Elias Willberg defending June 2nd

Yay! Elias Willberg will defend his PhD thesis “Measuring sustainable accessibility: Geospatial approaches toward integrating people and the environment”

Opponent professor Trisalyn Nelson, Jack and Laura Dangermond Endowed Chair of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, custos Tuuli Toivonen

Time: Friday 2nd June, 12 o’clock noon
Place: Suomen Laki- sali, Porthania, Yliopistonkatu 3
Stream: https://video.helsinki.fi/unitube/live-stream.html?room=l62

Abstract of the thesis

The central challenge of our societies is how to satisfy people’s basic needs and guarantee a good life for everyone, while staying within the safe planetary limits. Spatial accessibility, meaning the potential of opportunities to interact with other people, activities, and places, is essential for social and environmental sustainability. During recent decades, measures of accessibility have become an everyday tool for urban and transport researchers. By examining the satisfaction of basic needs, accessibility strongly links to social well-being and equity. Accessibility-oriented planning can at best enable environmentally sustainable solutions, which do not increase travel demand but support shorter distances and thus the increase of walking and cycling. In reality, improving accessibility is often based on improving the conditions of motorised transport, and the results can be environmentally harmful. Such contradictions remain sparsely studied in accessibility research due to the lack of holistic approaches. Most often, social and environmental concerns are addressed separately, even if the integration of perspectives would be central to promoting sustainability.

In my thesis, I take up this integration challenge. I develop conceptual and methodological approaches to bridge social equity and environmental sustainability in accessibility research. Conceptually, I present a model for measuring accessibility that integrates social equity, environmental boundaries, and their tensions and trade-offs. Methodologically, I leverage the opportunities of new geospatial data and tools. I develop geographical measures of accessibility, which are sensitive to the variation between people and temporal conditions, as well as to the travel environment. Empirically, I approach the integration of social and environmental goals from the perspective of contemporary themes in sustainable accessibility. The themes include the idea of 15-minute cities, environmental exposures during travel, and bike-sharing systems as accessibility promoters. I use the Helsinki Metropolitan Area to test the new approaches empirically. Hence, my thesis also offers place-specific understanding on accessibility and mobility patterns in this area. I focus my thesis on walking and cycling due to their vital role for sustainable transport. The thesis consists of five scientific articles, the first of which is conceptual, the second an overview of data sources, and the last three empirical and methodological, located in Helsinki or in the wider metropolitan area.

The results of my thesis show the need, but also present means, to combine social equity and environmental sustainability when measuring accessibility. There is a need to diversify the ways in which the travel costs are measured. Accessibility should increasingly be measured not only through travel time, but considering its full costs, such as environmental impacts. Furthermore, measures based on travel time should be developed to be more sensitive to the temporal and interpersonal variation. My results show that this can yield more realistic presentations of accessibility, especially concerning the opportunities of less mobile groups to travel sustainably. Promisingly, new geospatial data and tools offer increasingly means for the necessary development work, supporting researchers and planners. However, there is a need for careful consideration in the selection of data sources, as limitations and biases abound. Finally, my thesis highlights that multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches are essential in accessibility research to support evidence-based decision-making that promotes real progress towards sustainability.

The thesis synopsis is available in HELDA: https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/357760

The thesis contains the following scientific articles:

  1. Willberg, E., Tenkanen, H., Miller, H. J., Pereira, R. H. M., & Toivonen, T. (2023). Measuring just accessibility within planetary boundaries. Published as a preprint: https://osf.io/3h6wn/
  2. Willberg, E., Tenkanen, H., Poom, A., Salonen, M., & Toivonen, T. (2021). Comparing spatial data sources for cycling studies – a review. In M. Mladenović, T. Toivonen, E. Willberg, & K. T. Geurs (Eds.), Transport in Human Scale Cities (pp. 169–187). Edward Elgar Publishing Limited. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781800370517
  3. Willberg, E., Salonen, M., & Toivonen, T. (2021). What do trip data reveal about bike-sharing system users? Journal of Transport Geography, 91, 102971. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2021.102971
  4. Willberg, E., Fink, C., Toivonen, T. (2023). The 15-minute city for all? – Measuring individual and temporal variations in walking accessibility. Journal of Transport Geography 106, 103521. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2022.103521
  5. Willberg, E., Poom, A., Helle, J., & Toivonen, T. (2023). Cyclists’ exposure to air pollution, noise, and greenery: A population-level spatial analysis approach. International Journal of Health Geographics 22, 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12942-023-00326-7

