Servus! Moikka! ¡Hola! My name is

Christoph Fink

I’m a social geographer, critical cartographer, and urban ethnographer

ORCID: 0000-0003-1251-9726 Mastodon: GitHub: christophfink


In my research, I am interested in people and their activities, in particular in cities. I research in which ways urban spaces and their meaning are constantly re-negotiated, and ask how digital, social and physical spaces interrelate. I am curious which forms of expression, which actions, and speech-acts people use to constitute their world-views and to reproduce their everyday realities. My research focuses on maps, digital platforms as modern-day agoraí, and the creative ways civil movements argue for their causes. Recurring themes in my work include active mobility, urban sustainability, the Right to the City, and socially just sustainability transformation.

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Digital Geography Lab of the University of Helsinki. I am involved in the Horizon-2020 project URBANAGE that investigates how and to which degree digital urban twins can help planners to better consider the specific preferences, needs, and restrictions of older people, improve accessibility for the ‘non-average resident’ to urban participation, and enable their rights to the city. In my most recent publications, together with colleagues, I discuss how data-driven smart city technologies could be made more inclusive to vulnerable population groups, and for whom 15-minute-cities actually work as intended. I am the maintainer of R⁵py, a Python library to rapidly compute travel times for different modes of transport as well as other accessibility measures at the scale of entire cities or metropolitan areas.

I completed my dissertation at the Helsinki Lab for Interdisciplinary Conservation Science. In the research leading up to it, I investigated whether the opportunities of big data, such as, for instance, social media, could be leveraged to address the ongoing global biodiversity crisis. To that avail, I evaluated different quantitative methods, such as natural language processing and image recognition, adapted to the use cases of conservation scientists and practitioners, and developed consistent workflows around them. As part of my research, I investigated the online trade in songbirds in Indonesia, and used the sentiment expressed in online news and social media to identify important events related to charismatic species.

In my Master’s thesis, I used a critical cartography perspective to investigate ‘implicit cartographies’. I asked which epistemologies are at play when volunteers contribute to collaborative cartographies, i.e., maps, map-like artifacts as well as collections of spatially explicit data, such as Wikipedia, and whether they reproduce different realities than maps authored by members of a more ‘explicit cartography’.

It is typical for my work to liberally change back and forth between quantitative and qualitative methods, and between different ontological and epistemological positions. Not least thanks to the topics of my PhD research and my first postdoctoral research projects, I am firm in quantitative methods, for instance, in the area of (urban) data science, but I also strive to keep up with the latest developments in qualitative, in particular, urban ethnography methods. I am a fond reader of critical urban theory, and enjoy discussions around the power of maps and the everyday structuration of space.


PERFORM! Urban activism by experts (Marie Skłodowska Curie Action Postdoctoral Fellowship) research project urban ethnography upcoming

The meaning of (urban) space is undergoing constant renegotiation, it is reproduced in everyday actions and in political discourse. In many cities, urban activists advocate for a more just distribution of physical urban space away from motorised traffic towards sustainable, human-scale cities. Most activists act on their own behalf, as concerned or affected residents; others choose to perform specific roles, for instance, as topic experts.

In this upcoming research project at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, I will investigate which roles urban activists perform, how they choose a role, and which motives influence the choice. I ask whether activists’ performativity can shift the political landscape in their favour, and how performed roles are perceived by politicians, lobby groups, and the public. I am interested in the influence of situational, cultural, and political settings; specifically, whether urban activists perform different roles online and offline, in societies trusting in experts and in more populist societies, and in the Global North and in the majority world.

I will employ a mixed-method approach that combines innovative quantitative methods from computational linguistics and social network analysis, and state-of-the-art qualitative methods from visual anthropology, digital ethnography, and digital anthropology. Beyond academic output, this research project will engage the public, among other channels, using videos posted to social media, and provide a ‘handbook’ to urban activists to support their work transforming our cities into more just and sustainable places.

URBANAGE: Can urban digital twins improve planning for older people? (Horizon 2020 project) research project urban data science since 2021

The world is urbanising, and its residents are ageing. How can we leverage emerging technology, such as digital urban twins, to assist planners and policy-makers in providing for a ‘good life’ for older people and other vulnerable groups while ensuring data sovereignity and privacy?

In the Horizon 2020 project URBANAGE, together with 13 partners from six European countries, my colleague Elias Willberg and I investigate how methods from urban data science could foster an equitable and just urban sustainable transition. In particular, we develop tools to assess the accessibility using active transport modes beyond the average resident. We provide detailed data on how well different neighbourhoods in the three pilot study sites Helsinki, Flanders, and Santander, function for people with different mobility preferences, restrictions and challenges. Our work is informed by a series of co-creation workshops that we held together with colleagues from Forum Virium and other project partners during which we jointly gathered the local and traded knowledge of senior residents, city officials, and urban planners.

R⁵py: multi-modal accessibility on a city-wide scale Python library urban data science since 2022

R⁵py is a Python library for rapid realistic routing on multimodal transport networks (walk, bike, public transport and car). It provides a simple and friendly interface to R⁵, the Rapid Realistic Routing on Real-world and Reimagined networks, a routing engine developed by Conveyal. R⁵py is inspired by r⁵r, a wrapper for R, and it is designed to interact with GeoPandas GeoDataFrames.

