Towards Strengths-Based Planning Strategies for Rural Localities in Finland

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In this article, we will introduce the topic of strengths-based planning strategies for rural localities in Finland. The strengths-based approach focuses on capacity building and competence enhancement with the local people, encouraging communities to valorise, identify and mobilise existing but often unrecognised assets. Setting focus only on the deficiencies and problems easily inflicts a ‘surrender mentality‘ in places outside of the urbanisation impact, creating a narrative that both decision-makers and community members start to believe. Hence, the role and potential of smaller rural localities is easily forgotten by planners, politicians and the public at large. Addressing the scale of rural localities in spatial planning, we will first reflect upon the main findings from our earlier research project “Finnish rural localities in the 2010`s” conducted by Lahti University of Applied Sciences, the University of Oulu and Aalto University in 2013-2015. Findings from the research project affirmed the unfortunate consequences of rapid urbanisation, rational blueprint planning and overoptimistic expectations of growth in the 1960s and 70s, which have resulted in the state of permanent incompleteness in rural localities today. However, these localities possess many under-utilised strengths, and we consider it essential for the future development of rural localities to make the most of this potential, and not only tackle the downwards spiral. This requires the ability to engage local stakeholders around a common vision for the future, and strategic approach based on endogenous strengths. We will discuss these possibilities via two theoretically informed case studies. The first one, Vieremä, is situated in the region of Northern Savo, and the other one, Vääksy, is the main centre in the municipality of Asikkala, situated in the region of Päijät-Häme in Southern Finland. Our study design can be characterised as qualitative research benefiting from a case study approach, mixed methods research and participatory action research. Being critical-emancipatory by nature, the exploratory and normative perspectives of Future Studies have also provided methodologies to explore future alternative paths and the available, yet possibly hidden, resources of people, commodities and skills in new ways. Through these case studies, we have identified an urgent need for capacity building and preparedness for sustainable resource management in Finnish rural localities, including natural and cultural heritage protection, climate change management and human well-being. There is a need to start thinking creatively ‘outside-the-box‘ and create strategic alliances between civil society, business and government, and most importantly, between urban and rural areas. Now is the time to start innovating a range of policy options and strategic objectives for addressing rural localities as places where a sustainable future can be developed in Finland.

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