Research groups and projects

Below you can see examples of the urban studies related research projects and research groups in the University of Helsinki.
Research groups

Digital Geography Lab aims at understanding society through interactions between people, and between people and their environment, from a geographical perspective. Much of our work uses people’s mobility and physical accessibility as an indicator of these interactions. 

Our work contributes to a wide range of research from urban geography, land use and transport planning to sustainability and conservation science. Methodologically, we are experts in mining and analysing spatial data, ranging from user-generated Mobile Big Data to more traditional data sources. We develop spatial analysis frameworks and combine them with machine learning. We pay special attention to ethical and privacy issues.

Our interest in SUS is to detect, define, and address externalities associated with urban living and environments, focusing on ultimately improving human and planetary wellbeing. This requires systemic understanding on urban areas as parts of local and global systems, and urbanization as process that unfolds and affects multiple levels of human behavior, ranging from consumption choices to wellbeing outcomes.

We aim to develop new knowledge on how different types of built environments interact with social and ecological sustainability, and thus ultimately help planning better cities. To accomplish these aims, we use mostly quantitative methods but also focus on developing theoretical understanding of urban sustainability. The research on SUS is at heart transdisciplinary and conducted in close collaboration with methods from economics and spatial sciences, as well interacting with relevant theories in political and economic geography, urban sociology as well as urban and spatial planning. 

Solving interactions between urban surface and the above atmosphere. 

Currently over half of world's population lives in urban areas and the fraction is expected to further increase in the future. Thus, increasing number of people is exposed to local urban meteorology and climate at the same time when emitting increasing amount of air pollutants and greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Our group studies the coupling between the urban ecosystem and the atmosphere using state-of-the-art observations and modelling (more details in Research section). Urban meteorology research group is part of Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR) and Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS).

Diverse, inclusive, and Collaborative evidence-based knowledge towards biodiverse and livable cities. 

The main goal of the Urban Biodiversity Lab is to untangle the patterns and mechanistic processes behind wildlife responses to urbanization. For this, we consider the three primary dimensions of urban systems – ecological, physical, and social – at different spatio-temporal scales. By generating first-class evidence-based knowledge through a diverse, inclusive, and collaborative approach (where networks of students at all academic levels and colleagues – both institutional and external – play central roles), we aim to support and direct local and regional stakeholders towards making evidence-grounded decisions that are in accordance with more biodiverse, livable, and resilient cities. 

In many cities, poor and rich people are increasingly living in separate neighbourhoods. Socio-spatial segregation – the uneven distribution of different social groups across the city – is not only growing on the neighbourhood level, but simultaneously affects other life contexts. Educational institutions, such as kindergartens and schools, are strongly connected to the socio-spatial fabric of the city.

In the GED research group, we study the complex relationships between socio-spatial segregation, educational inequalities and segregating future horizons in different urban contexts and emerging national peripheries of education.

Urban green infrastructure, including man-made features such as vegetated roofs and walls, produce regulating, provisioning and immaterial ecosystem services such as improvement of microclimate, balancing of hydrological cycle, carbon sequestration, habitat provision, active cooling/insulation, dust filtering, opportunities for gardening and local food production in kitchen gardens, aesthetic improvement, additional green space and recreational services and educational services via e.g. nature paths on the roofs. The area of roofs and walls in cities is enormous, so why not make good use of it for ecosystem services provided by building surfaces.

The research programme "Fifth Dimension - vegetated roofs and walls in urban areas" aims to produce high-level scientific and broadly applicable knowledge on optimal vegetated roof solutions in Finland.

The Spatiotemporal Data Analysis research group does research on machine learning algorithms to solve the challenges related to developing sustainable smart cities, mainly related to navigation and situational awareness.

UEP Research Group brings together researchers who study climate change adaptation and mitigation in an urban context. We work at the University of Helsinki.

