Urban nature

Frognerparken. Photo: Zofie Cimburova / NINA.

Urban Nature

The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) conducts interdisciplinary research on urban nature. Our team does research and consulting on mapping and valuing urban ecosystem services, urban ecosystem accounts, environmental justice and assessment of related urban planning and policy.

Taking care of nature in cities is just as important for the people living in them as it is for biodiversity. More than half of the world's population now lives in cities and by 2050 this percentage will have risen to two thirds. At the same time, cities – and the people who live in them – face many problems caused by urbanisation and climate change – such as increased air pollution, heatwaves, extreme precipitation and health problems resulting from amongst others lack of access to green space. 

Research shows that green space, trees and other natural areas in and around cities are extremely important for dealing with these challenges. Nature is important for our health and well-being and provides many important ecosystem services such as purifying the air, reducing noise, mitigating flooding, reducing health risks caused by heat waves and serving as a habitat for pollinating insects.

During Oslo’s heatwave in the summer of 2018 urban areas with trees were up to 10 degrees cooler than areas covered by tarmac!

For residents who do not have the opportunity to travel to experience nature, having nature in the neighbourhood provides "green refuges" which proved to be important during the Covid pandemic.


Ecosystem services - nature's own services

Ecosystem services is a collective term for all goods and services derived from ecosystems from which people benefit. Ecosystem services are grouped into regulatory services (e.g. temperature regulation and flood mitigation), cultural services (e.g. aesthetics and opportunities for outdoor activities), provisioning services (e.g. food and timber) and supporting services (e.g. species habitats).

Although technological developments have resulted in urban societies that are seemingly divorced from nature and the ecosystems in and around our cities, those of us living in cities have a great need for – and benefit from – ecosystem services. Many of these needs are met by "importing" ecosystem services from the landscape around our cities and purchasing goods from other countries. At the same time we also benefit from many ecosystem services from our cities – urban ecosystem services. By preserving and restoring ecosystem services in urban areas, we can reduce the ecological footprint of cities, while simultaneously improving residents’ health and quality of life. This provides us with more robust cities that are better equipped to withstand global changes such as more extreme weather.

Ecosystem services and town planning

Ecosystem services can be a useful concept in town planning for many different reasons.

  • By naming urban ecosystem services we can increase the awareness of residents about the importance of nature in their everyday lives. NINA is participating in international work which aims to develop concepts and methods that are designed to highlight the biodiversity of Norwegian nature, both in the countryside and in the cities. See for example the IPBES Values Assessment.
  • Mapping and quantifying urban ecosystem services can help us to draw up plans for urban nature where it is needed most. The physical quantification of ecosystem services encourages town planners to consider both green and grey infrastructure when managing land in zoning plans. Gray infrastructure is often built to fulfil one specific function, e.g. digging a ditch designed to take the runoff from covered surfaces. However, this function can also be performed by streams or permeable surfaces with vegetation which also provide many other services (e.g. contributing to our well-being and serving as a habitat for species). NINA has developed maps showing some of Oslo’s ecosystem services and has collated them in its Urban Nature Atlas. For example, NINA has used maps of ecosystem services in order to create tools for locating green roofs and to provide input for the Action Plan for Green Roofs, as well as planting new trees in the city in support of the Oslo Trees project. Mapping and physical modelling also provide the basis for ecosystem accounting (more about that below).
  • Placing value (financial, social, health) on urban ecosystem services can help to put them on the political agenda. Valuing urban ecosystem services can contribute to impact assessment of land-use plans by quantifying the costs of losing green areas in and around built zones, weighed against the financial benefits of densification or the expansion of built zones. Valuation can support design of economic instruments, such as a stormwater tax in order to fund urban nature as part of climate adaptation. Valuation can also estimate economic compensation for any damage caused to urban nature, taking into account regulating ecosystem services, e.g. from city trees.

Urban nature in accounting

Although having nature inside a city’s city limits is also important for a well-functioning city, it is usually not included in the accounts of municipal agencies. Some municipalities are now producing green accounts which include calculations of changes in vegetation cover in both public parks and on private commercial and residential plots. NINA is continuing to develop physical green accounts by calculating what these changes mean for the delivery of ecosystem services to the city's residents and how the economic value of this changes over time. Green accounting also aims to highlight the additional costs incurred by municipal services over time due to the loss of urban nature, or the benefits of green social contingency measures – investment in nature-based solutions for climate adaptation and the management of future nature risks. NINA has, among other things, assisted the UN and Statistics Norway by providing guidance on urban ecosystem accounting.


Urban EA

Urban ecosystem accounting


Valuation of urban ecosystem services in Oslo


Spare for resilience


Better models for ecosystem services

Pollinator habitats Porsgrunn

Establishing nesting sites and flowering meadows


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