Good practice general information
Title of the practice
SITxell: Territorial Information System for the Network of Open Areas in the province of Barcelona
Organisation in charge of the good practice
Barcelona Provincial Council
Short summary of the practice
SITxell is a free territorial analysis system within everyone’s reach, making it possible to study and evaluate the open areas (non-urban) in the province of Barcelona based on the evaluation of their ecological, landscape and socio-economic characteristics. It is a very useful tool for territorial planning processes on both a municipal and a regional scale.
Since 2001, Barcelona Provincial Council has been drawing up the project SITxell as a response to one of its main objectives; promoting territorial balance and sustainability. In this context, SITxell is the result of the Technical Office for Planning and Territorial Analysis (Department of Territory and Sustainability) line of work to improve knowledge of the open areas in the Province. The ultimate aim is to provide information and criteria to support local administrations in their land planning and management responsibilities and to strengthen their participation in regional projects affecting them.
Category of the good practice
Information dissemination and awareness rising.
A team of 3 technicians for the development of the tool, and another one for local application were involved in the implementation. The technical team running the project includes Project Manager, System Administrator, Responsible team for territorial analysis, Secretary and all the expert collaborators described in the Intra-regional coordination section. In order to work in greater detail (1:10.000 in urban planning, for example) or in more specific projects, there is a need for additional work to adjust the generic information to the particular features of each case.
In addition to the steady costs of the project (experts working at the Council, computers, licences, etc.), the cost of external contracts and agreements (12 entities, from public research to private advisers) has been around 2M euros (in 15 years). Nowadays, update and maintenance cost is around 20.000 euros yearly (external contracts)
Timescale (start/end date)
2001 – on-going. During last years until 2018, the research and innovation team (with academic partners) focused in ecosystem services mapping and green infrastructure approach. After that, during 2019, the methodology and mapping has been enlarged to the whole Catalonia Region, promoted by the Regional Government.
Strategic relevance (long term impact)
Considering that the most effective way of protecting natural systems is through a more integrated approach to land management (strategic spatial planning), landscape information availability is imperative. Moreover, to maintain and improve the functionality of ecosystems, and to reduce the impacts of urban settlements and infrastructure on natural systems also requires bringing different levels and sectors of the administration together in order to work in a cooperative and coordinated way.
SITxell approach means to work not only in protected areas, but also extending these concepts and proposals for land use planning at both regional and municipal levels, which are the responsibility of the Government of Catalonia and the municipalities. To this end, the information contained in the SITxell project is available to the competent authorities and offer technical assistance in the urban and regional spatial planning processes. So far, this collaboration has been established with many municipalities and various departments of the Government of Catalonia, and it has allowed the application of the content of SITxell to multiple plans and projects, with very satisfactory results for all parties.
Beyond that, the current mapping of ecosystem services has been applied to the entire Catalonian territory, with broader long term objectives and consequences. One of the first has been the classification of regions which are source of ecosystem services or in the need of them, information that will be applied to territory planning of green infrastructure at the entire governmental level.
Evidence of success (results achieved)
One of the main objectives of the Barcelona Provincial Council, developed primarily through the Department of Territory and Sustainability, was promoting territorial balance and sustainability. In this context, one of the lines of work of the Technical Office for Planning and Territorial Analysis is to improve knowledge of the open areas in the province of Barcelona. The ultimate aim is to provide information and criteria to support local administrations in their land planning and management responsibilities and to strengthen their participation in regional projects affecting them.
The most notable collaboration has been the development of the Barcelona Metropolitan Plan. SITxell has been applied at various stages of development of the Plan, in all fields related to the open areas system: definition of the physical framework, land use evolution and dynamics, challenges ahead and planning proposals. Finally, the Plan states that 227.000 hectares, 70.4% of the area of the metropolitan region, are of special protection for their natural and agricultural interest.
Since the beginning of 2006, the project has carried out around 60 complete municipal diagnoses to be applied for local urban planning. Also, 50 partial diagnoses (only some specific information, or part of the municipal land) were developed to be applied for specific projects of protection, forest management, agricultures, tourism, etc.
The first ecosystem services mapping of the entire Catalonian Region has been elaborated and presented to the public.
At the Barcelona Council, last 3 years have been mainly devoted to offer new products to municipalities. Nowadays, local administrations can apply for mapping local green infrastructure (based on the information on natural values and ES), for preparing local projects of conservation, management and/or restoration of local areas of interest, and for funding the development of these projects.