We are a group of researchers working on topics related to climate change and urban environmental policy. Additionally, our research concentrates on other environmental issues and beyond urban context. Most of our members affiliate with Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS). Follow us in Twitter: @UEP_group For tweets about our research, check #UEP_research

The increasing demand for land due to urbanisation often takes place at the expense of urban green areas. These threatened greenspaces, including their soils, likely have reduced capacities to provide important functions or ecosystem services (ES), such as sequestering and storing carbon and maintaining biodiversity. An important aim of the Urban Ecosystems group is bringing ecological theory that has hitherto been the domain of natural/agricultural systems to urban milieus, focusing on urban forests, parks and meadows. Some of our current projects include studies of the impacts of domestic dogs and invasive species in urban greenspaces. Our group also maintains international collaboration on various research projects.

The research group Spatial Policy, Politics and Planning focuses on the political and governmental practices of producing, maintaining and transforming geographical space. Our starting point is that social production of space is never a “neutral” or technical expression of rationality. Under several research themes particular attention is paid to the links between expert knowledge production, the constitution of economic and urban forms, and the spatial governance of political communities. Our aim is to produce high quality research with both academic and applied impact. Our key research foci include: (i) Urban political geographies/economies; (ii) State spatial transformation; (iii) Spatial planning; and (iv) Geographies of well-being and quality of life

Social Studies in Urban Education (SURE) is a research unit focusing on the social phenomena embedded in urban schooling in diverse urban environments. The research foci comprise the themes of educational transitions in the life-course, urban and school segregation, diversified social environments and social dynamics in schools and classrooms, as well as the differentiated everyday practices and educational experiences of children and young people from different backgrounds.

The group operates primarily in the fields of sociology of education and urban studies, and aims to operationalise and analyse the phenomena on macro, meso and micro levels, as well as between them, through intersectional lenses.

Ongoing research projects

Urbaria has started a research project on indicators of social, ecological and economic sustainability in Finland, which can be monitored on a neighborhood level.

The Indicator Project is based on several dialogues between various leading experts, aiming to guide urban development in a more sustainable direction in a versatile and practical way. The purpose of the research is to stimulate discussion among decision-makers, urban planners, and citizens. We aim to make Finland's future cities more sustainable and resident-centered through academic expertise.

The year-long project will be implemented starting from May 2023.

Read more about the project

The GREENTRAVEL research project (2023-2027) focuses on the investigation of green spaces within urban tourism environments. The project aims to provide a novel understanding of the quality, accessibility, and well-being impacts of green urban tourism environments. Additionally, it will generate insights into the equitable exposure of urban populations to green environments and their well-being effects during travel.

The project leverages recent developments in urban informatics. Guided VR experiments and wearable sensors will be used to determine the significance of green tourism environments to people, why green areas are essential in tourism settings, and which environments hold particular importance for individuals. Through more traditional methods, such as street view images and 3D modeling with computer vision, essential vegetation areas will be mapped from a human perspective, considering seasonal variations.

Mobile big data will be utilized to study the movement patterns of urban populations and investigate the fairness of exposure to green spaces during their daily travels, including various modes of transportation.

If successful, the project will generate valuable knowledge about the importance, accessibility, and equity of green urban tourism environments. It will introduce innovative and transferable methods for analyzing green tourism environments in Europe and beyond.

The shift towards ethnic diversity in the Nordic countries is tangibly observable in residential areas of cities, where communities composed of first and second-generation immigrants have emerged. These residential areas typically find themselves in a disadvantaged position concerning well-being and political influence.

The Future of Diverse and Disadvantaged research project provides residents with a collective voice through diverse survey methods and panel studies. The research is focused on residential areas and suburbs in the metropolitan regions of Aarhus, Gothenburg, and Helsinki, where extensive survey data is being collected. The project involves four universities from four different Nordic countries: the University of Gothenburg, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Aarhus University, and the University of Helsinki.