New paper out: How to best map greenery from a human perspective? Comparing computational measurements with human perception

Fresh from the press, Jussi Torkko’s MSc thesis has been turned to an article, and it’s out in Frontiers in Sustainable Cities!

Torkko, J., Poom, A. Willberg, E. & Toivonen T. (2023) How to best map greenery from a human perspective? Comparing computational measurements with human perception, Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, 5, https://doi.org/10.3389/frsc.2023.1160995

Urban greenery has been shown to impact the quality of life in our urbanizing societies. While greenery is traditionally mapped top-down, alternative computational approaches have emerged for mapping greenery from the street level to mimic human sight. Despite the variety of these novel mapping approaches, it has remained unclear how well they reflect human perception in reality. We compared a range of both novel and traditional mapping methods with the self-reported perception of urban greenery at randomly selected study sites across Helsinki, the capital of Finland.

The mapping methods included both image segmentation and point cloud-based methods to capture human perspective as well as traditional approaches taking the top-down perspective, i.e., land cover and remote sensing-based mapping methods. The results suggest that all the methods tested are strongly associated with the human perception of greenery at the street-level. However, mapped greenery values were consistently lower than the perceived values.

Our results support the use of semantic image segmentation methods over color segmentation methods for greenery extraction to be closer to human perception. Point cloud-based approaches and top-down methods can be used as alternatives to image segmentation in case data coverage for the latter is limited. The results highlight a further research need for a comprehensive evaluation on how human perspective should be mimicked in different temporal and spatial conditions.

See a longer post about Jussi’s work in the lab blog 3/2022!

Figure 4. Mapped greenery values for the study sites. Vertical bar hue is weighted on the value with higher values having darker green hues and vice versa. Perceived greenery is highlighted in red for comparison.

The work relates to the finished Horizon 2020 funded HOPE-project (2019-21) and ongoing ERC funded GREENTRAVEL project  at the Digital Geography Lab as well the Exposure to greenery and noise in active travel environments: opportunities for making cities pleasant, healthy and sustainable at the Mobility Lab of the University of Tartu.

The Digital Geography Lab is an interdisciplinary research team focusing on spatial Big Data analytics for fair and sustainable societies.

Releasing the new Travel Time Matrix and GREENTRAVEL project 17th May 2023!

Howwell-connected is the Helsinki region for drivers, cyclists or public transport users? Does greenery support health and wellbeing during travel? How to plan for equal travel access and environmental sustainability? How are equal travel access and environmental sustainability related?

If you want to hear and discuss more about these topics, join us on 17 Mayin Think Corner (9.30-11.00) and Porthania Urbarium (11.30-13.00). The event is organized by the University of Helsinki’s Digital Geography Lab.

The event consists of two sessions. In the first morning session  ( 9.30-11.00), we will launch the new Travel Time Matrix 2023 for Helsinki region. The matrix is an interactive open access dataset that allows investigation of travel times for different travel modes in the Helsinki region. This widely used dataset has been published since 2013. It is now published for the fourth time, allowing for examining  changes in accessibility structures over an even longer period of time. During this session, there will be a presentation of the purpose and development of the matrix by the researchers. The stakeholders from the cities will also tell about their uses and experiences with the Matrix.

After launching the matrix, we will present our next big project GREENTRAVEL (2023 –2028). The goal of the project is to better understand the importance of urban greenery during people’s travel, its impacts on human well-being and health, and the equality of green travel environments. The event will be both in Finnish and English.

