© 2015 The Authors. Cities are a key nexus of the relationship between people and nature and are huge centers of demand for ecosystem services and also generate extremely large environmental impacts. Current projections of rapid expansion of urban areas present fundamental challenges and also opportunities to design more livable, healthy and resilient cities (e.g. adaptation to climate change effects). We present the results of an analysis of benefits of ecosystem services in urban areas. Empirical analyses included estimates of monetary benefits from urban ecosystem services based on data from 25 urban areas in the USA, Canada, and China. Our results show that investing in ecological infrastructure in cities, and the ecological restoration and rehabilitation of ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, and woodlands occurring in urban areas, may not only be ecologically and socially desirable, but also quite often, economically advantageous, even based on the most traditional economic approaches.