Geographic information collected from smartphones helps in urban planning

According to Professor Tuuli Toivonen, geoinformation forms the basis for research that helps make the utilisation of urban areas and natural environments increasingly sustainable.

What are your research topics?

I am a geographer, and I exploit location data to study people’s mobility, accessibility and land use in cities as well as in natural environments. I use in my research spatial big data often created through ordinary people’s smartphone use, such as telecom operator data and social media datasets.

Using this data, I investigate people’s movements and their interaction with the environment and each other.

Where and how does the topic of your research have an impact?

My research findings are put to use, for example, in urban planning and in designing conservation and recreation areas. The goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding in order to make the use of such areas increasingly sustainable and equal.

It is important to understand in planning how different people use urban spaces and what kind of things they value.

This knowledge also helps to perceive how equal is the access that people have in their everyday lives to nature and other positive and healthy environments.

What is particularly inspiring in your field right now?

Spatial data produced by individuals constitutes an enormous resource that is capitalised on to a very small degree. By analysing this data, we can discover new details on people’s movements and behaviour. This information can be used in societal decision-making.

We always protect privacy in our analyses. Ethical and legal questions pertaining to the use of such data are awaiting resolution.

Alongside actual geographical and methodological research questions, it is inspiring to consider how all of the knowledge produced by research eventually affects geographical decisions – or whether it does in the first place?

Tuuli Toivonen is a professor of geoinformatics at the Faculty of Science.

Watch Tuuli Toivonen’s inaugural lecture as a new professor on YouTube.

Read about the other newly appointed professors.