Equal chats over coffee and encounters in markets and squares




According to retiring Mayor Ritva Viljanen, the best things about Vantaa are the nice people, the mindset for getting things done, the rugged atmosphere and the unpretentiousness.

Hieman oikealla kuvassa nainen tummissa vaatteissa katselee veistosta vasemmalla. Taustalla lasia ja tiiliseinää ja ylhäällä maalattu taideteos.

Ritva Viljanen admires Laila Pullinen’s sculpture Harju/Herakles (2002) in the lobby of Vantaa City Hall.

As we were deciding where to shoot the photos for the interview, Ritva mentioned being a great lover of culture. She finds it wonderful that Vantaa has a lot of grassroots culture that is close to people. You just have to find it. Ritva believes that she will enjoy culture even more in retirement.

“Laila Pullinen is especially dear to me. My husband Veli-Pekka and I have been living in our current home near the Laila Pullinen Sculpture Park for over 30 years. When we were young, we went to hear Jean Ramsay give what I thought was the best presentation on his mother’s artworks in the park, giving amazing insights on them. It was the memory of a lifetime,” she said.

“I’m glad to have also been able to support the opening and development of the Laila Pullinen Home Museum on behalf of the city. The building has a wonderful atmosphere that you can sense when you enter. It feels like Laila went outside 15 minutes ago – there are a lot of small items around, and the furniture is as cramped together as it used to be. Even the paintings are where Laila Pullinen herself put them. Every item has a story.”

Ritva says that she has enjoyed Vaskivuori youth musicals.

“I’ll continue to come and see them. It’s amazing how professionally these young people can perform! They also play the roles of old people so convincingly that you forget they’re young. In the midst of all these crises, such performances and attitudes by young people give me hope.”

“Life is lovely when you realise it”

This could be Ritva’s motto, to paraphrase Tapio Rautavaara’s song Kulkuri ja joutsen (The Swan and the Wanderer).

“I’m a very positive person. At some health check-up a long time ago, the doctor said I have the stress tolerance of a top athlete.”

Nowadays, when Ritva goes home, she thinks to herself what a fantastic day it has been, with only a few days of work left before retirement.

“So I have the right attitude. I have never been so tired that a weekend of normal family life, cooking and the sauna has failed to revive me,” Ritva says. “I collect cookbooks. I always save menu cards and sometimes I try to cook challenging recipes at home. When Susanna Issakainen left our team to become the Director of Economic Development of Imatra, she gave us all a bread starter. Now I have a new mission in life: to keep it alive and feed it every week!”

Ritva has felt that her strengths – enthusiasm and interest – are the best feedback she can give to people in her work. According to Ritva, a leader must also communicate goals and verbalise the city’s activities.

“One example of enthusiasm, verbalisation and success was when we won the iCapital Award. We compiled Vantaa’s story and success stories. I thought it was great when we made it to the top three. That was already enough of a recognition for us. Then I was sitting there onstage and the compère was speaking. They were showing pictures of cities and I saw that Vantaa didn’t come second, either!” The stream shows people congratulating the runner-up and Ritva smiling broadly in the background.

In her work, Ritva has found many things meaningful: people, but also development, internationalisation and promoting women’s rights. Equality, fairness and non-discrimination are also important values for her.

“I enjoy the speed that comes from the development projects in my work – the tram, Tikkurila Learning Campus, the Håkansböle Manor area, Kuusijärvi and the Myyrmäki Urban Culture Centre. In Vantaa, it is easy to get things moving in decision-making. There is trust and a good team spirit.”

“I am very proud that Vantaa is the most international city in Finland. This is an open city where everyone is welcome. Meeting immigrant communities and their representatives is touchingly wonderful. They are so heartfelt. It’s nice to spend ten minutes of taking pictures together after each meeting.”

Ritva mused about how the negotiating tables of history books are often full of men in dark suits. She represented the first generation of female leaders who changed the status quo. Many times, “civil servant Viljanen”, who made her career in public administration, was the only woman present.

“You sit at the head of the table as if you had always sat there,” she said, describing her bold and firm approach to leadership and her work.

“I still feel like the youngest woman there, even though that may not be the reality of the current situation. I still don’t feel old! Women’s networking and women’s organisations are needed as new problems arise in society. Immigrant women face some of the same challenges that we have already tackled.”

Nainen tummissa vaatteissa istuu kaarevan kaupunginhallituksen pöydän ääressä kuvassa hieman keskeltä oikealle, ajatuksissaan katse pohtien vasemmaalle suuntautuen

After being Mayor

Having happily lived in Vantaa for 42 years, Ritva is not about to leave. Family has been an important support for her, and family life has helped put work issues into perspective. With family, she is just Ritva. Ritva is pleased that she will get to spend more time with her grandson Mauno, who is less than a year old, and to support the young family.

“When my own children were young, I was told time would pass quickly and to enjoy it while I can. At the time I thought, ‘I go to work, the laundry is there and the food is here and the baby is there, what do you mean quickly? This is life to the full!’ Now I can just enjoy the best bits.”

Mauno also attended the Children’s Council on Take Your Child to Work Day, which is engraved in Ritva’s mind as a wonderful moment at work.

“We voted on whether to paint the mobile library yellow or green. Our team had prepared papers that looked like a real council agenda. I banged the ceremonial gavel as we made decisions. The children were greatly excited. They had a real discussion about why green or yellow is better.”

“Everything went well at first while Mauno was drinking milk. But after that, he started socialising with the older children and babbled so loudly that he was disrupting the meeting. He also ate some of the meeting papers, which is not really the done thing! When it was time to vote, he grabbed a yellow card with both hands. There was no ambiguity about his opinion.”



Residents' magazine2/2023