Capturing time in space: Dynamic analysis of accessibility and mobility to support spatial planning with open data and tools

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Understanding the spatial patterns of accessibility and mobility are a key (factor) to comprehend the functioning of our societies. Hence, their analysis has become increasingly important for both scientific research and spatial planning. Spatial accessibility and mobility are closely related concepts, as accessibility describes the potential to move by modeling, whereas spatial mobility describes the realized movements of individuals. While both spatial accessibility and mobility have been widely studied, the understanding of how time and temporal change affects accessibility and mobility has been rather limited this far. In the era of ‘big data’, the wealth of temporally sensitive spatial data has made it possible, better than ever, to capture and understand the temporal realities of spatial accessibility and mobility, and hence start to understand better the dynamics of our societies and complex living environment. In this thesis, I aim to develop novel approaches and methods to study the spatio-temporal realities of our living environments via concepts of accessibility and mobility: How people can access places, how they actually move, and how they use space. I inspect these dynamics on several temporal granularities, covering hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly observations and analyses. With novel big data sources, the methodological development and careful assessment of the information extracted from them is extremely important as they are increasingly used to guide decision-making. Hence, I investigate the opportunities and pitfalls of different data sources and methodological approaches in this work. Contextually, I aim to reveal the role of time and the mode of transportation in relation to spatial accessibility and mobility, in both urban and rural environments, and discuss their role in spatial planning. I base my findings on five scientific articles on studies carried out in: Peruvian Amazonia; national parks of South Africa and Finland; Tallinn, Estonia; and Helsinki metropolitan area, Finland. I use and combine data from various sources to extract knowledge from them, including GPS devices; transportation schedules; mobile phones; social media; statistics; land-use data; and surveys. My results demonstrate that spatial accessibility and mobility are highly dependent on time, having clear diurnal and seasonal changes. Hence, it is important to consider temporality when analyzing accessibility, as people, transport and activities all fluctuate as a function of time that affects e.g. the spatial equality of reaching services. In addition, different transport modes should be considered as there are clear differences between them. Furthermore, I show that, in addition to the observed spatial population dynamics, also nature’s own dynamism affects accessibility and mobility on a regional level due to the seasonal variation in river-levels. Also, the visitation patterns in national parks vary significantly over time, as can be observed from social media. Methodologically, this work demonstrates that with a sophisticated fusion of methods and data, it is possible to assess; enrich; harmonize; and increase the spatial and temporal accuracy of data that can be used to better inform spatial planning and decision-making. Finally, I wish to emphasize the importance of bringing scientific knowledge and tools into practice. Hence, all the tools, analytical workflows, and data are openly available for everyone whenever possible. This approach has helped to bring the knowledge and tools into practice with relevant stakeholders in relation to spatial planning.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


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