An Uncontrollable Factor? The Role of Social Media in Urban Planning

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Along with the ongoing digital transformation, eParticipation tools are establishing their position in participatory urban planning practice. Despite social media being an essential part of the everyday life for many citizens, it is still seeking its role in Finnish planning-related public participation. The aim of this dissertation is to clarify the role of social media and its potential for urban planning, and to promote the development of a well-functioning electronic participation approach. The research design is a combination of an in-depth case study, which was carried out in a Finnish municipality through action research, and a broader survey and a workshop that focused on the role of social media in the context of urban planning in Finland. The theoretical framework builds on the tradition of participatory planning, and applies a dualistic model of eParticipation and the concept of planning culture. A central part of the framework is the concept of Extended Urban Planning, an approach that incorporates citizens' self-organization and people's everyday practices into planning. Based on the findings, the concept of planning culture is then extended towards a technology-oriented planning culture that emphasizes the impact of digitalization on urban planning. Based on the results, three different roles are suggested for social media in Extended Urban Planning: an interaction tool for participatory planning, a channel for bottom-up self-organization, and a source of information that reflects everyday practices. However, the results show that the prevailing Finnish planning culture is difficult to combine with the self-organizing features and uncontrollability of social media. The vague and conflicting role of social media cannot be explained solely by planners' personal experiences and attitudes, but is mediated by the conscious and unconscious elements of local planning cultures, such as the Finnish urban planning culture with its strong roots in comprehensive rationalist planning. Open knowledge building and multidirectional interaction that integrates bottom-up self-organization with administrative top-down participation has been proposed as a starting point for smart city planning. Based on the findings of this research, in order to adequately benefit from the potentials of the open and participatory citizen society also in the context of urban planning, this approach together with the different roles of social media should be taken into account both in the development of local planning practices, and in the digitalization of land use planning in general, as well as in the ongoing renewal of the Finnish Land Use and Building Act.
Translated title of the contributionAn Uncontrollable Factor? The Role of Social Media in Urban Planning
Original languageFinnish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Kyttä, Marketta, Supervising Professor
  • Staffans, Aija, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0031-0
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0032-7
Publication statusPublished - 2020
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • eParticipation
  • social media
  • urban planning
  • participatory planning
  • planning culture

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