Exploring Biophilic Cities

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Rendering of Via Verde development in the Bronx: Jonathan Rose Companies

The terms, Biophilic Design and Biophilic Cities, are not yet ubiquitous within the sustainability conversation, but perhaps we should be paying more attention to them. Biophilia, a term coined by Harvard University myrmecologist and conservationist E.O. Wilson, describes the innate connection humans have to nature and other forms of life. There is a plethora of research to support this idea of nature as offering humans emotional and psychological benefits. Research has been shown that exposure to nature has the potential to reduce stress, aid in the recovery from illness, enhance cognitive skills and academic performance, and appease the effects of ADHD, autism, and other child illnesses.

Biophilic Design, as the term may suggest, seeks to integrate building design with natural features and qualities. This may include designing schools, homes, and apartments that offer abundant daylight, natural ventilation, plants and greenery. As a result, Biophilic Design differs greatly from green building, which extols the benefits of energy efficiency. The idea behind Biophilic Design is to think beyond nature’s functional benefits – green rooftops, wetlands for managing stormwater, and trees for mitigating air pollution- and to recognize the deeper qualities offered by nature.

The application of biophilic design to city planning offers much potential to the future of cities, particularly as the population of cities continues to escalate. There is no single answer to what a biophilic city might look like, except that it will force us to revaluate cities as places where nature meets urbanization. As the website on Biophilic cities reports:

Biophilic Cities are cities that contain abundant nature; they are cities that care about, seek to protect, restore and grow this nature, and that strive to foster deep connections and daily contact with the natural world.

To learn more about Biophilic Cities, see the website on Biophilic Cities or see the film Biophilic Design.

[Other resources on City Atlas that relate to biophilic design: our interviews with landscape architect Diana Balmori and ecologist Eric Sanderson, and new zoning that will spur biophilic development.]