Contact information:

Oskar Rönnberg

+358 40 5310893,

The Transformative Cities research project (2023-2025) aims to develop tools to accelerate sustainability transitions in collaboration with cities and businesses. Led by the University of Helsinki and funded by the Finnish Academy, the consortium project's goal is to provide information on people's everyday lives in cities and promote sustainability as a support for Finland's recovery and resilience plan. According to the project's leader, Christopher Raymond, it is essential to harmonize the sustainability strategies of cities and businesses to achieve sustainability goals. The project seeks to create data streams and systems that can integrate the expectations of residents, businesses, and public entities for a sustainable future. Thus, tools are being developed to support systemic and extensive change, helping citizens and organizations navigate through the transformation.

One of the project's business partners is Kone, with whom the University of Helsinki signed a strategic cooperation agreement in March 2022. Kone intends to leverage the research findings in the development of sustainable and intelligent cities. The project's city partners include Helsinki, Espoo, Lahti, Oulu, and Turku.

In the fight against climate change and coping with pressures arising from urbanization, cities worldwide provide solutions for modifying air pollutant emissions and thermal comfort. The CousCOUS project answers to possible challenges of air quality by helping cities plan climate-healthy urban areas, considering future traffic flows and population structures alike. CousCOUS combines the fields of artificial intelligence, atmospheric and social sciences to an unprecedented extent and therefore advances the state of scientific research in all disciplines involved. The project provides decision-makers and city planners globally with novel, relevant information and tools for creating future sustainable cities. The consortium utilizes and analyzes high-resolution data from various sources, including population, climate and traffic data, and works tightly both together as well as in co-operation with relevant stakeholders.

The intended long-term impact of the Integrative Mechanisms for Addressing Spatial Justice and Territorial Inequalities in Europe (IMAJINE) project is to contribute to the reduction of territorial inequalities in the European Union and to promote social and spatial justice, through the development of new integrative policy mechanisms. University of Helsinki is responsible for the Work Package 1 of the project which makes a review the key literatures on the concepts of spatial justice, territorial inequality and social cohesion and analyses their use in the policy circles at regional, national and EU levels. From the Urbaria researchers involved in the IMAJINE projects are Mikko Weckroth and Sami Moisio.  


Decarbon-Home provides research excellence in the intertwined and ongoing climate-related and social challenges which necessitate a major transition in the Finnish housing system. The key challenge to address is to reduce equitably the climate impact of Finnish housing and construction, which represent approximately 30% of the total GHG emissions and 40% of total energy use. Decarbon-Home analyses the housing system challenges from environmental, technical and social science silos to form a comprehensive understanding and create novel, human-centred solutions to climate-wise housing, especially via renovations.

To be liveable, equitable, resilient and positive contributors to global sustainability, cities need to be designed and governed as complex systems where technological and digital infrastructure supports ecological-biophysical and social-institutional-economic dynamics. We must cut across silos in disciplines, approaches, and knowledge systems by bringing technology, people, and nature together.

The SMARTer Greener Cities project (2020-2023) aims to develop and test novel tools and processes for explicitly converging social, ecological, and technological systems (SETS) approaches for improving life in cities.

Urban green spaces have an important role to play in mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects. It is therefore possible to utilize the potential of urban green in carbon sequestration more efficiently than at present. CO-CARBON is a multidisciplinary research project that aims to measure and model the carbon sequestration capacity of urban green. New solutions for the design, implementation and maintenance of carbon-efficient urban green are being developed not only through scientific research but also interactively with residents, businesses, cities and other actors.

The CO-CARBON project is implemented in cooperation between the University of Helsinki, Aalto University, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Häme University of Applied Sciences and the University of Copenhagen. The project is funded by the Strategic Research Council (STN) of the Academy of Finland. CO-CARBON is part of STN's Climate Change and Human Research Program (CLIMATE). The program seeks solutions to how people can make choices related to climate change mitigation or adaptation, and how society enables choices to be made sustainably and on an equal footing.

