Nina Miettinen: “Helsinki, as the largest city in the country, can lead the way for others”

As surely many of you are aware, the Finnish municipal elections are right around the corner. Candidates’ election videos and voting aid applications are starting to pop up everywhere, and the amount and variety of candidates might seem overwhelming. However, voting in the election is not only our duty as citizens of a functional democracy, but our chance to influence how we want our capital city to be run and to make sure the changes we want to see will be carried out. To help our readers out, we interviewed Nina Miettinen, a 24-year-old graduate student from the University of Helsinki, who is running in the upcoming municipal elections as a representative of Helsinki. She is a member of the Green Party, which according to the polls has the potential to become the most popular party in Helsinki. Read on to find out if Nina or the Green Party have what it takes to convince you and take home your vote!

What initially got you interested in politics?

When I was 16 I left for the US for a student exchange. The year was 2008 so I got to witness Obama being elected as president. None of my American friends voted however, which amazed me, since back in Finland voting had always been a given in our family. I spent the entire night watching the election results despite everyone else going to bed. I knew the outcome would be historical which was really interesting.

Voting for the first time in Finland was very exciting — I did a lot of research on different parties and their election programs, eventually ending up with the Green Party, since they had the right values and a long-term vision for the future. Soon after moving to Helsinki to study I ended up participating in a weekend course by Pekka Haavisto and a summer camp by the Green Youth. Eventually I ended up getting into politics because I was asked — first for HYY’s Representative Council elections and then for the municipal elections. I had been interested in politics for years but had never really pictured myself as a politician. I was asked to get into the Representative Council elections but I had to decline since I was about to leave for another exchange period in Madagascar. After returning home I ran in the HYY Representative Council elections and now I’m on my second term.  

When and why did you decide to run in the municipal elections?

The municipal elections are the next step for me. I had thought about running, but when the Green Party called me in the fall and I was able to ask them everything that was on my mind it was easier to make the decision. My desire to make a difference just keeps on growing the more I learn about the possibilities policymakers have. Answering the questions in voting aid applications was an especially eye-opening experience — Helsinki is a wonderful city as it is, but lately inequality between different neighborhoods has been on the rise. I want all Helsinkians to be treated as a valuable resource to the city, not just those who have the strength for it. There’s a need for all kinds of candidates, and as a young adult and student living outside the inner city I believe I am an important addition to the Green Party.  

What are the key themes of your election campaign?

My key themes are the mental well-being of the youth, better recreational possibilities and developing the neighborhoods outside the inner city. These three issues are strongly linked to one another because affordable and in some cases free recreational possibilities prevent mental health problems. In addition, there is a dire need for low-threshold services in order to prevent more serious cases of mental disorders. At the moment one in three students deals with mental health problems but the queues in the mental health services are really long. On the city level these problems accumulate in certain areas and I am strongly against this. Resources should be targeted for example towards schools that need more support than other schools.

What changes or improvements would you like to see in Helsinki in the coming years?

The Science Tram project (Tiederatikka) would be most beneficial to students, as it would replace the current 506 bus route and connect 10 different university campuses along the same route. This would also reduce cross traffic traveling times significantly. I also wish to see more youth who are doing well in life, higher admission rates in education, and increased employment levels and welfare all around the city. I believe Helsinki should try providing free birth control for those under 25, since in other cities it has decreased the number of abortions. Finally, more apartments must be built in Helsinki in the coming years, since otherwise the prices of apartments and rents will keep on rising through the roof. There is especially need for more studios and one-bedroom apartments.

So how would you tackle the problem of extremely high prices of rental apartments?

At the moment there are just not enough small apartments in Helsinki; there is no match between demand and supply. Most of adult Helsinkians live alone and are forced to pay way too much in rent. This is why I think it is important to update the building restrictions that demand a certain number of family apartments. There is also no point in building a lot of parking spaces with student or studio apartments, if most of the inhabitants do not own a car in the first place. Luckily the new zoning plan will eventually alleviate the apartment shortage.

There has been a lot of heated conversation about immigration lately — what is your take on Helsinki’s current immigration policy?

Luckily Helsinki’s policy on immigration has been more humane than in many other cities or municipalities, but we can always do more. We, as the largest city in the country, can lead the way to others. Integration needs to be done properly, and companies could try anonymous recruiting to ease immigrants’ employment (there have been positive results of this method). It is also essential that neighborhoods and schools will not be divided based on the uneven amount of immigrants and native Finns. In the future this issue will need a lot of attention.

Do you have an opinion on reducing the number or private cars in Helsinki?

I believe that reducing private cars will become necessary, since there are a lot of people moving into the city and there is simply not enough space for everyone to have a car. Most students feel like they do not need a car, which is a good start. We need to further develop public transport as well as cycling and pedestrian routes so that eventually no one would feel the need to use a car in Helsinki. I also believe that highways do not need to reach all the way to downtown, but instead they could be adapted into city boulevards which in turn would allow more apartments and a more enjoyable living environment.

What more could Helsinki do to further improve their environment policy?

There is lots of room for improvement in the energy sector; for example we could move on to using solar, wind, and geothermal energy. We should also close the rest of the coal power stations. In addition, public transport, cycling and walking could be made more attractive than driving. School lunches could also opt for more environmentally friendly food options. In general, the effects on the environment should always be considered in addition to the cost in the city’s undertakings.

And finally, why do you think you should be elected in the City Council?

I have taken care of my earlier positions of responsibility with great precision and dedication, and I have learned to allocate my time accordingly. I am also very sure of my values and motivation. I believe my strength lies in the ability of listening and understanding different viewpoints, which is why dealing with shared issues comes naturally to me. It would be great to have the voice of students making a difference in the City Council!

 

As a reminder, here are the key dates of the election:

Early voting in Finland: March 29 - April 4

Early voting abroad: March 29 - April 1

Election date: April 9