Urban areas are faced with distinctive, or 'systemic', issues arising from their unique social, environmental and economic characteristics. Examples include an altered energy exchange and hydrology which contribute to the urban heat island and an enhanced surface runoff; due, in part, to an altered surface cover, with more built and fewer vegetated surfaces. Landscape planning needs to protect urban ecosystem services and to enable this, an urban characterisation which is meaningful for these properties is useful. This paper presents such a characterisation for Greater Manchester which uses urban morphology type mapping and surface cover analysis. The results show that residential areas cover almost half of the 'urbanised' area of Greater Manchester, with medium density residential accounting for 37%. It is within this category, which represents the urban matrix, that 32% of all the evapotranspiring (i.e. vegetated and water) surfaces are found. This will include private gardens and street trees which are often not represented by traditional mapping approaches. The methodology presented here is potentially useful for strategic urban planning in relation to climate change adaptation and for green infrastructure planning in particular. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.