Urban greenspace has gained considerable attention during the last decades because of its relevance to wildlife conservation, human welfare, and climate change adaptation. Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation worldwide require the formation of new concepts of ecological restoration and rehabilitation aimed at improving ecosystem functions, services, and biodiversity conservation in cities. Although relict sites of natural and semi-natural ecosystems can be found in urban areas, environmental conditions and species composition of most urban ecosystems are highly modified, inducing the development of novel and hybrid ecosystems. A consequence of this ecological novelty is the lack of (semi-) natural reference systems available for defining restoration targets and assessing restoration success in urban areas. This hampers the implementation of ecological restoration in cities. In consideration of these challenges, we present a new conceptual framework that provides guidance and support for urban ecological restoration and rehabilitation by formulating restoration targets for different levels of ecological novelty (i.e., historic, hybrid, and novel ecosystems). To facilitate the restoration and rehabilitation of novel urban ecosystems, we recommend using established species-rich and well-functioning urban ecosystems as reference. Such urban reference systems are likely to be present in many cities. Highlighting their value in comparison to degraded ecosystems can stimulate and guide restoration initiatives. As urban restoration approaches must consider local history and site conditions, as well as citizens’ needs, it may also be advisable to focus the restoration of strongly altered urban ecosystems on selected ecosystem functions, services and/or biodiversity values. Ecosystem restoration and rehabilitation in cities can be either relatively inexpensive or costly, but even expensive measures can pay off when they effectively improve ecosystem services such as climate change mitigation or recreation. Successful re‐shaping and re-thinking of urban greenspace by involving citizens and other stakeholders will help to make our cities more sustainable in the future.

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