Healthy communities through good planning

Professor Marketta Kyttä studies people’s experiences about the environment. Her research group helps to plan better communities.
Aalto University School of Engineering

Marketta Kyttä’s professorship is in land use planning. The research themes include, for example, social sustainability of living environments, health promoting community structure and child-friendly environments.

- Ageing people are one of our most recent research areas. We study how the needs of elderly people could be taken into consideration in urban and community planning to enhance their well-being.

Kyttä and her group have developed a method called SoftGIS, which has received both national and international awards. SoftGIS was introduced ten years ago and about one hundred municipalities in Finland and about twenty countries across the world have started to use it.

SoftGIS is a method in which people are asked about their experiences about the environment through the internet. Location data will automatically be linked with this information, which makes it possible to pose various questions important from the point of view of urban and community planning.

- I’m excited. A considerable change has taken place in urban and community planning in a short space of time. SoftGIS enables us to discover people’s opinions – also those of the passive majority – significantly better than before. Earlier, we had to settle with the opinions that were obtained from the most active people and from residents’ associations.

Child-friendly environment

SoftGIS was used in drawing up the new master plan for Helsinki, published at the end of 2015.  Helsinki residents where asked where they thought the city should under no circumstances build anything, and where they thought something could be built.

Those about four thousand people who responded in the survey gave their opinions about more than 33 000 sites that they chose themselves. Using SoftGIS, it was possible to find out how much the residents agreed or disagreed between themselves about land use in central areas.

- The responses from those who took part in the study were compared to the city planning composition. It turned out that the planning composition threatened to build on about 25 per cent of such green areas that people considered important. The result requires some discussion among the decision makers, Kyttä says.

SoftGIS can be used to find out how residents experience the safety of their environment or, for example, how easily and equally different population groups can access recreational opportunities in nature.

- Right now we attempt to study how urban and community planning can be used to help different resident groups to decrease their ecological footprint.

Active international research has been carried out on child-friendly environments for a long time now. According to researchers, an active environment that is good for children is also good for adults.

- Increasing the amount of recreational physical activity or a healthy diet are not enough to keep lifestyle diseases under control. Good urban and regional planning can promote everyday physical activity, such as riding a bike and walking to work.

A dream come true

Kyttä leads the Master’s Programme of Spatial Planning and Transportation Engineering that will be launched at the Department of Built Environment in 2016. In addition to PehmoGIS, it also includes many other topics in urban and community planning.

- This brand new master’s programme that we have been preparing for two years is a dream come true for us. It will have a multidisciplinary approach to urban and community planning and utilise for example social, engineering and human sciences as well as environment policy.

A maximum of twenty students will be admitted to study the master’s programme.  Kyttä hopes that there will be many applicants from the different bachelor’s programmes at Aalto University, and from universities representing different scientific fields in Finland as well as abroad.

Kyttä promises that the Department of Built Environment will follow the old Aalto University tradition: you teach what you conduct research on. In other words, students are in close contact with research topics.

- We have two large studio courses on which we collaborate with cities and other actors. We strive to use case studies as exercises.

Work prospects for those who graduate are good. There has been a lack of experts of urban and community planning for some time now. Graduates may find employment in different positions in urban or transportation planning, for example.

Contact information:

Professori Marketta Kyttä
[email protected]

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