more. I would be delighted.
One more thing
I would feel wrong if I didn’t mention one last thing, even though it has nothing to do with the upcoming election. I am frustrated that this thing exists for me to have to talk about, but it does.
This week our nation displayed a level of petty politics and sad cowardice that I did not expect to have to witness. This week a plane full of Afghan men, women, boys and girls, families, left Helsinki for Kabul. For a place that they had fled in fear for their lives. A place torn in anarchy and suppressed in tyranny was decided to be safe for the people who left because they were afraid that they were going to die. Decided to be safe, not found to be. This week we sent families to their death.
There is this old saying in rural Finland that I remember being cited some months ago. It translates roughly to “we won’t send anyone into the night”. It comes from a time when travel was slow and it was not uncommon for someone to find themselves in need of a warm place for the night. So travelers might simply show up at the door of a farmhouse asking to spend the night.
The general rule – as far as I understand – was that during the day it was ok to turn them away. This was not about hospitality. But in the evening it was clear that the cold night might be dangerous. The travelers were generally accommodated for the night and left in the morning. They were strangers, not guests.
These people came to our door. Whatever their reason for leaving, they came. And they asked us for help. And we sent them into the night.
So for whatever it’s worth, I do not stand with my country’s leaders. I will not send anyone into the night. For any future reference, if coming times find me in a position of power, let me just say it as clearly as I can.
Not on my watch.
Not even once.
English! It’s turned out to be so rare in this blog that it feels both great to finally do it and retarded that I haven’t. But a promise is a promise so I’ll at least try. Because I have been writing about a number of issues in Finnish and really none in English I figured I should put together a short summary of my thoughts on a few things.
Because, yes, I realize that immigrants care about things other than immigration issues. They – or you – are residents of this city and obviously care about what happens in it. Nothing is going to be in a particular order so pay no attention to that. This is just a collection of ramblings so that you can get a quick handle of what I think about stuff.
Traffic – trams and bikes
First things first, I support the tramway system that was approved in last november is just about to start construction. Of course it will be expensive but that money is not diverted away from anything else and the investment is projected to more than pay for itself. So by the time the initial debt is paid off the city may actually be on the plus side. The math isn’t obvious or simple but it has a lot to do with lower commute times, rising land values, lot sales and increasing demand. All in all it seems to be a good deal even financially.
There are very obvious parts too. Several of Tampere’s major bus lines serve primarily the same areas/routes, for example city center – Hervanta. A tram can fit 4 to 5 times more people per unit than a bus so replacing these routes with a tram gives us the same capacity with fewer drivers. Also, a tram unit has a service life expectancy of about 40 years as opposed to the 10-13 years of an average bus. Electricity costs vary but will in the long term certainly be lower than fossil fuels.
The tram does not pollute, is cost effective, is very accessible and with its high capacity it actually frees up more space for other vehicles on the road. What’s not to like?
My favorite mode of transportation, however, is bicycling. I have never owned a car in my life. I live in the center so if I’m not going far enough to need a bus, I either bike or walk. Usually bike because it’s faster. When I moved here 14 years ago Tampere was far from a biker friendly city. There is much work left but I’m delighted to say things have improved a lot.
The plans for the new Hämeenkatu (after the tram project gets done) are looking very good. Finally bike lanes (or bikeways, not sure about the terminology here) on the main street! This has been an abysmally bad place for biking forever. The 2-year experiment with bike lanes was ok but this will actually be good. Now we just need goog bike lanes all accross the city. They should be almost as abundant as roads for cars. In the very least they should connect the same areas.
There is also a proposal to introduce shared-use city bikes to Tampere. Similar attempts have mostly failed in the past in major Finnish cities but the latest endeavour in Helsinki has been a massive success. They are expanding their bike fleet to 1400 bikes and 140 stations next summer. It seems that the key was implementing a (low) fee to using the bikes and a easy-to-use technology for paying without the need for cash. A similar system might work just as well in Tampere and is definitely worth at least experimenting with.
Building and un-building
Those that know me well know that I am very much what you might call an urbanist (is that a word?). I prefer denser and taller cities and filling inefficiently used gaps in or near the city center. In short, I prefer something we don’t see in Finland almost at all. Ok, so I want Blade Runner style mile-high skyscrapers. How is that green?
The answer is two-fold. First, building denser and higher puts the same amount of people in a smaller land area, which means we require less extra space from outside the current city structure. Hence, nature gets saved. Second, building denser and higher puts the same amount of people in a smaller land area, which means shorter travel distances. When people live close to their jobs and services they either don’t (mostly) need to rely on their personal car for transportation or if they do they can drive it less. Nature wins again. And this is not even mentioning all the other benefits that a good population density affords.
This being said, there is the question of building new over old. As a general rule I have no problem here. Sometimes there is a good reason to demolish or otherwise significantly alter the existing building base. But othere times not. Finland has a grim history – mostly from the 1960s to the 1980s of demolishing beautiful old buildings in the name of progress and efficiency. We have mostly learned from these mistakes but sometimes the old habits raise their ugly head.
This very nice almost 100-year old building is about to get the hammer in the near future.
The reason is a mold/fungus infestation that is claimed to be too severe for removal. Now, I am not saying this is necessarily untrue. But with our history in mind it easily sounds more like too expensive for removal. I am all for adding extra floorspace to old city blocks like this. There is space in the middle of the block for a whole new building if parking goes underground or the building could even be raised by a few floors. This goes for many many blocks around and near the city center. So we should at least make really really sure if the building or its exterior walls can be saved before we put the hammer to it.
I could keep writing but I suppose this is as much as most readers are willing to handle at once. I’ll try to put at least one more of these together before the election gets too close. I know non-Finnish readers cannot possibly be satisfied with how little I’ve provided so far, so if any questions are raised or you just can’t seem to make up your mind about a candidate, please feel free to contact me.
Tamperelainen toimittaja ja ehdokas kaupunginvaltuustoon kuntavaaleissa 2021.