EU Science Hub

Study shows how to use data for sustainable urban planning

Urban policies increasingly use urban green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in their planning process.
Aug 02 2016

Scientific knowledge of urban ecosystems can support urban planning at different stages of policy and for various spatial scales; hence it can help policy-making for sustainable cities, a pilot study shows. It has produced a harmonised indicator framework which can be applied to other cities.

Carried out in 10 European cities, the study provides guidance for mapping urban ecosystems and includes an indicator framework to assess the condition of urban ecosystems and the services they provide.

The study was carried out in cooperation with the Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment, the European Environment Agency (EEA) and city authorities from across Europe. Ten cities – Cascais, Oeiras and Lisbon (Portugal); Padua, Trento, Rome; (Italy); Utrecht (Netherlands); PoznaƄ (Poland); Barcelona (Spain) and Oslo (Norway) – were at the core of the pilot, carried out in the framework of the EU initiative on Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES).

The exercise provided real examples and applications of how mapping and assessment can be organised to support policy; in addition, it provided the necessary expertise to select a set of final indicators for the condition of ecosystem services.

Concrete examples are given on how to delineate urban ecosystems, how to choose an appropriate spatial scale, and how to map urban ecosystems based on a combination of national or European datasets, including EEA’s Urban Atlas, and locally collected information (e.g., location of trees).



Almost three out of four EU citizens live in urban areas and this number will grow. All of these people need an inclusive, healthy, resilient, safe and sustainable living environment.

Maintaining functioning urban ecosystems is therefore key for future urban policy and planning. This study has shown that there is a large scope for urban ecosystem assessments. Firstly, urban policies increasingly use urban green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in their planning process. Secondly, an increasing amount of data at multiple spatial scales is becoming available to support these policies, to provide a baseline, and to compare or benchmark cities with respect to the extent and management of the urban ecosystem.

The MAES urban pilot is an excellent illustration of collaboration across scales among researchers, stakeholders, city administrators and policy-makers to improve policy and decision making in cities.