To consider open areas at various planning scales, it is first necessary to have a good knowledge from the ecological and socioeconomic point of view. In the province of Barcelona, there was a very little information covering the whole territory (generally it was limited to natural protected areas). At the same time, much of it was difficult to understand and apply at the technical level.
At this point, key experts (research centres, university departments, specialized institutions and companies, etc.) were contacted to generate both basic descriptive information, which often did not yet exist, and subsequent evaluative information. The latter type of information about the values of open space is the distinguishing feature of SITxell, enabling technical users to understand and evaluate the territory, and allowing application in various plans and projects.
The SITxell provides a modular structure for classifying the information gathered: environmental modules, which include layers covering geology, hydrology, flora, vegetation and habitats, fauna, landscape ecology, cultural heritage and landscape; and land use modules including layers relating to socioeconomics, specific land policies, spatial planning, transport infrastructure and technical services. The better understanding of open space provided by the cartography of values is also linked to a greater complexity in reading them. Each layer therefore has an associated geographical information metadata file.
The distribution of SITxell mapping is carried out using the SITMUN Municipal Territorial Information System, which offers many maps of the province of Barcelona. All SITxell cartographic information is accessible to the public on the IDEBarcelona website using the WMS specification
The current evolution since the first steps of the project (from the first concept in 2001 to its current use at the entire region level) and the governmental implication (in origin, development and use) ensures a long-term durability of the tool.
Technical documents in Spanish, Catalan and English:
SITxell. A tool for interpreting the territory
Castell, C., Dalmases, C. i Margall, M. Els espais lliures de la regió metropolitana de Barcelona. Atzavara, 17. 2008
El Sistema de Información Territorial de la Red de Espacios Libres de la provincia de Barcelona (SITxell). In: “El territorio como sistema. Conceptos y herramientas de ordenación”. Ramon Folch (Coord.), Diputació de Barcelona, 2004. ISBN 9788477949626
Castell, C. 2019. Ecosystem services and green infrastructure: implementation at regional and local level. In: Renaturing cities. Barcelona Provincial Council’s Press and Comunication, pp. 36-56.
11/05/2010. 50 anys de canvis al territori: el Mapa de cobertes del sòl de 1956 de la Regió Metropolitana de Barcelona.
25/06/2009. La cartografia ambiental territorial al servei dels municipis de la província de Barcelona.
05/12/2019. Els Serveis Ecosistèmics de Catalunya: Eines i oportunitats per a l’avaluació ambiental i la planificació de la infraestructura verda.
Also, many presentations at international conferences in Europe (Italy, Scotland, Ireland…) and beyond (Chile, Colombia…).
Because of the territory covered and the reference scale used, SITxell is perfect for analysing large areas. This level of analysis allows it to support planning policies developed by Barcelona Provincial Council, as well as coordinated work with the Government of Catalonia to ensure an ecological approach to territorial planning.
Within the territorial planning programme under the responsibility of the Department of Territory and Sustainability of the Government of Catalonia, Barcelona Provincial Council has collaborated in the planning of open areas in the Province of Barcelona.
Moreover, in parallel with the elaboration of the Metropolitan Plan, SITxell has been essential in developing the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Plan, especially in incorporating environmental sustainability criteria in those points related to the system of open areas.
Finally on this scale of application, SITxell is also a very useful tool to influence, in a reactive way, large projects, mainly infrastructures, affecting extensive areas.
The approach to SITxell development has been to build a territorial information system multidisciplinary (incorporating the many faces that converge in the definition of open spaces characteristics), flexible (to allow global or partial analyses of the territory from different points of view), balanced (that weight the importance of diverse key aspects) and clear (rigorous and away of the tendency to resolve matters quickly), so results are realistic and applicable.
The quantity and quality of information gathered by SITxell is of high interest for local administrations, offering municipalities a broader regional perspective of their open spaces. Local government have thus more relevance in the definition of their territorial usages. Their responsibility to administrate land uses goes beyond legal obligations to consider environmental issues. The SITxell project has been one of the keys to establishing the natural areas with special protection and to making the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the overall Plan. In addition, SITxell has been used to improve the integration of projects proposed by other administrations, as in the case of several transport infrastructures.
The SITxell team offers to the Barcelona council municipalities that require it a diagnosis study of their Open Spaces, always under the framework of the regional reality. The study includes a description and evaluation of the open spaces, as well as some planning and management guidelines and recommendations to be included in the reviews of the municipal planning.
