The BIG project - Bettering life through Integrative GIS

A collaboration between FXP and the University of Gävle




A model for sustainable development of the city
– with the well-being of citizens in focus


The BIG project use Gävle as a test bed to understand how healthy, sustainable, and livable cities should be built in the future.
The project runs over three years and aims to co-create knowledge for urban solutions that simultaneously promote individual, social, and ecological health. The project will map ecological and geographical properties in the landscape of Gävle and it will cross-analyze these with how people experience their urban landscape.

The BIG project is a collaboration between FPX and the University of Gävle (HiG). BIG (which stands for Bettering life through Integrative GIS) aims to create knowledge for urban solutions that simultaneously promote individual, social, and ecological health. The project runs over three years and it will contribute with innovative and practical tools for sustainable urban development. The purpose of the project is a new digital methodology and innovative knowledge for regenerative nature-based solutions.

Sustainability is currently often understood to be synonymous with efficiency. We use separated indicators to analyse and reduce energy consumption, ecological damage, or air pollutants. However, separate analysis also means that we can only design isolated interventions to address all these different aspects, which means that different interventions might end up being in contrast to one another. On the other hand, regenerative solutions for urban planning are not based on improving single indicators, but on promoting a sustainable co-evolution between people and planet. With this project we want to find and promote win-win situations between healthy humans and healthy ecosystems. This research project wants to understand how to create a sustainable and livable future, not a sustainable or livable future. We want to provide knowledge so to design urban solutions from which the whole web of life can benefit.


“The city will be a living laboratory for digital tools”

Project goal

BIG aims to create knowledge for urban solutions that simultaneously promote individual, social, and ecological health.

Gävle becomes a test bed
The project will include a public study and a private study with a representative sample of the population of Gävle. For both studies, the data collection will begin in spring 2021 and continue until fall 2022. All participants will be recruited using a smartphone app that we named MyGävle. Once the participants have provided demographic and socio-economic data the researchers will use this information to select 500 participants representative of different ages, gender, and income. These 500 participants will then be able to buy a Garmin Vivosmart 4 fitness band with a substantial discount. Using MyGävle, participants will be asked to answer a weekly survey about how they experience the landscape of Gävle and a seasonal survey to understand the effects of this experiences on their individual and social health. After this data has been collected, the city will be a living laboratory for digital tools that can be used to regenerate the urban landscape of Gävle. The BIG project will thus create real benefit for the municipality of Gävle with great opportunities to start practical side projects and novel research areas.

There are three methods to collect data in the BIG project:

1. Digital maps
First, we’ll compile a collection of digital maps of the physical environment of Gävle. Together with the department of Geospatial Sciences, the BIG project will produce, combine, and cross-analyze a multitude of GIS maps about the landscape of Gävle. This will include maps about the urban infrastructure (for example: walkability, cyclability, and access to primary health care) as well as maps about air pollution, noise pollution, and environmental degradation (see figure for full list).

2. Smartphone application
Second, the project will survey people living in Gävle using a smartphone application that has been created ad-hoc for this project (MyGävle). Using the GPS sensor of the smartphone, this application will collect data on where and when participants interact with the city of Gävle. At the same time, every week the application will provide participants with surveys to determine the positive and negative experiences that shape people’s everyday life. These surveys are a core component of the research to understand where, when, and how experiences of social bonding, nature connection, and personal restoration occur. Quarterly, the impact of such experiences will be analyzed regarding to people’s perception of health and wellbeing, life satisfaction, social cohesion, sense of safety, connection with nature, and environmental attitudes.

iphone smartphone

3. Fitness bands
Lastly, the third method to collect data will be Garmin Vivosmart 4 fitness bands. The project will provide a Garmin Vivosmart 4 fitness bands to 500 people representative of the population of Gävle. This device will allow us to collect various biometric data about participants, for example, number of steps, sleep quality, calories burnt, heart rate, and stress levels. In combination with the GPS locations collected via the smartphone app the project will be able to obtain spatiotemporal biometric data. That means that the BIG project will be able to understand how a specific location in time with its geography and climate has influenced people’s health and wellbeing. Over time, this is crucial information to ensure that the living landscape of Gävle is safe and healthy for its population.

The project will analyze four different desirable dimensions of regenerative solutions:


Personal health and wellbeing

Urban solutions that promote peoples’ health and human flourishing.

