New ESPON study reveals the sustainability of land-use changes in Europe

Every day, about 250 football fields of land in Europe is converted to urban use. How and where does this typically occur? Are city-regions becoming more compact or diffuse? How sustainable is the net result? And how could the European territory develop in the future?
The ESPON study “Sustainable Urbanization and land-use Practices in European Regions” (SUPER), carried out within the framework of ESPON, investigated these questions and more. 
The project used an interdisciplinary approach to measure and understand the land-use change in Europe and craft recommendations to enhance sustainability. Eleven case studies were carried out to understand land-use practices in context (Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland).
In addition, the SUPER project compiled a database of over 200 interventions in Europe that affect, or try to affect, urbanization and land-use. Moreover, the project produced over 50 factsheets on the impact of existing EU policies on urbanization, which can help the EU to tailor its policies to support land-use sustainability.
The results of the SUPER project are summarized for policymakers in the SUPER guide to sustainable urbanization and land use, available at the ESPON website.
Some highlights from the project:
An up-to-date picture of urbanization and land-use developments in Europe: the SUPER project found that in the 2000-2018 period, a little under 2.87 million hectares of land changed from one land-use category to another, about half of which regarded urban development: over eight times of land was converted to urban use than vice versa. In many cases this was in line with socio-economic developments, but also shrinking areas expanded their volume of urban land.

Insight into the effects of public-sector interventions: Examples include a national infill development programme in Luxembourg, permission to add extra floors to existing buildings in Malta, urbanization caps in coastal Spain and fiscal rules in Italy and Estonia that encourage densification. In addition, the project produced over 50 factsheets on the impact of existing EU policies on urbanization, which can help the EU to tailor its policies to support land-use sustainability.
Deep understanding of development practices: From the case studies, the SUPER project found that, despite a high variation between cases, interventions in these countries were seen as transforming how land-use planning is perceived and practised, both among institutional stakeholders and the general public. It also underlined the importance of producing broad-based strategies and visions.

Exploration of future development pathways: the SUPER project created three scenarios that compiled the evidence generated elsewhere in the project into divergent storylines of compact, polycentric, and diffuse development. Each scenario included a policy package drawn from the intervention database.
The results were visualized using a land-allocation model, showing what land would be urbanized in 2050 according to the scenario logic. These scenarios can comprise the basis for a pan-European discussion on which route to take and which policies would be needed to realize this.