Urban areas are major emitters of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Along with a growing concern of climate change, several cities worldwide are pursuing carbon neutrality by reducing their carbon emissions and aiming at maximizing the carbon sinks of their green space, i.e. vegetation and the soil beneath. However, it is still not know how effective these natural carbon sinks can actually be in different cities under the current and future climates. This is partly due the complex land use and microclimate present in urban areas. Particularly processes concerning urban soils are poorly understood.

CarboCity will answer to these needs by 1) quantifying carbon storages and flows in cities in different parts of the world, and 2) finding optimal practical planning solutions for maximising these storages in the future. Our cities under study (Helsinki, London, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Beijing and São Paolo) are located in different climate regions, they have different vegetation types and manage their green areas differently. First, we will quantify the special characteristics of tree ecophysiology and decomposition of soil organic matter in urban green area and upscale these processes to a landscape-scale by combining traditional and new innovative methods from ground, air and space. In addition, we study for the first time the applicability of direct surface exchange observations of novel carbonyl sulphide (COS) in distinguishing the photosynthetic signal from the net exchange of carbon dioxide over mixed land use. We build the results into a general ecosystem-atmosphere exchange model and into an urban surface exchange model which is further developed and evaluated in this project to simulate the biogenic carbon exchange in heterogeneous microclimate and soil characteristics within a city.

The results of CarboCity provide us with detailed information on the processes and impact of urban green space in reducing carbon from the atmosphere, and means to maximize the natural carbon stocks in different cities. The results will directly benefit local stakeholders, urban planners and citizens by giving research-based knowledge about the effectiveness of different urban planning solutions in storing carbon from the atmosphere. The results support directly the carbon neutrality aims set by Finnish government as well as those of countries and cities around the world.

The Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone – HOPE project is about promoting a healthy urban environment in collaboration of different actors from local government and citizens to businesses and scientists. The project is led by the City of Helsinki and co-funded by the Urban Innovation Actions programme of the European Union. Within the project, we at the Digital Geography Lab aim to provide a better understanding of the multiple environmental exposures during travel. We study how people in the Helsinki capital region are exposed to air pollution, traffic noise and street-level greenery while walking or cycling, and what are their opportunities to experience healthier travel routes. We have developed an open-source Green Paths routing tool that helps to find walking and cycling routes with less pollution and more greenery that the shortest route. Find out more about the tool and Digital Geography Lab’s action from here and about the whole HOPE project from here.

Rats have lived with humans since the beginning of agriculture. Rats have also been studied by scientists in laboratories around the globe and we know quite lot about them. Nevertheless, we do not really know what they are doing when they live wild in city parks, sewers and tunnels, in their evolutionary new and ever-changing habitat. Our research project aims to uncover the spatio-temporal variation in rat populations, how rats share and spread parasites and pathogens and how humans feel and think about rats in urban setting.

More about the project here.

Cities in Finland and around the world are becoming increasingly multilingual and -cultural. Consequently, there is a growing need to understand urban multilingualism and its effects. The goal of this project is to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the linguistic landscape of the Helsinki metropolitan area by combining data from official registers and social media platforms. This novel combination of data provides insights on the residents’ perceived linguistic identity and the languages they use and encounter in everyday life. By focusing on language use, the project seeks to move beyond linguistic groups and towards identifying discourse communities, which form around shared experiences and issues in the city and extend across linguistic groups. Map­ping the lin­guistic land­scape of the Helsinki met­ro­pol­itan area (MAPHEL) research project is funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation (2020-2022) and based in the Digital Geography Lab.

