Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB) covers an area of 636 km2, comprising 36 municipalities with 3.2 million inhabitants. Although it is a densely populated area with complex metropolitan dynamics, open spaces occupy 54.6% of the territory, the vast majority of which are protected.
The topography has made it possible to preserve spaces of high ecosystem service value such as the Collserola range, the natural areas surrounding the Llobregat delta, the Garraf massif, the Ordal mountains, and the Marina mountain range. These spaces are all protected and most of them conserve their forest coverage and are a key feature of the metropolitan green infrastructure. At the same time, these forest areas are connected to agricultural areas, forming a rich mosaic of land-use types across the region.
“The AMB stands in a privileged biogeographic position. The concentration of an array of natural assets in proximity with densely populated areas offers exciting opportunities for innovative solutions to tackle metropolitan challenges. The approach envisioned by the AMB seeks to reinforce the interconnection of the spaces that make up our green infrastructure, in such a way that they permeate the urban fabric, ensure biodiversity and the functioning of ecological processes, maximise ecosystem services and regulate disturbances. It is essential that our cities give more space to nature. Within the current context of public health and climate emergencies, it is more necessary than ever to promote urban forests and green areas as nature-based solutions.”
Ramon M. Torra i Xicoy
General Manager, AMB
Building A Green Metropolis
Barcelona’s main challenge is to change the perception of the city to that of a truly green metropolis. The definition and development of green infrastructure must help the city construct this new paradigm of metropolitan environmental sustainability, in which social and economic development support biodiversity and ensure the functioning of ecological processes, maximizing ecosystem services and regulating disturbances.
In the social sense, living close to a forest, or having quality green spaces nearby, brings residents significant enhancement to their well-being and offers opportunities for recreation and leisure that improve quality of life. By protecting and planting forests, the city can also work to recover degraded urban fabrics or create extensions that, in turn, will strengthen the ecological connections of the entire metropolitan green infrastructure.
In this sense, forest management is a commitment to future generations’ social and physical well-being through the creation of a more resilient territory. Sustainable forest management reduces the risk of fires, improves biodiversity, and maximizes associated ecosystem services. To manage metropolitan forests well, serious research needs to be done that leads to the valorization of products in the form of ecosystem provisioning services and the maximization of cultural, supporting, and regulating services as well.
Looking To Green Infrastructure To Preserve Ecosystem Services
In an increasingly urban world, it is fundamental to support global initiatives that highlight the role of cities and metropolitan areas in the conservation and improvement of forests and urban trees, as well as the benefits they provide to the metropolis as a whole. The Cities4Forests initiative aligns with the AMB’s short- and long-term visions regarding metropolitan green infrastructure, especially with respect to the trees and forests of the metropolis. In this sense, Barcelona looks forward to being part of the Cities4Forests network to further advance in the AMB’s goals and ambitions.
Most of the metropolitan area is made up of areas of great environmental and social value, such as natural parks, river areas, beaches, and agricultural land. All of these spaces, along with urban and peri-urban green areas, constitute the metropolitan green infrastructure, in which urban forests play a key role. Forests bring Barcelona many benefits and services, such as water flow regulation and runoff mitigation, air purification, climate regulation, urban temperature regulation (counteracting the heat island effect), and noise reduction. They also provide food and raw materials and help to improve the well-being and health of the city’s residents.
The approach promoted by the AMB seeks to reinforce the interconnection of the spaces that make up the green infrastructure, permeating the urban fabric, guaranteeing biodiversity and the functioning of ecological processes, maximizing the ecosystem services offered by these spaces.
Cooperative Management Of Barcelona's Green Open Spaces
Almost 27% of the AMB is covered in forests that extend throughout the territory and connect and interact with other forest areas beyond the metropolitan area.
The management objectives of the AMB’s open spaces focus on maximizing the associated ecosystem services and controlling potential disturbances. Each space has a specific body responsible for its protection within the current planning context, and most of them are managed through a consortium. This is the case of the Collserola Natural Park, the Marina mountain range, the Garraf massif, the Agrarian Park of El Baix Llobregat, and the Natural Areas of the Llobregat delta, among others. Different administrations are involved in this management model, as well as councils and other advisory bodies where landowners, scientists, and the public are present to ensure a wide range of stakeholders are represented.
Metropolitan Parks Provide Environmental and Social Benefits
The network of metropolitan parks consists of 52 parks, divided across 33 municipalities, with a total area of 2,979,223 m2. The AMB, in agreement with the metropolitan city councils, takes care of the management of the metropolitan parks, including the promotion of these green spaces through educational activities and citizen science projects.
Metropolitan parks act as natural connectors between urban areas and open spaces, such as the Collserola mountain range or the Llobregat river area, and are essential both on a social and environmental scale. These green spaces improve air quality, reduce air pollution, increase carbon sequestration or help to mitigate the heat island effects. Additionally, they provide access to nature, improving the physical and mental health of the area’s residents. Likewise, they become social spaces and also have great potential as spaces for education and environmental awareness.