SUPER - Sustainable Urbanization and land-use Practices in European Regions

Theme: Sustainable land use


Land is a finite resource and the way it is used is one of the principal drivers of environmental change. Increasing land take affects fertile agricultural land, puts biodiversity at risk, increases the risk of flooding and water scarcity and contributes to both the causes and effects of global warming. Moreover, the effects of land take differ depending on the value, quality and functionality of the land.

The main objective of this service on sustainable land-use is to build on existing key relevant studies and projects and suggest measures on how sustainable land use can be promoted and how land-take, soil sealing and urban sprawl can be avoided, reduced and compensated in Europe, its cities and regions. The starting hypothesis is that a sustainable use of land would entail that compact and denser urban development would lead to less need for transport, less energy use and more open spaces enhancing the quality of life thus generating benefits and requiring less costs

Policy questions

  • What does the current European land use look like? Which cities and regions in Europe show the biggest challenges in terms of sustainable land use, land take and urban sprawl? Which regions and cities showed positive developments on this respect? What factors are responsible for the main changes over the past 28 years and which measures already implemented seem to play a role?
  • What are the costs and benefits (economic, social, ecological and territorial effects) of 1) unconstrained land-take (as appeared during the last 10 years) and 2) limiting land-take towards no net land take by 2050. How are these effects linked to the value or quality of land taken? For instance, urban heat, particulate matter, health, climate change, land value, ecosystem services, recreation, total area, etc.
  • Which (spatial) strategies, instruments and mechanisms (financial, fiscal and economic) could be used, at national, regional and local level, to limit and contain urban sprawl, to contribute to the EU-wide objective for no net land-take by 2050 and its national targets, to promote sustainable land use and leading towards a more balanced territorial development, maintaining green and open spaces in urban areas and transcending administrative and governmental borders? How can the private sector and public-private collaboration play a role? And how can we benefit economically from measures to avoid further land take?
  • What determines the success of policy interventions and measures aimed at reducing land take and containing urban sprawl?
  • How does territorial cohesion policy and specific sectoral policies, such as on air-quality or the European Single Market, influence urban sprawl and land-take? And what recommendations towards European Cohesion Policy and sectoral policies could be made so that they discourage further land-take and urban sprawl?

Key messages and policy advice

The key findings and recommendations of the activity are:

  1. Learn from the past and the future: the case studies show that interventions or practices are often undesirable or unsustainable. Making and using policy scenarios such as those drawn up in the SUPER project to explore the advantages and disadvantages of different developmental trajectories (e.g. compact, polycentric and diffuse) are very important and useful. This also provides a basis for discussing the synergies and trade-offs with respect to sustainability.
  2. Interventions can and do affect urbanization and land use: the SUPER project found that it is possible to design interventions that adjust the payoffs or orientation of stakeholders, and thus their behaviour in the development process, to more sustainable ends using a combination of carrots, sticks and sermons. Stakeholders involved in the development process overwhelmingly asserted that interventions had an impact on standard development practices.
  3. European policies can support or undermine sustainability: the analysis of EU policies has shown that, despite having no formal competence for spatial planning, it has substantial impact on urbanization and land use. If the EU wishes to prioritize sustainable land use, it should seek to align its own policies to this end.
  4. Territorial differentiation needed: no one-size-fits-all solutions: overall judgements about sustainability at the pan-European level are difficult to make, because, the distribution of developments is highly heterogeneous. Also, the effects of developments are highly heterogeneous, and often entail a local trade-off between different dimensions of sustainability. Finally, successful interventions in some regions fail in others.
  5. Proactive long-term holistic thinking aids short-term implementation: the case studies signalled a need for interventions to be embedded into a clear and comprehensive strategy or vision that covers all relevant topics and involves all relevant stakeholders. Broad-based interventions, if they are successful in achieving their goal, seem to have the best chance to be sustainable in all three dimensions.



  • Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), NL (lead contractor)
  • BBSR, DE
  • Politecnico di Torino, IT
  • ÖIR Gmbh, AT
  • Urbanex d.o.o., HR
  • University of Warsaw, PL
  • University of Valencia, ES

Project Support Team

  • Isabelle Loris, Belgium
  • Frederick-Christoph Richters, Luxembourg
  • Tamara Slobodova, Slovakia
  • Harald Noreik, Norway


€ 719,050.00


January 2019 – August 2020


  • Inception delivery, 4 April 2019
  • Interim delivery, 4 November 2019
  • Draft Final delivery, 6 April 2020
  • Final delivery, 4 August 2020


Marjan van Herwijnen (Senior Project Expert) [email protected] and György Alfoldy (Financial Expert) [email protected]



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ESPON SUPER Final Report - Main report_newtemplate.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report - Synthesis report_newtemplate.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 1 - Evidence on developments_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 2 - Evidence on interventions_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.1_CS_Selection_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.2_AT_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.3_BE_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.4_CH_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.5_DE_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.6_ES_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.7_HR_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.8_IT_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.9_NL_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.10_PL_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.11_RO_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.12_SE_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 3.13_Comparative_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 4 - Sustainability assessment and scenarios_final.pdf

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ESPON SUPER Final Report Annex 2a - Intervention Database_Final.xlsx

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