Contact information

Assistant professor Tuomo Hiippala

+358503773366, +358294123416

UH-VTT-GTK research consortium is studying, how to mitigate induced seismic risk associated with deep geothermal power stations in the Helsinki capital region? Small low magnitude earthquakes pose a risk to the critical tremor sensitive infrastructure such as

  • hospitals
  • data centers
  • underground construction

Risk can be mitigated with transparent permitting, seismic monitoring and regional planning.The project will publish a set of seismic hazard maps of Finland and assess the potential impact of seismic waves on different parts of the capital area via 3D models: shear wave tomography, conceptual soil and bedrock model. In addition the project will study the different roles the national, regional and municipal governance in the wicked permitting processes. It will also study what sort of information and at what level of detail do the authorities need on induced seismicity and associated risks?

Find more details about project at the webpage of the project.

The research project ”Equality in suburban physical activity environments” is a co-project of geographers from the University of Helsinki and social scientists of sports from the University of Jyväskylä. The project studies active lifestyles, sports activities and especially residents’ equal possibilities to access sport facilities and physical activity environments in Finnish suburbans. Our special study areas are the Huhtasuo suburban in the city of Jyväskylä and the Kontula suburban in the city of Helsinki. Research results provides information to support decision making and planning. 

Specially, the project studies the applicability of GIS (geographic information systems) when supporting decision making and planning. The project is developing new GIS data outputs and even indicators and tools to describe the spatial and temporal nature of residents’ activities and active lifestyles. It has been noticed earlier that active and healthy lifestyles helps to prevent exclusion. 

The project combines researchers from the research group Geography of Well-being and Education and Digital Geography Lab from the University of Helsinki and researchers from the Social Sciences of Sport, University of Jyväskylä. The project collaborators are the LIPAS-database and service, the city of Helsinki, and the city of Jyväskylä. 

Contact information

University lecturer Petteri Muukkonen

+358 50 448 9195, +358 2941 50775

How do religion and religious communities influence the life and well-being of cities and people living in them? Urban theology is a University of Helsinki based research and teaching project that aims to incorporate urbanisation-related themes into the Faculty of Theology’s research and develop academic theological education based on it. The project combines theory and practice and aims in providing new generations of theologians with solid and practical skills to operate in changing urban contexts. For this, community-based university pedagogics are applied and developed; teaching and studying take place not only in classrooms and libraries but also on city streets, churches, mosques, malls, and soup kitchens. The Urban theology project is funded by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. The project, however, represents academic research and teaching, unaffiliated with any particular religion or belief.

The overall aim of HERCULES is to provide ground-breaking, yet actionable knowledge about climate related health risks. We hypothesise that certain environmental and socio-economic parameters have an impact on individual’s health. Data on these parameters are analysed together with cohort health data on several time-steps, allowing us to make conclusions about their connections. Our analyses cover the whole of Finland, while the focus area consists of the six largest cities in Finland.

Voiman paikka (The Place of Strength) is a humanistic urban research project focusing on places that are important to the residents of Helsinki. We are investigating which places empower people in their daily lives, what makes them empowering, and how changes in these places have influenced urban dwellers' experiences of their local surroundings.

Our project aligns with the tradition of humanistic urban research, where the central focus is on the interaction between humans and their environment, as well as the meanings and emotions manifested in the relationship to places. The research employs both ethnological and toponymic approaches.

Past research projects

Re:Urbia is a study of the state and development of suburban housing estates in the 2020’s Finland. The research project analyses the multidimensional segregation processes in suburbs from the perspective of e.g. residential migration, schools and the attraction and holding power of suburbs, and re-conceptualizes planning solutions and services in the suburbs. Re:Urbia is part of Lähiöohjelma, funded by the Ministry of Environment for the years 2020–2022 for promoting positive development in suburbs.

Conflicts and Rethinking at the Margins of Kinship (CoreKin) is an alliance of researchers engaging in the creation of new ideas regarding relationships, kinship, family, and sexuality in various contexts. The project aims to address the question of "What is kinship about?" and thus contributes significantly to kinship and sexuality theories. This is achieved by integrating qualitative and quantitative data and by employing intimate economy fieldwork to explore different social realities within kinship. The project's purpose is twofold: firstly, to clarify how state policies and economic evaluations impact invisible, illicit, and otherwise marginalized care relationships, and secondly, to examine how existing practices reproduce norms and state power.

