Helsinki, life in transit

Revealing the social life of mobility places in the city


Leaders of Helsinki envision the city of the future as one of growth, with expanded centers of social activities on offer for its inhabitants by 2050. Well-designed transit hubs could enable not only the integration but also the extension of the city itself. 

We identified transit hubs as those that feature multiple transit line options within a 200 meter buffer. 

Through analysis of social media data, we set out to explore transit hubs in Helsinki. We identify potential for future development, as well as highlight already well-connected locations that could be enhanced to facilitate future urban encounters.

We used Foursquare data to identify amenities and grouped them into; food, entertainment, culture, sport, and others.

Our set of 13 transit hubs includes; two metro stations (Hakaniemi and Helsingin Yliopisto), three railway stations (Helsinki Railway station and Tikkurila), Helsinki Airport, two harbours (Katajanokan Terminaali, Makasiiniterminaali), two neighbourhoods featuring tram and bus intersections (Sörnäinen and Erottaja), and a bus terminal co-located with a shopping center (Kamppi).

Makasiiniterminaali is the hub with the highest density of food amenities. However, according to Foursquare data, the hub is less used as a social place than expected.

Senaatintori is more often used as a place for entertainment than would be expected based on existing amenities. There are many public events and temporary uses here that account for high check-in rates.

Check-ins for cultural activities, and number of amenities vary greatly by hub. Erottaja has plenty of cultural amenities but only a few check-ins, while Helsingin Yliopisto shows the exact opposite.

Activity breakdowns of selected hubs based on Instagram pictures

Mobility activities account for over half of the total activities in the identified hubs, while leisure/social activities make up for 35% of the total.

The dominant secondary categories are nutrition, consumption and income related activities, while the least popular are education, health and civic activities.

Kamppi presents the most evenly mixed use, where mobility activities are even with nutrition and consumption activities.

Quality of the hubs

Based on observations revealed by tagging a sample of Instagram pictures from each hub, we identified mobility and social/leisure as the most prevalent activity categories. With a focus on the single dominant activity category (either mobility or social/leisure), we created a polar plot to arrange pictures according to hue and saturation.

The patterns revealed by clustering these images offer a way to see attributes that might be otherwise be obscured when focusing on the content of the individual images themselves.

Across the whole set, the majority of images clustered in the upper right brown-dominant and lower left blue-dominant quadrants, which roughly correspond to people/interiors, and sky.


Central area


Metro station

Helsingin Yliopisto

University metro station

Helsinki Airport

Airport and train station

Helsinki Railway Station

Central train station


Metro and bus station / shopping centre

Katajanokan terminaali

Ferry harbour to Stockholm


Ferry harbour to Tallin


Train and bus station for commuting


City square


Residential area


Train station for commuting

24 hours of Instagram posts

An overview of Instagram pictures taken in Helsinki in a day to identify if peaks in activity matched with recurrent events in the city.

Map of hubs and housing availability

The map shows the relationship between availability of housing options (Airbnb and long-term rentals) and proximity to transit and amenities. Sörnäinen, close to the the city center, transit networks, and featuring low cost and plentiful housing options can have potential to become a hub of the future. City planners could facilitate this development through the creative placement of heterogeneous amenities. 

Envisioning hubs of the future

Rather than focusing on counting indices (tags, check-ins etc.), it is perhaps more revealing to look at the proportional relationships among them. For example, when observing activity patterns the primary distinction between a mobility” or social” hub may seem readily apparent.

However, it is important to note that these are not mutually exclusive, but related categories. Indeed, looking for a balance between seemingly disparate categories may actually help to characterise a culturally rich, and functional transit space.  

Likewise, by analysing the ways that Instagram users choose to capture and portray the image of a transit place we can get a sense of how they both use and value the the space itself.

Through Instagram images, we characterised the hubs based on the main subjects depicted within three broad groupings: life (people, groups, pets), objects of value (including food) and the built environment (architecture, landscape, interior). 

With this in mind, we were able to identify proportional relationships between values associated with the ways that people portrayed their activities within these spaces.

A balanced depiction of value within these images may reveal that a place is architecturally and materially engaging, provides opportunity for social encounters, and of course fulfils its function by facilitating mobility.

These kinds of places for transit can be imagined as ideal configurations to support and sustain the dynamic complexity of Helsinki’s expanding urban future.

Project by: Ellan Spero / Judit Varga / Mari Isomäki / Maria Valese / Piero Zagami / Tino Rizzo / Zon Mattawan Sutjaritthanarak.

Additional support by: Edwin Hans / Maria Bobrinskaya / Natalia Shavkunova.