R⁵py offers a simple way to run R⁵ locally with Python, allowing the users to calculate travel time matrices and accessibility by different travel modes. Learn more about R⁵py at the library’s source code repository or its online documentation.

austromorph: anamorphic maps (‘cartograms’) on topics of societal, political, and economical relevance web site thematic cartography political activism since 2016

Critical perspectives, both societal-political, as well as vis-à-vis my own approaches and tools, is a cornerstone of my work. One prime example is the project, an interactive data visualisation page that I started together with my good friends Ramon Bauer, Michael Holzapfel, and Tina Frank on the occasion of the controversial elections for the Austrian federal president in 2016.

The page uses anamorphic maps, distorted to reflect the population density rather than surface area, to illustrate how election maps almost inevitably overrepresent rural voters. This effect was especially relevant and visible in the 2016 elections that lead to a run-off between the liberal green party’s candidate and the conservative candidate of a far-right party.

The maps were well-received and featured in evening news and multiple national news papers, as well as in an issue on ‘right(wing) spaces’ of the German ARCH+ magazine for architecture and urbanism.

Short CV

since 2021
postdoctoral researcher,
Digital Geography Lab,
Department of Geosciences and Geography,
University of Helsinki
PhD (with distinction) in Interdisciplinary Sustainability Science,
Department of Geosciences and Geography,
University of Helsinki
2019 - 2021
Helsinki Lab of Interdisciplinary Conservation Science,
Department of Geosciences and Geography,
University of Helsinki
2017 - 2019
Digital Geography Lab,
Department of Geosciences and Geography,
University of Helsinki
2016 - 2017
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology,
University of Vienna
2011 - 2014
Interfaculty Department of Geoinformatics Z_GIS,
University of Salzburg
Mag. rer. nat. (with distinction) in Geography (major in Cartography and Geoinformation)
Department of Geography and Regional Research,
University of Vienna

Full CV


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    Older people and the smart city – Developing inclusive practices to protect and serve a vulnerable population

    . Internet Policy Review 12 1 . DOI:10.14763/2023.1.1700
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    The 15-minute city for all? Measuring individual and temporal variations in walking accessibility

    . Journal of Transport Geography 106. DOI:10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2022.103521
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    Mapping hierarchies of mobility in the Baikal Amur Mainline region: a quantitative account of needs and expectations relating to railroad usage

    . Polar Geography 45 3 . DOI:10.1080/1088937X.2022.2046195
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    Relationships among Bicycle Rider Behaviours, Anger, Aggression, and Crashes in Finland

    . Safety 8 1 . DOI:10.3390/safety8010018
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    Digital Conservation: Novel methods and online data to address the biodiversity crisis

    . Doctoral disseration, University of Helsinki. ISBN:978-951-51-6583-1
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    How to address data privacy concerns when using social media data in conservation science

    . Conservation Biology 35 2 . DOI:10.1111/cobi.13708
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    Mapping the online songbird trade in Indonesia

    . Applied Geography 134. DOI:10.1016/j.apgeog.2021.102505
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    A pan-African spatial assessment of human conflicts with lions and elephants

    . Nature Communications 12 1 . DOI:10.1038/s41467-021-23283-w
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    Consequences of recreational hunting for biodiversity conservation and livelihoods

    . One Earth 4 2 . DOI:10.1016/j.oneear.2021.01.014
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    Digital data sources and methods for conservation culturomics

    . Conservation Biology 35 2 . DOI:10.1111/cobi.13706
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    Online sentiment towards iconic species

    . Biological Conservation 108289. DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108289
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    Understanding sentiment of national park visitors from social media data

    . People and Nature 2 3 . DOI:10.1002/pan3.10130
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    Assessing global popularity and threats to Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas using social media data

    . Science of the Total Environment 683. DOI:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.05.268
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    Social media data for conservation science: a methodological overview

    . Biological Conservation 233. DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2019.01.023
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    A framework for investigating illegal wildlife trade on social media with machine learning

    . Conservation Biology 33 1 . DOI:10.1111/cobi.13104
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    Machine learning for tracking illegal wildlife trade on social media

    . Nature Ecology & Evolution 2 3 . DOI:10.1038/s41559-018-0466-x
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    Urban Segregation Revisted: incorporating cognitive space representations into agent-based residential models

    . In: Koch, A. & Mandl, P. (Eds): Modelling Social Phenomena in Spatial Context (=Geosimulation 2). ISBN:978-3-643-90345-7
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    Okkupy Google Maps: grassroot activists and cartographic expression

    . In: Martin Baraza, A., Jover Báez, J. & Álvarez Conchudo, A. (Eds): Living the borders: EGEA Euromed Regional Congress, El Bosque, Spain. PDF
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    Mapping Together: On collaborative implicit cartographies, their discourses, and space construction

    . meta-carto-semiotics: Journal for Theoretical Cartography 4. 1 . Article on the journal’s web page