The Nordic City Challenge was a three-year project, in which an intensive course was arranged every autumn during 2016-2018, each time in a different Nordic country. The students accepted to the course had diverse backgrounds, such as planning, design, architecture, landscape architecture, urban ecology, sociology, environmental-/ water engineering, and urban and human geography. The course was academically grounded and planned together with qualified teachers and researchers from the field.

Mixed classes And Pedagogical Solutions (MAPS) was a comparative research project carried out in collaboration between the universities of Helsinki, Amsterdam and Iceland. We sought answers to how urban schools in Helsinki, Amsterdam and Reykjavík tackle challenges brought on by segregation with the idea of inclusive education. The project was situated in the research unit Social Studies in Urban Education (SURE). MAPS was funded by NordForsk for a three-year period in 2018–2020.

The JustDe research project examines the ways in which new spatial planning governance networks and traditional government practices are juxtaposed in a city-regional context. We study how new planning practices are interpreted by different actors, and what kind of implications these interpretations have for the justification of societal decision making and the idea of the “political” in spatial planning. The empirical focus is on the relatively recent state initiatives in Finland, Sweden and Norway, in which strategic agreements concerning spatial development and major infrastructure and innovation investments are in a pivotal role. The JustDe project is funded by the Academy of Finland 2018-2022.

The Connecting Community Gardens was an interdisciplinary research project that examines allotment gardens as multifunctional green infrastructures that enhance vitality and reduce inequality in Vantaa. The project investigated the social relationships formed among neighborhood residents through allotment gardens and, more broadly, the potential of allotment gardens in preventing segregation and activating unused urban space.

Vantaa's suburbs are ethnically diverse and rapidly growing residential areas. The City of Vantaa has significant potential to cultivate and develop the role of green spaces in its suburbs.

Contact information

Postdoctoral researcher Seona Candy

+358294150774, +358504750915

The research project examines community resilience in Helsinki during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community resilience is defined as the capability of local communities to face crises, act in them, and take care of the wellbeing of their members.

The research focuses on the so called third and fourth sectors, referring to associations, non-governmental organizations, and religious communities and self-organized civic engagement and activism by local residents, respectively. Local businesses and the city organization are examined as partners of the third and fourth sectors.

We will investigate how residential areas of Helsinki differ from one another in their communal activities during the pandemic, and what kind of a role these activities have in the wellbeing of residents in these areas. What kind of segregation of community resilience exists in Helsinki, and how can different actors, especially the city organization, prevent such segregation during the COVID-19 pandemic and also in future crises. Particular attention is paid to people in the most vulnerable position and their wellbeing.

We refer to the combination of churches, cooperatives, housing companies, student unions, and similar entities as a paradigmatic democratic system: membership is voluntary, it exists alongside formal democracy, and it significantly influences everyday life. Formal democracy encompasses all that we commonly refer to as institutional democracy: representative democracy, such as municipal, parliamentary, and European elections, as well as other forms of citizen participation such as hearings and citizens' initiatives.

The Total Democracy project investigates how the Finnish institutional democratic system functions as a whole. It is the first study that takes into account not only the formal democratic system but also the entire paradigmatic democratic system and the connections between them. The project focuses on examining the democracy within large cooperatives, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and housing companies, as well as the cultural tools underlying participation in these entities and their connections to corresponding aspects of formal democracy.


"Know Your Neighbour" is a collaborative project between the University of Helsinki, Otava Folk High School, and Butterworks Oy media house. The project explores the possibilities provided by the Imitation Game for research, education, and media use. Our goal is to increase empathy and foster deeper understanding between ever-changing neighborhoods.