Space for Cities

The concentration of human activities in cities caused an important reduction of green areas within and around human settlements, which makes cities much more vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. In the last years, we have witnessed the effects of tsunamis and meteorological adverse conditions on coastal cities (it is estimated that 25% of the human population will live in a coastal city by 2050), and it is today widely acknowledged that mitigation measures are necessary to make cities more resilient to inundations and other occurrences, such as floods, earthquakes and soil erosion.

Satellite-based services have already proven their added-value in improving the resilience of urban areas to natural disasters. Indeed, satellites provide information that can be useful to better prevent and monitor the impacts of natural hazards, such as floods, on urban settlements. Weather forecast is today mainly based on satellite information, which allows to foresee hazards and to adapt the urban infrastructure accordingly. Satellite imagery allows city managers to monitor the vegetation status along watercourses which might overflow in case of heavy rains; they also allow to evaluate slope risks and to monitor soil sinking with centimetre accuracy.

Furthermore, satellites can improve the capacities of rescue teams, allowing for precise coordination thanks to real-time geo-positioning, and they can ensure connectivity in case other connections are down. Finally, satellite-based maps are today largely used to generate post-disaster maps for a better planning of interventions. International mechanisms, such as the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters" and the Copernicus Emergency Management Service are already available to local and regional managers to better face such situations.

Satellites also provide innovative means to enhance security in cities. Many local administrations are already using data based on satellite navigation to study crime patterns and to implement preventive security measures according to residents' movements. At the same time, satellite navigation is allowing local police to process infringments more efficiently, while saving red tape.

According to the International Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS), in a sustainable urban settlement “soils within the city and soils associated with the city’s economy, function, and operations meet their ranges of healthy ecosystem functions as appropriate to their types and environments; fertility is maintained or improved”.

Indeed, a sustainable city should protect the status of the soil. This is not only important to prevent heartquakes or slopes, but also to grant water quality for human consumption, agriculture and wildlife.

The soil allows for life on Earth: it provides a habitat for plants, allows us to produce food, and its is essential for the infiltration and cleansing of water, for micro climate regulation and for providing protection against flooding. However, particularly in urban areas, soil is being sealed off with increasing housing and infrastructure. Depending on its degree, soil sealing reduces or most likely completely prevents natural soil functions and ecosystem services on the area concerned, affecting both cities' environment and residents' quality of life [1].

Satellite imagery offers very precise information on the degree of soil sealing. Earth Observation has allowed scientists to map soil sealing at neighborhood and building levels in several European cities. Using satellite imagery, scientists could prove that temperatures in cities' green areas are much lower than in highly sealed built up areas. They were also able to find correlations between soil sealing and floods, since sealing prevents water from infiltrating the soil. This means that soil sealing is likely to exacerbate the effects of heat waves in cities.

Satellites can provide city managers with the sort of reliable and comparable information needed to better plan and manage the urban space by boosting urban green.

Here are some examples of how cities are relying on satellite applications to enhance their safety and resilience. More success stories are included in our Good Practice Database.


Nice (France)

Involving citizens in urban risk prevention by reporting infrastructure damage

 Barcelona (Spain)

A satellite-based service to monitor coastal water quality

City of Alban (France)

Managing drinking water supplies

Nice offers a free smartphone app allowing users to report a dysfunction or damage to the infrastructure to the Urban Risk Prevention Department and to locate the damege thanks to the smartphone's inbuilt GPS. The application provides risk and hazard information collected via RSS feeds and tweets. Users can also subscribe to a warning service in case of dangerous phenomena.

An information service based on satellite imagery enables the Department of Environment to monitor suspended matter, water transparency, temperature, and algae bloom. The service is used in addition to other monitoring tools such as visual control and analyses in laboratories. Real-time information on water quality is disseminated through a dedicated webpage.

A bidirectional satellite connection allows for remote, real-time activation of the equipment regulating the water flow from the water reservoir to Alban. The  system enables the commune to control its main drinking water reservoir and the pumping points via internet, with no need for field visits.