Luke’s research professor Eija Pouta has been a Finnish pioneer in the field of environmental valuation throughout her near thirty-year career. She wants to find out what is truly important to people about nature and strives to bring that knowledge to policy making.
In the past… I became interested in urban forests and their significance to city dwellers while I was studying for my master’s degree in agriculture and forestry. I then started working as a planner for the City of Helsinki’s department of agriculture and forestry. While I was traipsing around forests due to my job, I wondered how the importance of these areas could be taken into consideration in, for example, decision making in urban planning. The price of lots shouldn’t be the only determining factor – instead, the contribution of green spaces to the well-being of city dwellers should also be considered.
I wrote my master’s thesis on the benefits of outdoor recreation areas owned by the City of Helsinki. It marked the beginning of my research career.
I was a true pioneer in the field when I started doing my research in the 1990s. Only a few attempts had been made in Finland before and even international gatherings were small. Nowadays, there are plenty of researchers working on the subject.
In the present… Nature generates all kinds of common goods that can’t be exchanged on the market. These include landscapes, biodiversity and the different recreation environments that nature provides. These goods are beneficial and important to human beings and should be taken into account in decision making. However, since we don’t have knowledge about their market value, they tend to be forgotten.
My research deals with measuring values attached to different environmental benefits and how recognising these values can result in better policy making. When decisions on the conservation of swamps are made, for example, the fact that swamps can be valued as sources of biodiversity and berry harvests should also be considered.
Research is increasingly heading in a direction in which decision makers already become involved in the early stages of a research project. Decision makers express a need for knowledge, follow the process, and offer their perspectives regarding the applicability of the results. To give an example, our research on the different environmental benefits of agriculture has been keenly followed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Now we are thinking together about how those benefits can be taken into account in agri-environmental policy.
In the future… The key challenge is to develop practices that smoothly link research results to decision-making processes. This would increase the trust and interest of decision makers in scientific knowledge. In addition, research frames could be adjusted to better serve policy making with the help of this kind of interaction.
I still find urban recreational areas – my initial area of interest – to be an important issue. We’re living in a period of time in which the city structure is constantly being compressed. This produces considerable concern about our green spaces. Light should be shed on the kinds of recreational areas that people consider meaningful, as well as their impact on people’s well-being.
Text: Kira Keini