News and updates from the research group.
New paper out: Transit-induced socioeconomic ascent and new metro stations in Helsinki Metropolitan Area

18.12.2023 / Sanna Ala-Mantila

We published a new paper exploring how transit-oriented developments impact nearby neighborhoods demographics. We used a detailed method combining propensity score matching and difference-in-differences regression to study changes in household income, education levels, and the proportion of low-income households after opening a new metro station. Our findings reveal that improved accessibility does lead to an increase in highly educated residents, but doesn't significantly affect median income or low-income household numbers. Interestingly, these changes are more pronounced among residents in older housing and, to a lesser extent, among homeowners, but not visible among renters.

The link to the article here.

New paper out: How do Finnish cities compare in terms of sustainable urban development?

15.11.2023 / Sanna Ala-Mantila

We published a new paper examining how Finland's 20 biggest cities are faring in sustainable development by using a novel residential area classification framework. Our findings, based on detailed register data, reveal mixed trends in sustainability, with some areas showing concerning patterns. Despite a slight increase in city densities, there's no notable decrease in car ownership. Additionally, social sustainability appears lacking in several areas, particularly in mid-rise residential zones from the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. This study highlights the importance of effective metrics to track urban sustainability progress.

The residential area classification datasets created for this article for years 2000 and 2018 are openly available in GeoJSON format in Zenodo:

The link to the article here and the full press release here.

New paper out: Air pollution-related environmental inequality and environmental dissimilarity in Helsinki Metropolitan Area

10.10.2023 / Ákos Gosztonyi

We published a new paper studying the complex relationship between socio-economic status and air pollution in Helsinki Metropolitan Area, and uncovered some surprising findings. Contrary to the usual assumption that lower income means more pollution, our data reveals an intriguing inverted U-shaped pattern when air pollution is contrasted against income of neighborhoods. This means that locations in the middle range face higher levels of air pollution. However, when the distribution of low-income people is considered, lower income people tend to reside in more disadvantageous locations in terms of air pollution. Furthermore, we discovered hotspots for improving air quality related environmental inequalities. Our study also examined how factors like car ownership, heating types, and housing ownership may contribute to what appears to be a clear case of environmental injustice. This research sheds new light on the intricate ways in which income and air pollution intersect in urban settings.

The link to the article here.

Conference Session Explores the Systemic Interplay of Housing, Transportation, and Energy Use for a Just and Sustainable Future

30.6.2023 / Ákos Gosztonyi

Ákos Gosztonyi and Linda Karjalainen co-chaired a thought-provoking conference session at the esteemed Sustainability Science Days, jointly organized by the University of Helsinki and Aalto University in May 2023. The session delved into the systemic interdependencies among homes, transportation, and energy use, recognizing their profound embeddedness in the socio-spatial fabric of everyday life and their potential to reinforce vulnerabilities.

Addressing the imperative of achieving a healthier, fairer, and more sustainable future, the session emphasized the need to transcend isolated remedies and technological advancements. It underscored the significance of placing individuals, communities, and their lived realities at the heart of solutions, ensuring positive systemic change.

The session shed light on the undeniable influence of our living spaces, energy consumption patterns, and modes of transportation on our surroundings, as well as the reciprocal impact of our environments on our residential choices, energy use, and mobility. However, it also underscored that these choices are not equally available to everyone, as they are constrained by socio-economic and socio-spatial factors.

The session featured short presentations from distinguished researchers and practitioners, summarizing their recent work and pinpointing key challenges encountered. The presentations were followed by an engaging panel discussion, where the identified challenges were thoroughly examined and potential pathways for positive change were explored. Importantly, the audience actively contributed to the lively discussion.

Beside Ákos Gosztonyi, two members of the Sustainable Urban Systems Research Group contributed to the session. Aleksi Karhula presented the results of a recent research on transit-induced gentrification in Helsinki Metropolitan Area, in which the effects of new metro stations on neighborhood change were examined. His presentation was followed by Antti Kurvinen’s contribution on the challenges of sustainable repairs and renovations in the case of Finnish housing stock.

All speakers underscored the importance of exploiting interdisciplinary synergies for a just transition, in which environmental sustainability, social justice, and the well-being of individuals and communities are carefully balanced. Through collaborative efforts and an inclusive approach, this session aimed to inspire meaningful change and foster a future where all aspects of sustainable living are harmoniously integrated.