The second session of the event (11.30-13.00) is the GREENTRAVEL project workshop. The workshop aims to encourage cross-sectional discussion on how greenery is understood from a travel perspective, what wellbeing benefits it is expected to produce and how it can be better incorporated in current green infrastructure and travel and mobility planning.

Coffee will be served after the first part of the event. We also offer coffee and snacks for those who participate in the workshop.

Please register to participate by 12 May by filling the registration form.



Pääkaupunkiseudun uusi matka-aikamatriisi julki 17.5.2023!

Miten saavutettava pääkaupunkiseutu on autoilijalle, pyöräilijälle tai joukkoliikenteen matkustajalle? Tukeeko kaupunkiympäristön vihreys miellyttävää ja terveellistä liikkumista? Miten on liikkumismahdollisuuksien tasa-arvon ja ympäristöllisen kestävyyden laita? 

 Tervetuloa kuulemaan ja keskustelemaan näistä teemoista Helsingin yliopiston 17.5 Tiedekulmaan (9.30-11.00) ja Porthanian Urbariumiin (11.30-13.00). Digital Geography Lab-tutkimusryhmän järjestämään tilaisuuteen.

Tilaisuuden ensimmäisessä osassa (klo 9.30-11.00) julkaistaan pääkaupunkiseudun uusi matka-aikamatriisi 2023. Matka-aikamatriisi on avoin paikkatietoaineisto, joka mahdollistaa matka-aikojen vertailun eri kulkutavoilla pääkaupunkiseudulla. Paljon käytetty tietoaineisto on ollut saatavilla vuodesta 2013 lähtien. Se julkaistaan nyt neljättä kertaa, mikä sallii saavutettavuudessa tapahtuneiden muutosten tarkastelun entistä pidemmältä ajalta. Tilaisuudessa esitellään Matka-aikamatriisin tuottamisen taustaa, käyttömahdollisuuksia sekä kuullaan kommentteja käyttäjiltä.

Matka-aikamatriisin julkaisun jälkeen suuntaamme katseen tulevaan. Esittelemme Digital Geography Labissa juuri käynnistetyn viisivuotisen GREENTRAVEL-tutkimushankkeen, jossa selvitetään matkustusympäristöjen laatuun ja vihreyteen liittyviä mieltymyksiä sekä niihin kytkeytyviä hyvinvointivaikutuksia ja näiden alueellista, vuodenaikaista ja yhdenvertaista saatavuutta.

Tilaisuuden toinen osa (klo 11.30-13.00) koostuu GREENTRAVEL-hanketyöpajasta. Työpajan tavoitteena on kerätä näkemyksiä kaupunki- ja liikennesuunnittelun tietotarpeista liikkumisympäristöjen laadun osalta, pohtia liikkumisympäristön laadun hyvinvointivaikutuksia, oppia kaupunkien käynnissä olevista strategia- tai suunnitteluprosesseista sekä pyrkiä edistämään kaupunkien ja tutkijoiden yhteistyötä hankkeen aikana.

Tilaisuuden ensimmäisen osan jälkeen on kahvitarjoilu. Työpajaan osallistuville tarjoamme myös pientä purtavaa.

Rekisteröidy mukaan 12.5. mennessä täyttämällä ilmoittautumislomake.



Wrapping up a successful year at Digital Geography Lab

The year 2022 has been difficult for us Europeans. Therefore, it seems particularly important to search for good things from close by. From the perspective of Digital Geography Lab, it’s a pleasure to wrap up the successful year 2022.

Our group members: present, previous and future

We’ve had 15-17 researchers working in the Lab during the year 2022 . The team has been relatively stable, but of course changes take place. Tatu Leppämäki joined as a PhD researcher in MOBICON project and Oleksandr Karasov as a post-doc in BORDERSPACE project. Håvard Aagesen officially moved to Norway, but for real remains in close collaboration with us. At the end of the year, Charlotte van der Lijn, Emil Ehnström, and Marisofia Nurmi will move forward as YLLI project ends at the end of the year. They all have exciting workplaces waiting for them from January onward! While some are moving on, the recruitment for future positions has started, and at least four new researchers will joint the Lab early next year. We are already able to welcome Silviya Korpilo as a postdoctoral researcher in GREENTRAVEL and Aina Brias Guinart for MOBICON project!