How does the landscape impact people’s health and wellbeing? And how can we design spaces to promote it? The BIG project will understand the foundation for salutogenic landscapes by combining objective and subjective wellbeing data with data from the places that people have visited or been exposed to.

Landscapes designed for personal health and flourishing will be assessed by analyzing people’s exposure to air pollution and noise pollution, the walkability and cyclability of neighborhoods, possibilities to have restorative experiences, the access that people have to training facilities, the green infrastructure, and to primary sources of health care.


Social health

Urban solutions that promote quality of life and equitable social interactions.

Can the landscape promote social cohesion and community health? Practices in architecture to promote landscapes for social wellbeing should aim to equitably improve the quality of life of the community as a whole. Using geo-coded surveys and seasonal self-assessments the project will try to understand what are the geographical and social properties that can improve the wellbeing beyond the level of the individual.

Landscapes designed for social health will be assessed by analyzing individual life satisfaction, social cohesion, sense of safety and security, and the degree of equality in accessing basic urban services.


Healthy human-nature relationship

Urban solutions that promote sustainable relationships between people and nature.

What could be an environment that connect people to nature? What kind of role does it play in ensuring people’s individual and social health? Via assessing nature-connecting experiences and by understanding their implications on seasonal self-assessments the project aims to understand where, when, and how people can re-connect with nature. Hopefully this knowledge will promote future meaningful and educational interactions between people and nature.

Landscapes designed for connection with nature will be assessed by analyzing the quality and quantity of nature experiences that people have in the urban landscape throughout their everyday routines. Connection with nature and environmental attitudes will be evaluated with specific surveys on a seasonal basis.


Ecological Health and Resilience

Nature-based solutions that can withstand disturbances without losing biodiversity and ecological functions.

What is an urban landscape that can maintain and promote healthy, resilient and biodiverse ecosystems? Healthy ecosystems are characterized by diverse and abundant life, rich and interconnected species habitats, and functional ecological processes. Ecologically resilient landscapes are the foundation of a sustainable future.

Landscapes designed for resilient ecological health will be assessed by analyzing various ecosystem services, the presence and quality of trees, the diversity of natural environments, their ecological connectivity, and their level of biodiversity.

Timeline of data collection

The project has different layers of data collection. Biometric and GPS data will be collected daily from the participants using the Garmin Vivosmart 4 fitness bands. Additionally, every week, respondents will be asked to answer a survey on experiences of social bonding, nature connection, and restoration. At the end of each season, participants will be further assessed on the impact of these experiences and their exposure to the landscape on their level of individual and social health, as much as their level of nature-connection.

The project’s latest news

The Map of Trees is growing

The Map of Trees is growing

One of the central parts of the BIG project is the Map of Trees. This map can help us identify benefits from a tree, for example how trees can influence the health of individuals or determine attractiveness for a certain area. It can also show us how they may...

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The project’s planned partial results

The first prototypes on the various maps / GIS layers
Publication of news on and Urban Studio /

Experimental map of Gävle
Map of ecosystem services
Two scientific articles
Publication of news on and Urban Studio /

Two scientific articles
Handbook for planners
Publication of popular science text
Publication of news on and Urban Studio /



Project team

Dr Matteo Giusti, researcher in Sustainability Science at HIG, is Principal Investigator and project manager. He has previous experience of designing and running PPGIS studies and he is an expert in sustainable human-nature relationships and regenerative dynamics. Email:

Anders Brandt, Associate professor in geospatial information science with expertise in physical geography, GIS and spatial multicriteria decision analyses. Email:

Nancy Joy Lim, PhD in Geospatial Information Science. She has technical competence in modelling, GIS analysis, and geovisualisation.

Andrew Mercer, PhD in Physical Geography, with technical GIS expertise and expertise in BIG DATA science.

Karl Samuelsson, Ph.Lic, is specialised in using GIS, PPGIS and spatial statistical models to explore relationships between the urban physical and social environment and people’s experiences and well-being. Email:

Stephan Barthel, Assistant Professor, will lead doctoral students and act as a mentor for the project group. Email:

Gloria Macassa is a MD and a Professor of Public Health and Epidemiology. In the project, she contributes with her expertise on the nexus social and environmental sustainability, health and wellbeing through a social epidemiologic perspective. E-mail:

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