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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

GEOG3050 Helsinki : Urban Growth and Sustainability

20 credits

Module manager: Gordon Mitchell

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is mutually exclusive with

GEOG3064Field Research Project
GEOG3135Urban Transformations Field Class
GEOG3145Exploring the Mediterranean Migration Crisis

Module replaces

GEOG2041: Helsinki Urban Growth and Sustainability

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

During our week in Finland we concentrate on issues related to urban spatial planning and transport, through a consideration of the cities of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, the growth pressure faced, and the approaches used to plan for growth in a sustainable manner. We aim to investigate and improve our understanding of the relationships between urban function, urban form, transport and mobility, taking Finland’s two largest cities as case studies. We seek to (a) compare relevant features of Helsinki and Espoo (e.g. urban structures, transport supply and use, and activity patterns, characteristics, attitudes and aspirations of residents); (b) consider the implications for planning desirable urban futures; and (c) contrast our findings with our knowledge and experience of wider international contexts. Our approach will be based on the design, delivery and analysis of a public questionnaire (English is widely spoken), an independent (small group) sustainable place observational survey based on planning industry methods, with support from local experts (guided visits and technical presentations), and observations from field diaries and photographic evidence. We will travel extensively through the region (always by public transport) exploring the Russian imperial core of Helsinki where we are based, nodes of urban intensification within central Helsinki and peripheral expansion (e.g. Vousaari, the new port suburb), as well as the ‘forest’ new town of Tapiola, and the other main centres of Espoo to the west. A (staff escorted) full day excursion to Tallinn, Estonia’s capital is usually possible providing a major contrast to Helsinki. Shaped in the 1200’s by the Hanseatic league, Tallinn is being reshaped as economic development sweeps away the communist urbanism legacy beyond the medieval walled city. A sauna night (subject to availability) provides an opportunity to meet with students from Aalto University transport department.


This module strives to equip students with:
a) an understanding of the relationships between urban form, urban function, transport and mobility, particularly for cities experiencing strong pressure for growth
b) an appreciation of the implications of alternative land use and transport planning strategies for sustainable urban development, enhanced through study of Finland’s largest cities, Helsinki and Espoo
c) an appreciation of the dynamics of the geographical processes underpinning the development of cities of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area
d) a knowledge of the historical context of development of Helsinki within its environs and the wider Baltic region
e) an appreciation of how local urban and regional characteristics of this part of Finland relate to the wider context of the changing geographies of contemporary Europe and how they compare with those of the UK
f) skills in the identification, collection and representation of a variety of information and data sources;
g) an ability to read the environment, undertake field research, plan projects and write reports to short deadlines;
h) an understanding of the practical application of concepts and methods learnt in the classroom.

Learning outcomes
Learning outcomes comprise an understanding of:
a) contemporary debates about approaches to sustainable urbanism, sustainable transport, and their interaction
b) urban growth drivers and the influence of alternative spatial planning approaches (principally plan led v market led) in accommodating growth sustainably
c) the geography of place and its constitution by social, economic, environmental and political processes, and the influence of place on these processes
d) the geographies of social difference, with particular reference to life-stage, class and gender, and changing needs and aspirations
e) considerations in questionnaire survey design
f) the process of data collection through questionnaire/interview and structured observation of place in the field;
g) strategies for analysing data;
h) sensitivity to ethical issues that can arise when conducting field work;
i) an awareness of a diversity of approaches to field research.

Skills outcomes
Cognitive skills
Abstraction and synthesis of information from a variety of sources
Assessment and critical evaluation of the merits of contrasting theories, explanations, policies
Critical analysis and interpretation of data and text
Developing reasoned arguments
Solving problems and making reasoned decisions
Practical/professional skills
Plan, design, execute and report geographical research both individually and as part of a team
Undertake effective field work (with due regard for safety and risk assessment)
Collect, interpret and synthesise different types of quantitative and qualitative geographical data
Recognise the ethical issues involved in geographical debates and enquiries
Key skills
Learn in familiar and unfamiliar situations
Communicate effectively (in writing, verbally and through graphical presentations)
Use information technology effectively (including use of spreadsheet, database and word processing programmes; Internet and e-mail)
Identify, retrieve, sort and exchange geographical information using a wide range of methods.


Lectures and student-centred learning together with one week of field work in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area (comprising three of Finland’s largest cities), including the following general themes:
a) Introduction to the contemporary cities of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area
b) Urban spatial form and its role in accommodating growth sustainably; Alternative spatial planning approaches
c) Origins and historical development of the Helsinki Metropolitan Area;
d) Baltic urban and regional growth and transport in a European context
e) Design of a common field questionnaire for class delivery in field

And more specifically to the field class itself:
a) Orientation in Helsinki
b) Land use and transport planning in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area (visits around Helsinki, Espoo and potentially Vantaa)
c) Technical presentations from planning professionals on issues related to module themes (e.g. planning strategies, growth nodes, transport infrastructure investments)
d) All class questionnaire work in Helsinki and Espoo
e) Sustainable places surveys based on industry techniques (e.g. LEED). Conducted independently (small group) throughout the urban region
We hope to offer an optional day trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. This has always been possible pre-Covid/Brexit. If circumstances preclude (or the option is declined) we will advise of unescorted alternative excursion options accessible in the region via the public transport pass.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours134.50
Total Contact hours65.50
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Private study will take the following forms:
1) Preparation for weekly lectures (e.g. reading, research for small group questionnaire development work).
2) Reading to prepare for the field trip and essay assessment.
3) Reading and data analysis to research and prepare the field trip report.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Through site familiarisation exercise, in class discussion over appropriate questionnaire design, essay assignment, and routine inspections of field notebooks and other work (questionnaire and area survey material) during the field trip.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1,500 words35.00
ReportProject report 2,500 words65.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 27/01/2023


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