Toward citizen-centered urban green: advancing understandings of supply and demand interactions and inequalities

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis


Leveraging the benefits provided by nature can help mitigate the environmental and social challenges caused by urbanization and contribute to positive health and sustainability outcomes. These benefits, referred to as ecosystem services (ES), have garnered much attention in recent years. Yet there remain gaps in the understanding of cultural ES (CES), or the intangible benefits people gain from ecosystems, including opportunities for recreation, restoration, and aesthetic appreciation, particularly in urban contexts. This dissertation therefore aims to further understanding of CES supply and demand interactions and inequalities in an urban context and to introduce new approaches and methodologies for studying CES supply and demand. We first investigate the uses and perceived qualities of large urban green spaces (UGS), which provide a unique set of benefits in cities. Then, attention is turned toward urban residential streets, which are under-exploited and under-researched spaces of potential greening. More specifically, public perceptions of greening residential streets are considered, including the perceived benefits and challenges associated with street greening. The Brussels Capital Region is taken as a case study; earlier work on Brussels has shown that green is unequally distributed in the region to the disadvantage of vulnerable social groups.

First, the background knowledge and theory framing the research are presented in Chapter 1, along with the overarching research objectives. Then, in Chapter 2, different types of UGS users are identified through the construction of bundles of UGS use and valuation. We distinguish two notable groups of UGS users: those who visit UGS for “nature-oriented” purposes and those who undertake “social” uses. Younger respondents tend to use UGS for social reasons and older respondents for nature-oriented reasons. Having a child in the household was also more often associated with social use. “Mismatches” in CES supply and demand are also identified in this chapter, underscoring for who the supply of CES is insufficient.

In Chapter 3, an assessment is made of how use and experience of UGS vary for different types of users living in particular social contexts around the region. Findings suggest that UGS in the city center, which serve the most vulnerable populations, tend to be lower in quality and lack essential restorative properties. We find that those who use UGS for nature experiences, and who live in the poorest parts of the region where green is scarce, tend to travel farther to reach UGS and visit them less frequently. Conversely, social users tend to visit UGS nearby their homes but are less often satisfied.

Based on the insights gained from Chapters 1 and 2 into the importance of UGS quality on accessibility patterns, a new methodology for assessing UGS accessibility is proposed in Chapter 4. This method addresses the limitations of existing accessibility methodologies by integrating the perceived quality of different UGS characteristics and actual travel distance to UGS. The findings make visual inequalities in access to UGS experiences and highlight the importance of quality considerations in accessibility analyses.

In Chapter 5, public perceptions of several facets of residential street greening are assessed through a mixed methods approach, combining the results of an online survey and focus groups. This research finds that people are relatively willing to exchange street space for green, yet several technical and social barriers to street greening are identified, including the increased potential for conflict with neighbors and diverging opinions on which types of greenery to implement and where.

Finally, in Chapter 6, the research is summarized and policy recommendations are given. The findings of this dissertation illustrate how highlighting the experiences and preferences of people for urban green, particularly in a spatially explicit way, allows for a nuanced understanding of green inequalities and supply and demand interactions. Findings from Chapters 2, 3, and 4 can be employed to improve the existing stock of large UGS in the region and highlight the need to intervene in UGS in the city center to address inequity. At the same time, as greening residential streets should become a priority of the region, planners should take into consideration the barriers identified by the public to improve acceptance of the green residential street. To safeguard the well-being of urban residents and to boost urban resilience in the face of urbanization and climate change, cities must prioritize a responsive and ambitious greening strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Université libre de Bruxelles
  • Canters, Frank, Supervisor
  • Khan, Ahmed Zaib, Supervisor, External person
Award date12 Jun 2023
Place of PublicationBrussel
Print ISBNs9789464443677
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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