On top of the researchers, we’ve had many wonderful MSc students working in our projects. Out of the earlier students, MSc Jussi Torkko won the price of the best thesis by the City of Helsinki with his work in our Lab!

Also the connections have been tight with many of the former lab members, and we have been happy to work together with our lovely collaborators close and further away.

Our first lab meeting after summer holidays. From left Tuomas Väisänen, Elias Willberg, Tatu Leppämäki, Janika Raun, Christoph Fink, Kerli Müürisepp, Olle Järv and Johanna Eklund celebrating the summer and the start of the new academic year. All of these lovely peeps continue in DGL also in 2023!

Scientific successes: new projects and plenty of papers

We have been productive scientifically by many measures. We’ve made scientific contributions in advancing knowledge and methods on using big spatial data for advancing environmental sustainability, wellbeing and socio-spatial equities. The results have been published in  more than 20 refereed empirical or review papers in respected scientific journals. We started a new, long-term project MOBICON and smaller project MATRIX. We received positive funding results for Tuuli Toivonen‘s ERC Consolidator Grant project GREENTRAVEL and H2020 project MOBITWIN. Johanna Eklund continued successfully with her Sustainable conservation outcomes project, Tuomo Hiippala with MAPHEL and Olle Järv with BORDERSPACE and its sister projects. Tuuli’s URBANAGE advanced well with the efforts of Christoph Fink and Elias Willberg. YLLI and MOPA projects were successfully finished. Also academic careers were advanced: Johanna Eklund and Henrikki Tenkanen received the Title of Docent linked to our Lab.

The last scientific paper of the year was accepted just before holidays. It deals with accessibility and 15-minute city, considering also the slippery conditions – demonstrated here by the authors Willberg & Fink!

Reaching out through collaborations, conferences and keen teaching

Our lab has been taking part in teaching. We’ve been responsible for highly popular courses Introduction to Advanced Geoinformatics, Geopython, Automating GIS processes, Advanced Seminar in Geoinformatics and Analysing Accessibility and Mobility. Particular thanks to Tuomas Väisänen, Christoph Fink and Olle Järv for your contributions!  Tuuli acted as the Director of the Degree Programmes of Geography until August and lead the process of renewing the MSc curriculum. Petteri Muukkonen continues as the Director of the Urban Studies and Planning Programme.

Wrapping up the Analysing Accessibility and Mobility -course with a student seminar. Olle leads the way!

We reached out to the scientific community in many ways. We had a large representation in Mobile Tartu Conference in the summer and some participated the Conference of Location Based Services, ECCB, Monitoring and Management of Visitors and Urban Transitions 2022. We used Twitter actively (particularly Oleksandr during the #30DayMapChallenge!) and were actively blogging. We spent time productive with collaborators in Cambridge, Luxemburg, Munich, Tartu and Uppsala. Closer by, we were happy to work with collaborators e.g. at Aalto University, Elisa Oyj, SYKE, FMI, LUKE, the City of Helsinki and Metsähallitus.

We had many presentations in Mobile Tartu conference, e.g. by Kerli Müürisepp, Janika Raun, Olle Järv, Christoph Fink and Elias Willberg. Tuuli (in pic) chaired a panel discussion.

Enjoying life!

We’ve respected the principle of celebrating every step when preparing articles or submitting applications. Considering the amount of activities in 2022, this has been often. And, as some of the important parties (like Doctors2020/2021!) were not organised during covid times, we have been catching up even with these celebrations.

