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

Andrew Speak (Università Degli Studi di Firenze, Florence, Italy)
Mark Usher (The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Hilary Solly (Libera Università di Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy)
Stefan Zerbe (Libera Università di Bolzano, Bolzano, Italy)

Journal of Place Management and Development

ISSN: 1753-8335

Article publication date: 8 April 2021

Issue publication date: 15 October 2021




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.



The authors would like to thank Roberta Orben for her assistance with image classification.

The research was funded by the Free University of Bolzano, project code TN2080.


Speak, A., Usher, M., Solly, H. and Zerbe, S. (2021), "#urbanforest: cultural ecosystem services of urban trees through the lens of Instagram", Journal of Place Management and Development, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 497-513.



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