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As rates of urbanization and climatic change soar, decision-makers are increasingly challenged to provide innovative solutions that simultaneously address climate change impacts and risks and inclusively ensure quality of life for urban residents. Cities have turned to nature-based solutions to help address these challenges. Nature-based solutions, through the provision of ecosystem services, can yield numerous benefits for people and address multiple challenges simultaneously. Yet, efforts to mainstream nature-based solutions are impaired by the complexity of the interacting social, ecological, and technological dimensions of urban systems. This complexity must be understood and managed to ensure ecosystem-service provisioning is effective, equitable, and resilient. Here, we provide a social-ecological-technological system (SETS) framework that builds on decades of urban ecosystem services research to better understand four core challenges associated with urban nature-based solutions: multi-functionality, systemic valuation, scale mismatch of ecosystem services, and inequity and injustice. The framework illustrates the importance of coordinating natural, technological, and socio-economic systems when designing, planning, and managing urban nature-based solutions to enable optimal social-ecological outcomes.


Originally published in One Earth 5 (5):505-518.