Joel Jalkanen‘s mega-karonkka, 1.5 years after the doctoral defense, was a clear festive highlight of the year! Here former and present Digital Geography Lab members pictured with the star of the day. Note also three other #doctors2020 in picture: Gonza Cortés Capano, Vuokko Heikinheimo and Christoph Fink, and the former or future  lab members Claudia Bergroth, Henna Fabritius and Anna Hausmann.

On top of festivities, we’ve spent time together by brainstorming together or after office hours climbing, boating, dining, and bathing in sauna. We have also been lucky for good things in people’s personal lives: We welcomed new  family members and celebrated new homes for many ❤️
Now it’s time to rest a bit and enjoy the holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy and Peaceful New Year to all! Looking forward to joint scientific adventures in 2023!

Digital Geography Lab is recruiting! Three positions now open!

We are opening three positions in the upcoming ERC-funded project GREENTRAVEL: Greener Travel Environments for Everyone – from measured wellbeing impacts to Big Data analytics (2023-2027). The project studies the equitable availability of green travel environments for urban populations, and their potential wellbeing impacts. The project applies a mix of novel approaches from Virtual Reality experimentation to computer vision and from big data mining to spatial analysis. The project starts from the Helsinki region and then expands to several other European cities including London and Berlin. The aim is to produce knowledge that can be used to advance the quality and sustainability of urban environments, for all.

 The following positions are now open:

Doctoral Researcher in Spatial Modelling of Greenery Exposure:
The doctoral researcher will focus on analysing people’s everyday mobilities in urban environments and their exposure to greenery during these travels. During the PhD process, the researchers will grow to be an expert of travel-related greenery exposure modelling using mobile big data and seasonally sensitive greenery information, from the perspective of wellbeing and spatial and social equality.  More information: https://jobs.helsinki.fi/job/Helsinki/756838602/?feedId=350602&utm_source=CareerSite_UniversityOfHelsinki

Postdoctoral Researcher in Health and Wellbeing Impacts of Green Travel Environments:
The postdoctoral researcher will focus on the wellbeing and health impacts of green travel environments. The research aims at finding out if and how varying types of greenery or other natural elements influence travel experience and wellbeing during daily urban travels, and if seasonal variation and geographical context matters. These questions will be studied through extensive surveys and controlled experimentation in VR and in real environments. The postdoctoral researcher will be offered up to 3-year contract.  More information: https://jobs.helsinki.fi/job/Helsinki/756842702/?feedId=350602&utm_source=CareerSite_UniversityOfHelsinki

Postdoctoral Researcher in Designing Virtual Reality Environments for Green Travel Experiments:
The postdoctoral researcher focuses on designing realistic virtual reality (VR) environments with varying greenery features and seasons, to be used for controlled experiments of greenery exposure during travel. These experimentations will be a group effort of the GREENTRAVEL project team and the postdoctoral researcher will have a key role in developing the realistic VR environments with varying levels of urban greenery and other nature elements, and studying their usability in controlled scientific experimentations.  More information: https://jobs.helsinki.fi/job/Helsinki/756839202/?feedId=350602&utm_source=CareerSite_UniversityOfHelsinki


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The Digital Geography Lab is an interdisciplinary research team focusing on spatial Big Data analytics for fair and sustainable societies. Go to the main site here. 


Done with the teaching! Overview of autumn 2019 courses

Autumn term is coming to an end!

Course teaching at the University of Helsinki is ending this week for the winter break. This autumn, researchers at the Digital Geography Lab have been working hard to share their knowledge and train the next generation. Innovative teaching approaches and teaching materials have also been developed further for the use of the University of Helsinki Geography programmes.

We congratulate and thank Vuokko Heikinheimo for leading and updating the hugely successful Automating GIS processes course together with Henrikki Tenkanen, Olle Järv for running and improving the Quantitative research techniques and analysis in human geography course, and Joel Jalkanen for putting lots of effort to re-inventing the Conservation Planning and Zonation course, together with Enrico Di Minin.

Continue reading “Done with the teaching! Overview of autumn 2019 courses”