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Pictogramme sustainable use of land and nature based solutions

Sustainable use of land and nature based solutions

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Land is a finite and essential natural resource. Yet, it is subject to competing pressures from urbanization, infrastructure, increased food, feed, fibre and fuel production while at the same time land is expected to continue providing key ecosystem services. With high concentration of people and limited space, cities are greatly exposed to these pressures, which affects the ecosystem services that land and biodiversity can provide. Yet, as the local consequences of climate change are growing and increasingly impacting urban resilience and quality of life, ecosystem benefits to the urban environment are becoming more and more important to consider.
Increasingly there is well-documented recognition and awareness that biodiversity provides solutions that use and deploy the properties of natural ecosystems in an efficient way to tackle air and water pollution as well as heat islands, waves and flash floods - all which are impacting cities' economy, social security and nature. These nature-based solutions (NBS) provide sustainable, cost-effective, multi-purpose and flexible alternatives. 
After having addressed similar issues through the 3rd UIA Call for Proposals under the topic “Adaptation to climate change”, the 4th UIA Call focussed on helping strengthening local authorities’ capacity to promote and implement bold Sustainable Use of Land & Nature Based Solutions (SUL & NBS). 
The Call stressed the importance of NBS as key drivers to ensure an inclusive urban regeneration and an efficient land use that would discourage urban sprawl, focus on “inward” development and hence promote natural physical, social and economic regeneration and environmental benefits. Cities were  invited to propose innovative solutions related to two main approaches, while also demonstrating the capacity to diversify local economies and develop sustainable business schemes:

  • Implementing innovative green and blue infrastructures: adapting existing infrastructure, renaturing urban and periurban areas, regenerating brownfields and underutilised lands in order to reduce soil pollution, soil sealing water infiltration and protecting from the impact of soil sealing.
  • Rethinking land use planning and governance tools: setting-up a long term strategy for urban planning to decide which land use functions are preferred, help define different economic regeneration drivers and activities, other than public subsidy, creation of innovative and financial and business models, e.g. through the innovative combination of local fiscal and spatial urban planning and design.



Trends of the solutions proposed

The 4th Call (2019) emphasized the complexity and relevance of this topic in the European urban context as 56 urban authorities proposed innovative solutions, making the SUL & NBS topic one of the most popular under the 4th UIA call.
An analysis of the submitted applications points out major trends in the challenges addressed and the solutions proposed.
The solutions proposed are emphasizing innovative management tools such as new governance and participation processes schemes characterised by the civil society involvement and strong partnerships with key stakeholders. Furthermore, different types of investments (from hard to soft measures), different scales (from localised/small scale actions to urban scale), as well as different themes and issues (from soil remediation to urban planning) have been presented by the proposals: 

  • Developing blue and green infrastructures. Many projects focussed on water management and blue infrastructures, including the promotion of water reuse, management of storm water runoff as well as the reduction of flood risk and water scarcity using Sustainable Drainage Systems, historic water networks or NBS for natural water retention measures. Others focussed on delivering green infrastructures with actions such as renaturalisation of cities or specific areas/infrastructures (using solutions such as urban jungles or nature inclusive quay walls), or NBS aiming at the expansion of biodiversity; 
  • Reuse and regeneration of urban places. Most of projects chose to tackle brownfields regeneration, including actions such as innovative phytoremediation or restoration, aiming to uncover the potential to provide beneficial services. 
  • Urban planning, through actions promoting urban farming, reuse of vacant and underutilised land/buildings or land banks aiming to control the urban sprawl or provide ecosystem services;
  • Integrating cross-topic issues. Based on integrated approaches that covered different multiple themes and issues or in some cases different types of measures/actions namely by the combination of hard measures, such as NBS investments or ICT tools and data collection, with soft measures aiming a behavioural change and promoting the city natural capital. Not to mention that some projects also aims at revitalizing economic and social life. However only a few of them addressed the question of developing NBS based on new business models although it is a matter of sustainability for the solutions proposed.

UIA projects, solutions implemented and common issues

Five projects have been implemented in 2019:

  • UPPER – Urban Productive Parks for the development of NBS related technologies and services, Latina
  • Green Minds – A planning and management system for sustainable land use and nature based solutions, Plymouth
  • PUJ – Prato Urban Jungle   
  • GreenQuays - Urban River Regeneration through Nature Inclusive Quays, Breda
  • SPIRE - Smart Post-Industrial Regenerative Ecosystem, Baia Mare

When looking at the different projects selected, it is possible to highlight the following common trends: rewilding the city; innovative governance scheme.

