Urban green infrastructure and urban forests: a case study of the Metropolitan Area of Milan

Author(s): Sanesi G, Colangelo G, Lafortezza R, Calvo E, Davies C


Rapid expansion of urban built-up areas since the 1950s has led to the Milan region becoming one of the major metropolitan areas of Europe. This has been accompanied by significant structural changes to urban and peri-urban landscapes and fragmentation of formerly contiguous green corridors by the distribution of new urban forms such as housing and transport infrastructure. The need to address the loss of green space was first recognised by policy-makers at the end of the 1970s and in due course, this has led to new policies and laws. These policies included the introduction of the Milan metropolitan parks approach that, nowadays, is represented by numerous urban forests that have become the backbone of green infrastructure (GI) creation and management. In the last decades, a total of 10 000 hectares of new forests and green systems have been created. Boscoincittà and Parco Nord Milano are the best known examples of this approach aimed to redevelop the neighbourhoods of some suburbs of Milan to create multifunctional green spaces (forests, grasslands, wetlands, river corridor, and allotment gardens) in lands previously industrial or uncultivated. The creation and management of urban forests has become the backbone of GI creation and management in the Metropolitan Area of Milan. In recent decades, trends of land use change have been characterised by a rapid decrease in natural and agricultural areas and an increase in artificial and urban structures. Although the phenomenon is growing rapidly in this area, there is evidence of an opposite social and environmental trend highlighting the importance of GI positively affecting urban quality of life. Recent policies and management plans are dealing with this evidence by turning their attention to expanding green areas and infrastructure. The purpose of our investigation is to revisit effective measures designed to increase the quality and quantity of UGI in the metropolitan region under study. To this end, we assessed land use changes and described the potentialities and impacts of policies on such phenomena. The study analyses the main elements of UGI in the Italian context within the framework of the European Union Life + project called Emonfur, a research programme involving, inter alia, the establishment of an Urban Forest inventory and impact analysis of ecosystem services in the Metropolitan Area of Milan. Our research has allowed us to determine the current status of key sites by monitoring the policy and planning decisions that resulted in their development. We believe that such an analysis can pave the way to understand future land-use dynamics not only in northern Italy but in other metropolitan territories as well.

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