#urbanforest: cultural ecosystem services of urban trees through the lens of Instagram

Andrew Speak, Mark Usher, Hilary Solly, Stefan Zerbe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The non-material benefits which people derive from ecosystems, cultural ecosystem services (CES), can be difficult to measure and quantify. This study aims to demonstrate the usefulness of social media analysis.

The widespread use of social media applications has provided a novel methodology for obtaining crowd-sourced data, which can reveal patterns in how social media users interact with urban greenspace and participate in place-making activities. This study explores how urban trees are represented in images tagged with the city of Bolzano, Italy, and uploaded over the course of a year to the image-sharing application Instagram.

A third of all the images contained some elements of green nature, with 3.1% of the images portraying urban trees as the main subject and 11% with urban trees as background features. Seasonal preferences for winter and summer scenes emerged. Accompanying text, in the form of hashtags and image descriptions, was mostly positive and showed how enthusiastically people describe urban nature. An assessment of the images in terms of CES revealed that beyond aesthetic factors and the inspiration to take photographs of nature, a wide range of CES are represented, reflecting the recognition of the benefits of urban trees by Instagrammers. The collection of images provided a unique snapshot of the city of Bolzano.

Practical implications
This reinforces the importance of urban trees within planning policy for providing sense of place, recreation and stress relief for residents and tourists.

The study builds on recent advances in social media research, focussing on the important field of urban CES.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-513
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Place Management and Development
Issue number4
Early online date8 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2021


  • Placemaking
  • Smartphones
  • Social media
  • Text analysis


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