Coffee and the White City: exploring the popularity of Helsinki's districts

Student workshop project, Jul. 2017

Different Helsinki districts are differently popular. How can these differences be recorded through the everyday photo streams on social media? In this study, we used Foursquare and Instagram data to analyse and map social media trends of the city’s most popular areas.

Both in real life and on the web, we see numerous mentions of how differently neighborhoods are being perceived in Helsinki by travellers and locals. We were also intrigued by an article from the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that suggests a tourist bubble impacting the city.

The goal was to observe Helsinki’s popularity through available metadata, analysing about 160,000 Instagram photos from July 2014 to June 2015, together with Foursquare and GIS information on the region.

After the initial selection of the most popular and densely populated districts, we studied them qualitatively on the basis of inherent processes and values. Coffee was selected as a basic value to be traced, as Finland is considered to be number one country by coffee consumption with its 9.6 kg per capita (2.64 cups/day, according to Euromonitor report, 2013). Coffee culture is interesting as it is diverse, ubiquitous, and could potentially be related to some globalisation/touristification/gentrification processes by its character/popularity/price. We were particularly interested in its properties as of analogue to the Big Mac index, but for the Helsinki city scale.

Comparing 60 districts within the Helsinki region, in relation to Instagram and Foursquare activity per sqm (y-axis) and population density (x axis, p/sqkm) we can visually select the 16 most popular and most populated districts. Our interest was to take into consideration all the 16: those that are more popular but less populated, and those in the opposite corner of the graph, for contrast. We can also group them by location and size, thus having 5-7 visually recognizable groups for further study about possible interrelations within them.

Popularity in time

Representation of a social activity on a big-time scale gives us a chance to identify general trend about life in a given area. During our timeline analysis of Instagram activity, we focussed on indicators, such as red-letter days or city scale events that help to denote who are the major social media actors of different districts. For instance, there are traditional celebrations such as Christmas and open international happenings such as Helsinki Design Week: observing what activities are recorded during these events in a certain area, we can estimate the level of “globalisation” of an area. There are also indicator areas, international mobility hubs such as Länsisatama – peaks of social activity that help mark global events of international significance.

Trend A (green)

Present in the Kruununhaka, Etu-Töölö, Kallio, Katajanokka, Vallila districts. High social media activity with seasonal increase during the summer. High peaks of activity during Christmas and New Year. No prevalence of international events, but high peaks of activity during numerous local events. Indicates lively, diverse locally popular residential/mixed-function areas.

Trend B (red)

Present in the Kaartinkaupunki, Kluuvi, Kamppi and Länsisatama districts. Consistently high level of social media activity throughout the year, as well as at the weekly level, with an increase on Fridays/Saturdays. High synchronised peaks of activity during large international events (e.g. Helsinki Design Week) and comparatively low activity during local holidays (e.g. Christmas). Relates to globally popular areas with a significant cultural/social value.

Trend C (blue)

Present in the Alppiharju, Taka-Töölö and Toukola districts. Low social media activity on average, with slight seasonal increase in the summer, and high peaks during local events. Corresponds to locally popular, mainly residential areas.

Trend D (purple)

Present in Punavuori and Ullanlinna. High level of social media activity throughout the year, with a marked drop around Christmas, New Year, and Midsummer and with no prevalence of international events. Even though areas are popular and diverse, this pattern can indicate a touristification process, visible by pronounced migration of expats during the aforementioned “family” holidays.

Trend E (yellow)

Present in the Eira and Kaivopuisto districts. Very low level of social media activity with a strong pronounced seasonal increase during the summer. Can be an indicator of a very touristified area or of an area with specific function (recreation).

Popular spaces

Our research discovered that there are certain types of space that are locally preferred to be presented on social media in different districts of Helsinki. Furthermore, we could identify an area’s prevailing function or character based on these observations. Whether it is an outdoor space with popular leisure or sport activities, a public indoor space full of social events, or a private space representing casual life, it is by comparing these categories and analysing their interrelations that we better understand the character of the city.

Trend A

Present in Eira, Kaivopuisto, Katajanokka, Kruununhaka, Ullanlinna. Pronounced prevalence of outdoor photos, that can be related to predominant recreational/park function and to high quality urban environments, which are consequently attractive for locals/tourists.

