Documentary of citizens activism in Helsinki


“Not all the activists go on the streets with flags”, is a short film produced by Luca Acito as part of his master thesis at Aalto University, Master in Collaborative and Industrial Design.

The student followed during the spring 2017 three groups of “urban activists” in the district of Pasila and Myyrmäki, in the Helsinki region, filming their activities to promote the neighbourhoods through street art and other forms of community place-making. The result is a 23 min short film that presents, with a “day in the life” approach, the urban activists in the neighbourhoods, questioning the implications of their actions on the everyday life of the other residents in the area. 


As Luca’s work points out, the term “urban activism” has been particularly used in Helsinki to refer to a series of bottom-up initiatives promoted by the citizens, such as block parties, street festivals, neighbourhood movements, with some famous examples such as Restaurants Day or Cleaning Day to mention few. Today urban movements in Helsinki range across various formats, such as street art collectives, food circles, recycling groups, and, as these activists take often on tasks typically expected by the municipality, urban civic activism becomes a resource for the city. As a consequence, cities are becoming interested in people participation, yet not everyone seems to participate in the same way: about the social movements in Helsinki, some have argued that often these groups involves people who are not the most vulnerable or marginalised, but rather the middle class, “green” and conformed to the “creative class”. Most of the Helsinki’s activists live in the greater Helsinki area, speak Finnish, often have an artistic background. Without diminishing the social goal of most of the urban initiatives promoted by the activists, the Helsinki middle-class activism risks to remain a fashioned “lifestyle”, simply a way to spend leisure time and have fun. 


With the intention to better understand the phenomenon of urban activism in Helsinki, shedding a light on some of these groups, Luca’s thesis contributes to research the topic and raise awareness about it by producing a short documentary. With his movie, Luca invites the audience to question what is the role of the urban activists in Helsinki? What are the implications, not just for the cities, but also for the citizens and other actors in the city? What can we learn from observing the rise of this participatory culture among people, going beyond a lifestyle and/or marketing trick to target Helsinki to tourists and new visitors? The film has been produced together with Finnish photographer and filmmaker Mikko Kerttula and involved the activists from Pasila Liike, Myyrmäki Liike and Helsinki Urban Art. The film will be available for public screening in winter 2017. For now, you can read more about Luca’s thesis on Aaltodoc publication archive.  




Luca Acito
Master’s thesis 2017, ‘Not all the activists go on the street with flags. Case of a documentary about citizens movements in Helsinki’

Collaborative and Industrial Design
, Department of Design

Aalto University,  School of Arts, Design and Architecture