Facing climate change and its consequences on the urban environment, cities’ projects give more space to nature through rewilding strategies. Their intensity often varies with the degree of urbanization of the area they are dealing with. For instance, the GreenQuays project is dealing with quays of Breda’s river which runs through densely built areas, with no space for natural riverbanks. Thus, the project entails renaturing 800 metres of the river by testing and adapting best options for materials and technical implementation to create conditions for the growth of a vertical ecosystem (herbaceous plants, ferns and mosses).

Changing attitudes and behaviours to prioritize natural infrastructure and foster a management approach that works with nature rather than against, calls for a significant change of mind-set. It is particularly made visible by the GreenMinds project. Plymouth municipality is indeed working on a strategy to foster this change of mind set and behaviour within its own administration and among its citizens. While developing a new “urban rewilding” plan, questioning the traditional approach to urban green spaces maintenance and creating a strong and updated evidence data base assessing natural capital and its social value. The UPPER project also challenges the traditional approach to green infrastructures, rethinking their use. Indeed, the municipality of Latina is testing an innovative use of urban green areas, regenerating three misused urban spaces and creating the urban Productive Parks devoted to research, development and self-production of Nature Based Solutions (NBS). Those activities are combined with social innovation approaches for social care, inclusive jobs, training, education, sports, creativity and entertainment. Reintegrating nature and natural processes into built areas through nature-based infrastructures is also being considered as a solution to the land use challenges that the city of Prato is facing. As part of a wider Operative Plan, the Prato Urban Jungle project is regenerating industrial abandoned sites with nature and architecture integration and turning marginal and deprived areas into high-densely green and active hubs.


As in other growing urban areas, the five selected cities are experiencing urban expansion, which undermines both ecosystems (city canals and rivers, lands) and citizens’ quality of life (lack of parks and green public space, heat spots…). In order to deal with it, they deploy complex solutions, involving many urban stakeholders and therefore create innovative governance tools and bottom-up approaches in order to design, manage and monitor efficient and sustainable projects. The UPPER project implemented by the urban authority of Latina deals with sustainable solutions that target private and public-owned lands and therefore develop an innovative management scheme including all related actors. Testing a participative green regeneration programme, the project will co-design and co-manage Productive Parks and Demonstration Sites for the experimentation of self-produced NBS (plants for phytoremediation of water and soil, indigenous trees to combat heat island effect and air pollution, filtering and reinforcing plants for soft engineering interventions on canal banks and coastal dunes). The Prato Urban Jungle (PUJ) is implementing a similar approach as it aims at rewilding urban spaces within Prato to create citizen-owned Urban Jungles. Launched in three different areas (company-owned area, social and dense area, brownfield), the project will adopt a community-led approach to design, develop and maintain the Urban Jungles, through the creation of Green Hubs, innovative communities of stakeholders, citizens, businesses, civil society actors. Such approach is also implemented by the former industrial city of Baia Mare, through the SPIRE project which seeks to re-incorporate its highly polluted brownfields into the productive urban fabric. Therefore, the strategy developed combines a depollution plan based on NBS with a strategic thinking on a new urban economic development model based on a new understanding and use of urban resources. Such holistic approach requires a cooperation scheme involving a critical mass of local stakeholders. This is done through two main channels: a hub to co-create activities in 5 very different areas (e.g productive landscapes’ design, phytoremediation pilots) and a local digital token system which rewards civic environmental behaviour, involvement and eco-entrepreneurship.

Such collaborative perspectives combined with new green space management, imply to rethink governance schemes at municipal level and to include more stakeholders into the short term and long-term decision process. This approach is experimented in Plymouth. Considering that traditional maintenance of green spaces is costly and threatens biodiversity, the GreenMinds project rethinks the overall green space management in order to develop a new “urban rewilding” planning code.


First lessons learnt

  • Collaborative process must be supported by innovative governance schemes and bottom-up approaches involving the relevant stakeholders from the economic ecosystem as well. 
  • Include all the partners in the process to change the overall mind-set (civil servants, companies, administration) regarding land-use management.
  • To rethink traditional urban planning and related governance schemes and management processes in a long term perspective and adapt them to ecosystems’ temporalities.
  • Rethink the traditional approaches to urban nature maintenance and develop technical schemes to support rewilding strategies.

Get inspired and find more with UIA experts and UIA knowledge lab

UIA experts capture, analyse and narrate the main findings, lessons learnt and experiences coming from the different Sustainable Use of Land (SUL) projects. Look for their journals (analysis on main challenges for implementation) and zoom-ins (focus on a crosscutting dimension or specific component of the project) to get deeper knowledge about SUL and related topics.  
Explore the UIA Knowledge Lab and search for key words such as: land use management, nature


proposals received


projects approved

€ 18.2 M


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Sustainable use of land and nature based solutions's projects