Trend B

Present in Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi, Kluuvi, Länsisatama. Pronounced prevalence of indoor public spaces and rare private interiors. Can be related to predominance of cultural/social/civic role of the areas.

Trend C

Present in Alppiharju, Etu-Töölö, Taka-Töölö, Toukola, Vallila. Prevalence of public outdoor and indoor spaces on social media. Indicates lively local residential/mixed function districts.

Trend D

Punavuori, Kallio. Equal segments, with possible emphasis on private interior photography. Presence of different kinds of photos indicates lively and diverse residential/mixed-function districts. Emphasis on private interior photography can indicate a “touristification” process, related to frequent sub-leasing of well-designed “fancy” apartments by tourists and expats.

Popular activities

Regarding activities popular on Foursquare, districts generally differ by the ratio between necessary activities (such as mobility, income, or nutrition) and optional activities (such as social or civic). Eira, Kaivopuisto, Punavuori, Kamppi, and Kaartinkaupunki stand out through the dominance of activities centred around social and leisure activities. In Katajanokka, Länsi-Satama, and Toukola, the distribution of activities is more balanced.

Trend A

Present in Katajanokka, Länsisatama, Toukola, Vallila, where the “necessary” type of activities is of a major importance. Katajanokka is generally about mobility, tends to be mono-functional, despite of Länsisatama, that is more diverse, having “income” and “nutrition” categories also present after “mobility”. Toukola has “education” and “nutrition” categories prevailing, while Vallila has “nutrition” and “income” in top. All these areas are of relatively low diversity, which indicates potential for their further development.

Trend B

Present in Täkä-Töölö, Alppiharju, Kaivopuisto, Ullanlinna, where within prevailing “optional” activities, “social” and “leisure” are dominating. Can be related to lively locally popular residential areas.

Trend C

Present in Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kallio, where within the prevailing “optional” activities, the “social” function is dominating, with a diverse even range of functions presented. Can be related to high quality globally popular residential/mix-function areas.

Trend D

Present in Kruununhaka, Etu-Töölö, where the “optional” category prevail, with activities of high diversity and pronounced “civic” function present. Can indicate high-quality mixed-function districts with an important societal role.

Trend E

Present in Kluuvi and Kamppi, with its “optional” activities prevailing and “consumption” category at the top. Corresponds to the globalised central city districts of high popularity.

Trend F

Present in Eira, with its “social” activities dominating. Could be related to its very high cultural/social value, and very globalised character.

Popular coffee spots

According to Instagram pictures, Helsinki is full of coffee. Finland has an international reputation as a land of coffee drinkers, as Finns drink the world’s largest amount of coffee per capita. But how are the annual 160 litres of coffee presented on Instagram and Foursquare?

We were interested in investigating all possible activity patterns emerging from the outcomes of both qualitative and quantitative analyses of coffee culture in Helsinki, as revealed through social media networks and relative locality/globalisation metrics of certain districts. To begin with, we classified all current Instagram coffee pictures within three categories, depending on their symbolic meaning, representativity, and casualness. Such categories, which broadly defined the identity of selected districts, were: regular coffee, branded coffee, and fancy coffee.

After studying all the Instagram photos from our selected districts, we analysed the data spatially and qualitatively. Kluuvi, Kamppi, and Kaartinkaupunki had the most of coffee pictures on Instagram. As we had not taken into consideration some weighting factor, we decided to also consider a number of coffee-serving Foursquare venue categories, such as coffee shop, restaurant, bakery, etc., and estimated the number of coffee pictures per coffee venue ratio. In the resulting graph, the strong hierarchy in the major central districts disappeared, and some places like Kaivopuisto or Katajanokka unexpectedly stand out. High levels of social media activity, compared to a relatively low density of coffee spots, could for example be an indicator of high demand and popularity at the local or global levels.


  • Kalle Laakso, Master’s Student in Sociology, University of Tampere
  • Ġerman Mitish, Master’s Student of Architecture, Tampere University of Technology
  • Cristina Montoya, Bachelor Student of Architecture, National University of Colombia & University of Alicante
  • Hoa Nguyen, University of Turku
  • Maija Palomäki, Master’s Student in Administrative Sciences, University of Tampere