Future proof: 9 reasons why Finland is the country of the future

After WWII, Finland was still a poor country, which ended up playing a pretty weird hand of cards well during the global economic boom that transformed much of the world. From education, healthcare, water and welfare, Finland has a lot of things worth saving and adapting for the future.

It’s justified to argue politically about the global future of policies mimicking mid-century social democracy. But quite frankly, without the policies of the past, this place we call home would probably have ended up radically bleaker and poorer.

If Finland and the other Nordic counties were to fail at taking care of the legacy of ‘big-state’ investments, we’d arguably sit on one of the saddest wastes of potential in human history. Such is the contrast between the cold, barely inhabitable and famine ridden 19th century Russian Grand Duchy of Finland and the current high-tech republic.

Winter sunrise in a snowy small town street in Loviisa, Finland.

Crisp winter sunrise in Loviisa. Photo by Thomas Garz.

 

1. Super cheap mobile broadband with no data caps

Most major mobile carriers in Finland offer unlimited data and interest free instalment plans for mobile phones at even student friendly prices. Yeah, you can just walk around, listening to Spotify all you want, or even binge on Netflix at the summer cottage, with full HD coverage if you’re in luck. You might even live your entire digital life tethered to your phone or using a 4G modem with Wi-FI. As a foreigner, you can buy these unlimited packages pre-paid.

Those wanting a low latency connection for gaming, work and protection against wireless congestion, can usually get fixed kinda fast internet connection starting at eur 20 a month. Suffice to say that good and cheap wireless connectivity is essential for creating new markets for services and products. For instance, autonomous cars, of the kind that Volvo is testing, rely on ultra fast 5G connections for real time mapping data.

 

Wintery cityscape of Tampere, Finland

Wintery cityscape of central Tampere. Photo by Maria Morri.

 

2. Clean water

Finland may not be especially rich in a number of flashy natural resources, but one thing is covered: clean water. An example of how it’s used is the Päijänne Water tunnel, a small miracle of engineering. The world’s second longest tunnel at 120 kilometers, 30-100 meter underground in bedrock, it transports water from lake Päijänne to the Helsinki region for consumption.

Using only a third of it’s capacity, the tunnel was a tremendous investment in the future of infrastructure during its construction of over a decade starting in 1972. The water is brought to Helsinki in low temperatures year round and requires minimal processing. So, if you’re ever in the Helsinki region, enjoy the tap water. It’s a truly fantastic product. As a matter of fact, I’m gulping down a half pint of it as I’m writing this.

 

Linus Torvalds autographing a student’s laptop at his alma mater, the University of Helsinki in 2012.

Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux, autographing a student’s laptop at his alma mater, the University of Helsinki in 2012. Linux is an open source operating system commonly used in servers, Android phones, Wi-Fi routers, TV:s and much more. Photo by Tuomas Puikkonen.

 

3. A massive pool of educated people

Finland is often praised for its elementary education. However, the country also has a big pool of highly educated professionals. 66% of high school graduates move on to higher education, the highest rate in the EU.

Summery aerial view of Jakomäki, a Helsinki suburb some 15 kilometers northeast from the city center.

Summery aerial view of Jakomäki, a Helsinki suburb some 15 kilometers northeast from the city center. Photo by Jori Samonen.

 

4. English speakers everywhere

Many Finnish people may feel awkward about how they pronounce English, which is very different from Finnish, a non-Indo-European language. But the fact is that Finns enjoy excellent basic education and refer to good old tricks like watching movies with subtitles rather than dubbing. This creates an enormous pool of passive English language skills waiting to be utilized. In fact, Finland rates in the top five of a recent ranking of non-native English speaking countries. For what it’s worth, this writer started out with English in fifth grade… and in MS-DOS.

 

Google's data center in Hamina, Finland

Wintery view of Google’s data center in Hamina, opened in 2011 in an old paper mill, presumably to offer fast service in Northern Europe and Russia. Google will start renting cloud servers and other on-demand services for application developers in Hamina during 2017. We can’t wait. Google has more stunning photos from Hamina.

 

5. Loads of internet bandwidth and server farm friendly environment

With several optical cables being built and planned over the next few years, Finland has excellent connectivity between east and west. Companies such as Google, Yandex and Hetzner have invested in data centers in Finland. It’s generally a good idea to place data centers in cold places with loads of water available. If you want to store customer data somewhere, it’s also a major plus to pick a place that is both seismically and politically stable.

 

Sunset view of a harbor in Lahti, Finland.

Harbor in Lahti. Photo by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho.

 

6. Nature is always near

Even in urban areas of Finland, greenery is always close at hand. In suburbs of Helsinki and countless smaller cities, apartment blocks are oftentimes surrounded by something resembling real actual forests more than parks. This means a lot for the quality of the air. And as we know, greenery is instant stress relief for us humans, with both mental and physical benefits. This writer prefers his crib in hip, urban Kallio, Helsinki but enjoys living just a few bus stops away from pristine nature.

 

Summer evening view of Kahvikatu, a quiet street in Aurinkolahti, part of the mid-rise apartment dominated Vuosaari suburb in eastern Helsinki.

Summer evening view of Kahvikatu, a street in Aurinkolahti, part of the mid-rise apartment dominated Vuosaari suburb in easternmost Helsinki. Photo by Timo Newton-Syms.

 

7. Room to grow

Finland is a huge country with a sparse population, which increasingly is moving to cities. All Finnish urban areas have pretty good basic infrastructure, with lots and lots of development being only a political question. The Helsinki region covers an area the size of greater London, but with 1/8 of the population. If urbanization is done right over the next decades, and many signs imply this will happen, the region won’t continue the blight of suburban sprawl that will erode all nature, but rather preserve more nature by preferring greater density than during the last sixty years.

 

Misty summer morning in the Merisatama harbor area in southern Helsinki.

Misty summer morning in the Merisatama harbor area in southern Helsinki. Photo by Lauri Heikkinen.

 

8. Mobility as a Service

A big, low-density country with a small population can has some trouble urbanizing. Indeed, most of Finland is wilderness by European standards and even growth centers are surrounded by a kind of bizarro suburbia and occasional political opposition to cities. This means cars are still high fashion, which creates all kinds of problems for urbanization.

So, to merge the urban, suburban and rural in ways public transit can’t mend, a the Finnish company MaaS Global just launched Whim, a subscription service that aims to combine untethered access to cabs with public transit and occasional car rentals.

 

Rendering of Helsinki's planned city boulevards to be built along current highways

The city of Helsinki has approved a new grand city plan that aims to stop suburban sprawl as the capital prepares to grow by hundreds of thousands of people of the coming decades. New Helsinki development looking more like this rendering would save all that nice nature in the rest of our pics. From turning into highways and malls, that is. Image: The city of Helsinki.

 

9. Thinking out of the box, quirky ideas tend to succeed

From design to high tech, music and games, Finland tends to produce unexpected quirky hits. From Linux, an open source operating system running in almost everything except your PC, Angry Birds, a character oriented redesign of an old game concept, to countless metal bands.

Finland succeeds in weird stuff rather than replicating mass produced ideas. Want more proof with less metal? Well, Finland is a music miracle waiting to happen. Just take a look at these cool bands with releases from this year.

 

Title image by Tom Mrazek.

Thomas NyberghThomas Nybergh is a Digital Producer and writer for Ink Tank Media. Passionate about user-centred design and culture, he’s spent a decade working at the crossroads of technology and marketing. He can be found sharing his thoughts on both on Twitter 

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