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Strategic spatial planning and the ecosystem services concept – an historical exploration

Wilkinson, C., Saarne, T., Peterson, G.D., and J. Colding (2013). Ecology and Society 18(1): 37.


This study examines how ecosystem services (ES) have been taken into account historically in strategic spatial plans in Melbourne and Stockholm through a comparative case study analysis of eight strategic spatial plans from 1929-2010. We investigated the types of ES taken into account, and how human-nature relations and the valuation and trade-off discussions regarding ES were framed. An ES coding protocol was developed that categorized and identified 39 ES drawing from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and other relevant literature. Only two of the 39 ES were addressed in every plan for both cities, namely freshwater and recreation. While the number of ES referred to in plans has generally increased over time, just under a third of ES in Melbourne and Stockholm were not addressed at all. References to individual ES showed little continuity over time. This variability reveals a time-scale mismatch that has been overlooked in the ES literature with potential urban policy implications. Despite considerable variation in ES addressed across the plans, there is a striking similar pattern in the total numbers of ES addressed over time in both cities. Plans for both cities showed a spike in the late 60s/early 70s, followed by a significant decline in the late 70s/early 80s with the highest number of ES addressed in the most recent plans. Furthermore, our analysis shows that strategic spatial plans generally demonstrate awareness that urban populations are dependent on ecosystems and this framing is an important part of the policy discourse. While specific monetary values were not placed on any ES in the plans, resolution of land-use conflicts requiring tradeoffs between ES and equity of distribution of ES is a central feature of most of the examined plans. We argue that longitudinal policy document analysis represents a useful complement to any attempt to improve understanding of the implications of and opportunities for operationalizing an ES approach in urban practice.

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Keywords: ecosystem services; Melbourne; Stockholm; strategic spatial planning; urban ecology, urban governance.

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