Best Finnish-speaking urban paper of the year 2022 awarded to us and co-authors

1.6.2023 / Sanna Ala-Mantila

In this year’s Urban Studies conference in Turku, the annual price for the best Finnish-speaking journal publication in the field of urban research was given to the article “Kaupunkien rooli kestävyysmurroksessa: planetaarisen kaupungistumisen ja kaupunkien aineenvaihdunnan näkökulmat” (translated as “The role of cities of sustainability transformation: the views from planetary urbanization and urban metabolism”). Sanna Ala-Mantila is the first author of this transdisciplinary paper, in addition to Tuuli Hirvilammi, Salla Jokela, Markus Laine, and Mikko Weckroth. The original paper is published in Terra and can be accessed here.

The price was evaluated to win because it opens a well-structured picture of the theme of a sustainable city and examines it from a broader perspective than before, as a coordination of efforts instead of solving sub-problems. The article emphasizes that the environmental effects of cities extend far beyond their borders. However, the issue is still not sufficiently understood, monitored, and taken into account. In the article, the social sustainability of cities is also dealt with meritoriously. It should emphasize the use values of the environment for residents, and also succeed in combating eco-gentrification. The latter can mean that people with limited resources find themselves in a more difficult position than before in the sustainability crisis. The full rationale can be read in full from here (only in Finnish).

We warmly recommend the article for e.g. practitioners and students, as we aimed to write it in an easily approachable way, synthetizing several theoretical ideas and presenting two concrete urban development examples from the field.

Ovatko 40-vuotiaat suomalaiset lähtöisin maaseudulta vai kaupungeista? Entä 40-vuotiaat pääkaupunkiseutulaiset?

24.6.2021 / Aleksi Karhula

Olemme Smartland-tutkimushankkeessa tehdyssä artikkelissa (Karhula et al. 2021) hahmotelleet tällä hetkellä noin 40-vuotiaiden, 1980 ja 1981 syntyneiden, suomalaisten asumisympäristöpolkuja perustuen Tilastokeskuksen anonymisoituihin rekisteriaineistoihin. Aineistomme sisältää kaikki suomalaiset ja asumispolkuja tarkastelemme käyttäen Suomen ympäristökeskuksen kaupunki–maaseutuluokitusta (Helminen et al. 2014). 40-vuotiaiden asuinympäristöurat luovat kuvan varsin kaupunkimaisesta ja yhä kaupungistuvasta Suomesta. Oheisessa kuvassa jokainen viiva kuvastaa ihmistä ja viivan väri asuinympäristöä 7-vuotiaasta aina 37-vuotiaaksi asti. Selkeyden vuoksi viivat on myös ryhmitelty lapsuuden tyypillisimmän asuinpaikan mukaan kaupunkimaisista asuinpaikoista pääkaupunkiseudulla (väreistä tumman punertava) ja muualla suomessa (oranssit värit) aina harvaan asuttuun maaseutuun (tumman vihreä) ja ulkomailla vietettyyn lapsuuteen (sininen) asti. Koko Suomea kuvastavasta vasemmasta sarakkeesta näemme eri kaupunkiseuduilla lapsuutensa viettäneiden suhteelliset osuudet ja myös asuinpaikan iän mukaan. Hyvin suuri osa nyt noin 40-vuotiaista suomalaisista on asunut lapsuutensa kaupunkimaisilla seuduilla tai kaupunkien kehysalueilla, ja suuri osa maaseudulla varttuneista on muuttanut näille seuduille 20–30 vuoden iässä, jolloin kaupunkiseutujen välinen muuttoliike on kansainvälistenkin tutkimusten mukaan yleisintä (Bernard et al. 2014). Suurin osa suomalaisista 40-vuotiaista asuu siis kaupunkimaisessa ympäristössä tai on muuttanut sinne jo varsin nuorena.

Pääkaupunkiseudulle suuntautuvan muuttoliikkeen osalta seudun 40-vuotiaista suurin osa on muuttanut muualta Suomesta tai ulkomailta (keskimmäinen sarake). Artikkelissa tarkastelemme myös tarkemmin maansisäisten muuttajien sosioekonomista asemaa ja havaitsemme, että pääkaupunkiseudulle niin muista kaupungeista kuin maaseudultakin muuttaneet ihmiset ovat 40-vuotiaina keskimäärin hyvätuloisempia ja koulutetumpia verrattuna seudulla lapsuutensa asuneisiin. Seudulle muutetaan siis koulutuksen ja työpaikkojen vetämänä. Tätä ei välttämättä havaittaisi tarkastelemalla seudulle muuttavia pääosin nuoria ihmisiä, mutta tämänkaltaisessa pitkittäistarkastelussa nähdään muuttajien päätyvän hyvätuloisemmiksi ja koulutetummiksi verrattuna kantaväestöön. Aika, jolloin maaseudun kouluttamaton väestö virtasi töihin kaupunkeihin, on siis jäänyt taakse – virta ei ole kääntynyt, mutta sen mukanaan tuomat ihmiset ovat erilaisia verrattuna joihinkin aikaisempiin ajanjaksoihin (SMARTLANDissä on aiheesta ilmestymässä Matti Kortteisen ja muiden tutkimusraportti syksyllä 2021).

