Co-creation changes the way young people perceive the city

By managing the project YoungWalkTheTalk, which carries as its motto “to create a city by citizens to citizens”, I realized how such a venture can change its participants’ perspectives about the city. We are living in times where efforts are concentrated on attracting and retaining the workforce to the region (Valtioneuvosto, 2021). In this process to create employment, it does feel that little has been said about other factors, why one would feel at home in a city. And possibly stay. Co-creating (not only ideating) with citizens can give a hint to decision-makers about what is needed to be improved in the city and also about how this can be done with the participation of those citizens.

TEXT | Susie Kimura and Noushin Jafarzi

In a project that gives the opportunity to young citizens to co-create and develop their own get-togethers, I, as the project manager, ask the same question to the young organizers: how do you feel now that the City promoted this chance so you can run your own creation? Each brave young organizer of low-threshold events (the pilots) had their own aims and challenges, overpassed their own hurdles, and developed their own viewpoint about their important and welcomed role in this city.

Building a garden

I met Noushin from her participation in a get-together aiming to practice Finnish communication through having a fun time, playing games, eating, and trying “to babble in Finnish language” as the club´s invitation proposed. After 10 sessions in that club, Noushin, who holds a Master’s in Traditional Aesthetics, came to me with a proposal for a new pilot: teach her artistic skills, share her culture, and also learn from participants. We immediately started to plan this pilot. In two weeks, it was launched. The Persian Garden was born. It grew steadily from session to session, and eventually, people were in the waiting line to participate. By the last meetings, people were already co-creating those meetings, bringing cake or new ideas until the day when all the works were shown on the walls of the Library´s gallery. From the passengers’ view, the get-togethers were truly loved. What about the conductor of the train? How was the trip to its destination? And what was the destination all about? The conductor of the art club reflects and corroborates with research demonstrating that it takes more than a year to adapt to Finland (Pitkänen et al, 2022):

“In the beginning, I had a fight with myself. Being a year in Finland, homesick, missing my old friends and my own shop, I sometimes questioned myself if something would come from being here, right now. What probably sometimes intoxicated my thoughts, was the fact that I am an introspective person. Added to that, there was the Covid isolation. The country where I came from has its media ‘stereotypes’ due to political beliefs. And I just recently learned English.” Those were already reasons enough to say how much this artist was out of her comfort zone. However, as the adventurous person that Noushin is, she took another step into the unknown when she decided to run a club: “I think I can make a difference, overcome stereotypes, show how I lived with my lovely family, what people like us eat, or listen and the significance of our art.  Art is my only comfort zone. The way I can stay with myself and construct something beautiful. I just needed a first ‘kick’ to put all those together, to deconstruct me and build confidence to a trip to new zones“. The memories about how everything started comes sometimes as a breath of relief and also carries inner tension: “That first day running my pilot, was a mark. I left that session so happy. I made it. But the next day, I still fought my old me, I got to question how did I dare do such I think? Who am I to try to say something positive out of my own story?”

We met to plan the second session and so Noushin got a long list of homework: we must make a flyer… in a flyer, we must have the credits for pictures’ and books’ authors… let’s think about the content for the next sessions… would the participants come again?… we need a list of things to be purchased… there´s a budget… we need to book a place for the next sessions according to your schedule…  That day, we talked about what was the situation in Noushin’s country and we held tears. After all, we were in a meeting room at a University. People do not usually cry in this meeting room. Noushin picked up her notebook with the long list of things to do and ran to prepare for the second session. People came!  Even more than in the first one. There was tea sent from the artist´s home country. There was soothing music to inspire the relaxed hand strokes while drawing. Besides the discussions about the symbolism permeated in colours, tastes, culture, and costumes, behind each session there was a “hidden” theme carefully designed by the artist: purposefulness, kindness, hope…

Seeing it now, I understand how those themes actually reflected the artist’s own journey within those sessions. “I needed some clues about what the future in Finland would hold for me, and I got them after this pilot. After a year, in standby mode, timidly trying to adapt, I needed that push to bloom.  Everything worked as a domino effect. I participated in a get-together from where I met wonderful people. By becoming close to that club´s organizer, I also learned the milestones of such an endeavour. Those milestones sometimes scared me, but the grace and how my friend overcame them, also inspired me to do the same. After having my own part in this project, I was invited by one of the participants to a contract as the artist for the Festival of Emotions. After that, I was invited to new part-time work with children at the library. Working with children has been my dream.”

A garden blooming in the city

My last question to Noushin is the seal for every pilot that happened in this project. Has this journey influenced the way you see the city where you live? The artist reflects: “Although this is just a first glimpse of what can happen here, I feel content for being here. Things might change, we never know, I am taking this ride and enjoying the view from what this domino led to”.

As a person who thinks much about others, Noushin was mostly proud for how her club contributed to others: “One person came to me to say that she was told ‘you don’t have artistical talent’, but when I look at her final work, I am amazed about the harmonic result”. Each pilot in this project where young people were challenged to co-create the city, has brought up new skills, new friends, and perspectives to the participants who enjoyed the clubs. Co-creation situations like this one is a practical way to promote inclusion (Jalonen, 2019). It is valuable to design a city where young people would like to live.  Noushin has brought forward how good it is to feel warmly welcomed. Out of the rush of the daily routines, it is always comforting to have that secret garden where we can leave our daily worries behind and contemplate the gift of being.

”Art is my comfort zone” Noushin Jafarzi
  • Jalonen, Harri (2019). Julkisten palvelujen yhteiskehittäminen – kaunista puhetta vai suomalaisen julkishallinnon arkea? Hallinnon tutkimus 38 (4), 305–311

  • Pitkänen, V., Välimäki, M. & Niemi, M. K. (2022). Foreign talents in Finland: working life, everyday life, and inclusion International Talent Finland Research Project E2 Research. Available:

  • Roadmap for Education-based and Work-based Immigration 2035 (2021, October). No. 86. Valtioneuvosto. Available:–952-383-939-7

Related articles