How cities are using nature for sustainable urban development

Nature-based solutions can address urban challenges exacerbated by growing urban populations and the impacts of climate change. They are multi-functional, cost-effective and provide a wide range of benefits, from improving public health to reducing energy costs and pollution to regenerating urban spaces.

Local governments can use green roofs and green infrastructure to help cities become more resilient to extreme weather, support urban gardens to strengthen food sovereignty and increase green and blue spaces, improving quality of life for residents and creating popular recreation areas.

Nature-based solutions can drastically change urban landscapes and provide diverse benefits both for city governments and for residents. Yet there is still work to be done to facilitate wider implementation. Further evidence on nature-based solutions is still needed to effectively advocate these approaches and leverage resources and finances for implementation. Local governments also have an important role to play in building collaboration among stakeholders to ensure nature-based solutions become part of planning and policy across sectors.

Here is what four local governments are doing to advance nature-based solutions in their cities:


Stuttgart, Germany has implemented nature-based solutions coupled with regulatory policies and incentives. For instance, they have created ventilation corridors to enable fresh air to sweep down from hills surrounding the city. They also have over two million square meters of vegetated roofs that absorb pollutants and reduce excess heat.

Photo by Schlaier is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Shenzhen, China is recognized as a pioneering low-impact development model for its approach to stormwater management. Their sports center is equipped with a green roof, rain gardens and permeable pavement capable of capturing over 60 percent of annual rainfall.

Essen, Germany, European Green Capital 2017 has created hundreds of hectares of green space by transforming unused factory buildings and mining facilities. They have also used green space to support the restoration of the Emscher River and its tributaries.

(c) Johannes Kassenberg

Guangzhou, China boasts a comprehensive network of greenways that promote active lifestyles, ecomobile transport, tourism and economic development.

(c) City of Guangzhou 2016

You can read more about nature-based solutions and cities that have utilized these approaches to great effect in this ICLEI briefing sheet.