Jos verrataan yleisesti pääkaupunkiseutulaisten ja pääkaupunkiseudun matalatuloisilla alueilla asuvien ihmisten asumispolkuja (keskimmäinen ja oikeanpuoleinen sarake), nähdään tutkimuksemme päätulos liittyen segregaatioon: erot ovat vähäisiä lukuun ottamatta maahanmuuttajien suurempaa määrää matalan tulotason alueilla. Muualta Suomesta muuttaneilla ei siis ole suurempaa riskiä ajautua matalan tulotason alueille – päinvastoin seudulla varttuneisiin verrattuna korkeampituloisina ja koulutetumpina he todennäköisemmin päätyvät korkeamman tulotason alueille. Jos otamme tulotason ja koulutustason huomioon, muualta Suomesta muuttaneiden sijoittuminen tulotason mukaan erilaisille alueille ei sanottavasti eroa seudulla lapsuutensa viettäneistä. Pieniä eroja on siten, että ulommalla kaupunkivyöhykkeellä nuoruutensa asuneet eivät asu niin usein huonotuloisilla alueilla kuin sisemmällä kaupunkialueella varttuneet. Tämä voi johtua tulo- ja koulutustason huomioimisen jälkeenkin havaitsematta jääneistä varallisuuseroista tai esimerkiksi asumismieltymysten eroista kuten vaikkapa halusta asua omakotitalossa, koska matalan tulotason alueet ovat tyypillisesti kerrostalovaltaisia.

At the intersection of sustainable (urban) development, energy poverty, and digitization

18.5.2021 / Ákos Gos­ztonyi

ENGAGER-COST Network’s event brief on Mainstreaming Innovative Energy Poverty Metrics

With increasing Europe-wide efforts to shift towards a carbon-neutral economy, growing attention is being paid to household and transport-related energy use and their intertwined infrastructure. In the era of digital transformation, numerous opportunities arise to facilitate the shift in these sectors, ranging from novel technical solutions to the utilization of complex and large datasets. However, without careful considerations and well-crafted policies, both processes carry the risk of excluding the most vulnerable from enjoying their benefits and thus, undermining social sustainability and deepening energy poverty and inequalities.

How can existing (both transport and household) energy poverty metrics be further developed to avoid and tackle such risks? The ENGAGER-COST Network’s 5-day training school on Mainstreaming Innovative Energy Poverty Metrics aimed at laying the foundations for answering this question by gathering leading scientists and practitioners from Europe from the field of energy poverty and reviewing state-of-the-art metrology developments and real-life policy challenges. Ákos Gosztonyi, the latest addition to the University of Helsinki’s Sustainable Urban Systems research group was also selected to participate in the event. In his doctoral research, contributing to the CousCOUS project as well, Ákos will investigate the disproportionate burden of urban air pollution for different socio-economic groups and its links to energy and transport poverty in Helsinki and beyond.

During the event, experts’ opinion coincided on the importance of future metrics and digitization reflecting on the realities of diverse geographies. Moreover, the digitization of one locality should not come at the price of displacing the digital sector’s emissions and its burden to other, potentially less developed localities. Concerns were raised that the imparities of access to technological solutions may not only bring forward disparities in who can enjoy the benefits of developments, but it can also affect who and how data is collected from to inform policies and develop services; especially in light of the fact that the basic digital skill literacy in EU countries ranges between 29% and 79%. Translating these issues into further developing existing, “classic” energy poverty metrics, several future paths were identified calling for, among other things, more inclusive data collection while acknowledging the abundance of (often less compatible) datasets; involving more cross-disciplinary aspects including e.g. environmental sciences-backed air pollution data or urban studies-backed gentrification indicators; and emphasizing the multidimensionality and spatiality of energy poverty. At policy level, the participants critically evaluated for example EU National Energy and Climate Plans’ energy poverty-related sections and Stavanger, Norway’s Climate and Environmental Plan (2018-2022)’s respective sections as well.

The recordings of the training school held between April 26th and 30th 2021 are available here. Written reports and further outputs developed based on the event, incorporating both trainers’ and trainees’ inputs is available here.