Biophilic Cities: Urban Regeneration Through Nature
Paradoxically, nature should be the maximum muse of contemporary urbanism.
In the wake of industrialization, human beings have been herded into massive urban centers, forgetting the gardens and natural landscapes in which we evolved. But that urbanization and mechanization of our lives has made us aware of (and nostalgic for) the benefits of living in contact with nature. Science acknowledges that, for example, a walk in the open air has the same revitalizing effect as a cup of coffee.
Among certain groups of people there is a longing to return to nature and cure the ailments of modern life, particularly stress, which affects so many people. But it may not be necessary to abandon cities to obtain the benefits of nature. The Biophilic Cities Project, an initiative by Tim Beatley, an architecture professor at the University of Virginia, proposes bringing nature back to our cities again by creating a series of viable alternatives to blend our urban context with the natural world.
Beatley thinks it is important to not only recover green areas and open spaces for animals but also highlights the idea of fraternity and empathy between humans, the spaces we create and the natural sustenance upon which that is built. Biophilia is a term coined a few years ago by the biologist E. O. Wilson to describe “the innate emotional affinity between human beings and other living organisms.” Professor Beatley believes in the existence of a co-evolutionary link with nature and concludes that, “to be happy, healthy and find meaning, we must have contact with nature.”
In a biophilic city the majority of the population has a green space at a distance of fewer than 200 meters; a considerable percentage of the city is covered with vegetation and green design projects (such as roof or vertical gardens) are implemented; citizens spend a large part of their days carrying out activities outside and can identify the local flora and fauna, while the government targets nature conservation as one of its priorities.
Some interesting examples of biophilia are highlighted in Beatley’s book “Biophilic Cities.” Singapore, a city in which the majority of people live in skyscrapers, has a network connecting all of its numerous parks as part of its maxim to be, rather than a city of gardens, “a city within a garden.”
In Scottsdale, near Phoenix, Arizona, a plan is being developed to conserve an area of desert equivalent to a third of the city’s territory. If achieved it would be one of the largest urban reserves in the world.
The economic benefits of contact with nature go beyond those of tourism as labor production is positively affected by this interaction. A report by the Terrapin Bright Green consultancy found that employees with a view of a green area had a significantly better performance in a series of tasks compared with those who did not have such a privilege.
Reaffirming that intention to re-affiliate ourselves with nature, there is another aspect that must be considered that perhaps could make the possibility of rebuilding that link seduce us, and that is spiritual development, a fundamental complement for all ‘successful’ societies throughout human history. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “nature is the symbol of the spirit.” Deep down, the nostalgia to return to that contact with nature responds to a desire to reconnect with a principle of unity, with the axis of life.
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