Defining urban context

Goal: Define the system and provide data on the urban context for the city.

Define the system

In order to carry out the UCA, you need to define system boundaries. Three types of system boundaries are relevant: spatial, temporal and material.


  1. Define spatial boundaries: The spatial boundaries are those corresponding to the administrative boundaries of the municipality/city. If this does not suit your case, you should define your spatial boundaries by considering which spatial delineation you wish to make. For example, you could deal with administrative boundaries, electoral boundaries, metropolitan boundaries. Keep in mind that it is best to choose a boundary and a corresponding area that others are using too when generating data. >> Note down the name of your boundary and hold on to a file that you might find for it.
  2. Define your temporal boundaries: The temporal boundary of the UCA is one year (as opposed to the flows of days, a month or half a year, for example). A minimum of two points in time (two reference years), spaced five years apart, for example, 2015 and 2020 are required, thus allowing to analyse a “timeseries” and to observe trends.
    • You do not have to choose these two reference years from the beginning. They will become evident as per the data availability. However, you can tentatively set the most recent year that you believe to find/have good data for and go five years back to set the second reference year. This way you have some orientation points and you will pay attention to the year of the data.
  3. Observe material boundaries: The overall material scope is already defined, see “What are the UCA materials?”. However, in the first of the eight steps of the MFA, you will determine which materials play a role through the processes of extraction, imports & exports and waste, in your spatial boundary, see Step 1 in “Data collection”. For now, you do not have to take additional actions. It does help to take a look at the material and waste lists to know what kind of data you will collect.

Seek data on urban context

To describe the urban context, the UCA requires some main status quo characteristics. For this, data on city boundaries, population, employees and land use need to be collected. By employing those local values, the analysis becomes context specific and relevant to the city.

If you have not done the SCA, from which you can theoretically reuse data, please follow the instructions for data collection in the SCA handbook, which are the same for the UCA and linked here:

  1. Add city boundaries: After defining your spatial boundaries, you can then collect and upload those boundaries >>> Boundaries.
  2. Collect demographic data including at a minimum population figures for the entire city >>> Population
  3. Collect data on key local economic activities: In order to better understand your city and the economic context, describe its significance in terms of GDP or GVA and provide information on the number of people employed, as well as the main economic activities. Main actors that play a significant importance may also be highlighted. >>> Economic activities in the city
  4. Find shapefiles or datasets with landuse and square metres for the various uses of the land in your spatial system boundary. >>> Land use