This territorial system has at least two unique characteristics: On the one hand, its conceptual framework (the territory as a system). On the other hand, the acquisition, thanks to the collaboration with other groups of research, of diverse quality maps of open spaces. Both issues permit SITxell to be not only a store of descriptive territorial data, but also the stored information could be applied directly in the evaluation of open spaces.
This assessment cartography, developed by expert groups and based in diverse sources of descriptive cartographies, is one of the main innovations of the system. In other words, it goes beyond description to assessment.
As described in Resources needed, a small team could take care of maintenance and implementation once the tool is operative. Considering also the low maintenance resources the tool can be considered highly efficient.
Moreover, the collaboration with different research teams was based in the use of already developed maps, GIS and models. Therefore, in order to provide a first version that could be improved lately, the duplication of efforts is avoided.
Because of its conceptual and technical characteristics, the territorial information contained in SITxell can be used on different scales and at different decision-making levels. The reference scale (1:50.000) allows almost direct implementation of the assessments for plans and projects on the macro-territorial level (up to 1:25.000). At the request of municipal councils, experts from the Technical Office for Land Analysis and Planning carry out the field and office work necessary to provide information at the appropriate scale (1:5 000 – 1:15 000, usually). In general, SITxell is applied in three broad territorial fields, and therefore working scales:
Municipal, Network of Natural Parks, and Regional.
The most common use of the tool is associated with municipal urban planning, but often the tasks are linked to planning, management and/or publicizing natural heritage. In addition, advice is also provided to municipal councils on projects affecting their territories.
As part of the work on the Natural Parks managed by Barcelona Provincial Council, continuous reviews of the spatial plans are taking place. SITxell information is one of the starting points when considering new areas for protection and/or new criteria for protection and planning. In addition to specific principles for new spatial plans, the broad territorial view offered using SITxell provides a framework for protected areas in the whole network and establishes, for example, protection for areas of interest for connectivity.
Within the regional planning programme of the Department of Territory and Sustainability (Government of Catalonia), Barcelona Provincial Council has assisted in the planning of open areas in the Region. The strongest involvement has been during development of the Plan for the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona.
The Land Analysis and Planning Office (Natural Areas Department, Barcelona Provincial Council) is the promoter of SITxell and it is technically responsible for its operation and maintenance.
Among the Barcelona Council, apart from the Natural Areas Department-Territorial Planning and Analysis Office, also contribute Local Cartography and GIS Technical Office and the Information System and Technologies Management. Also, other policy administrations, as the Environment Department of the Catalonian Government and the Regional Board of Bages, have supported some basic information to be integrated at SITxell.
The following groups have cooperated under agreement: Remote sensing and Geographic Information Laboratory (LIGIT) and Hydrogeology and External Geodynamics Department, of the Autonomous University of Barcelona; Geo-botanic and Vegetation Cartography Group, and Bonelli’s Eagle Study Group, of the Barcelona University; CREAF; Mediterranean Rivers Study Centre (CERM); Catalonian Ornithology Institute (ICO); Minuartia, Environmental Studies; Unió de Pagesos (Agricultural labour union); and DEPANA (conservational organization).
Extra regional impact
Main pilot essays have been carried out after an Interreg IVC Project (GreenInfraNet). Three partners applied the project (principles, methodology, development…):
– County of Fingal (Ireland), applied to Urban Planning at Supra-municipal scale.
– Province of Flevoland (the Netherlands), applied to identify intensive agricultural areas to be restored for conservation issues.
– Hungary. Pilot projects in 2 National Parks, to be spread later throughout the country.
Some other initiatives are the ES mapping in Catalonia (already mentioned) and a pilot project in the region of Talca (Chile), just the first steps.
The rigour in the obtaining of information and development of the analyses has been key in the project approach. Therefore, SITxell was (and still is) developed from collaborations with the main expert groups (from public administrations, universities, research centres and enterprises) in each necessary field. They already have relevant information to start and ensure the quality of the tool. The participation of such specialized teams allow also to avoid duplicating efforts to obtain already existing information, as well as to assure a serious, reliable and experienced essential update of data.
In 2011, the project was among the finalists in the European Public Sector Awards (EPSA). In 2012 was awarder with the United Nations Public Sector Award (UNPSA).
Potential for learning or transfer
First, the tool could be used at different scales, from local to regional.
Second, it is based in available information as geographical cartography.
Third, it promotes collaboration among research groups and government and the later with regional boards.
Fourth, it has been already applied to specific and successful uses, as the selection of the selection of natural areas for protection, several municipalities territorial planning, and the cartography of ecological services at the regional level.
Fifth, it has been already transferred to other European regions and beyond (see extra regional impact).