How Biophilic Urbanism Can Save Our Cities & Ourselves

Biophilic design in an office building

There is no question that we need nature in our lives. It has been proven time and again that exposure to natural elements can improve our well-being — physically and mentally. What we often don’t realize, however, is how vital it is for us to have access and exposure to greenery in our cities daily.

Urban biophilic design is a growing movement that aims to remedy the disconnection many of us feel from nature that can subsequently mend various socio-environmental injustices. In this article (and many more), we will explore the principles and benefits of biophilia and biophilic urbanism, proving why we need more greenery in our cities.

A problem cannot be solved with the same level of consciousness it was created from. — unknown

What is Biophilia & Biophilic Urbanism?

Biophilia is the innate human tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. This need for nature has been engrained in us since the beginning of time and is essential for our survival. Everything that we consume and create is, in some form, derived from nature.

Biophilic urbanism is the practice of systematically planning and designing cities using the principles of biophilia to create more sustainable, healthy, and resilient urban centers. In other words, it is a way of designing cities to reconnect people with nature.

It features eco-centric, sustainable development that aids in curbing the ill effects of climate change while equitably providing environmental resources for all urban residents.

The Benefits of Biophilic Urbanism

There are countless benefits to implementing biophilic design in our cities.

1. Improved Mental, Physical, and Emotional Effects

First, biophilic urbanism has been proven to boost mental and physical health. Studies have shown that exposure to nature can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while improving cognitive function and overall physical health.

In fact, a recent study found that people who live in “green” neighborhoods (i.e. neighborhoods with more trees and green space) are significantly less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. These same neighborhoods are also more likely to experience decreases in crime incidents, a greater sense of belonging to and within a community, and the cultivation of ecological empathy for their shared natural environment.

This allows for the primary principle of biophilia to be actualized: to foster positive eco-relationships and experiences that offset negative environmental factors while simultaneously creating a relaxed psychological state.

This ultimately creates a more positive sense of society and community, promoting a lived experience of health, equity, and justice.

2. Environmental Impacts

Biophilic urbanism has the potential to mitigate some of the effects of climate change, such as flooding, heatwaves, air and water pollution, disease outbreak, and more. For instance, planting trees can help to reduce air pollution and combat the heat island effect, while increasing green space helps with water filtration and flood control.

Other tools like pervious surfaces — that allow water to capture and filter into the ground — greenways, plant walls, urban gardens, and urban forests, as well as other integrations of green tech and design, create resilient cities.

3. Inclusive Design

Another significant benefit of biophilic urbanism is its ability to promote inclusive design. By making nature more accessible to everyone, regardless of race, gender, income, or ability, we can create cities that are truly welcoming, transformative, and livable.

For example, biophilic design can be used to create more accessible green spaces in cities and design buildings and public spaces that are welcoming and inclusive.

Incorporating biophilia in planning, designing, and building comes with more than just a call for inclusive integration. It calls for all parts of all cities to experience the benefits of socio-environmental justice via biophilic design regardless of race, class, ability, education, and more.

A combination of education, policy, action, and resources will be required to successfully integrate — and make central — the principles of biophilia in the workings of all plans, designs, and building processes.

And those who have been central to the protection and preservation of the land, those that have been intrinsically linked to the health of an ecosystem, those married to the land, those with indigenous knowledge and practices needed to thrive in harmony with the land, those on the ground, those raised in marginalized and neglected communities, those individuals and grassroots organizations ensuring the continued survival and well-being of those same communities that relentlessly push for environmental justice and liberation for all marginalized peoples, must be central to the planning, design, and building processes of the urban spaces in which they reside.

4. Urban Resilience

In addition to the benefits for individual residents, biophilic urbanism can also help cities become more sustainable and resilient. By increasing the amount of urban greenery, we can mitigate the effects of climate change via the restoration of lost ecosystems.

What’s more, planning, designing, and building using biophilic principles impact the economic health of urban spaces via the creation of green jobs and the use of sustainable green technologies. These subsequently lead to increases in green innovations, energy efficiency from renewable sources, and other inventions that support sustainable, eco-centric urban living.

Such allows for the “continuous well-being of the individual and economic society of the city,” stated researchers E. Lee and S. Park. The basis of this approach actively collaborates with natural ecosystems for the benefit of people, planet, and profits — the sought-after trifecta.

Incorporating biophilia with urban planning, designing, and building also allows natural ecosystems to thrive in urban spaces in tandem with humankind. Such provides support for biodiversity via green infrastructure in cities (whether retrofit or built in design) and ecosystem restoration efforts.

This incorporation of the natural ecosystem — and the implementation of nature-based design — enhances a city-dweller’s experience with nature while preserving fragile yet necessary urban ecosystems.

This allows urban dwellers to experience nature daily even if this solely occurs in urban spaces. Such has the potential to fill the gaps of environmental marginalization, injustice, and displacement often felt by systematically marginalized, disenfranchised, neglected, and low-income communities of color.

“The approach from collection to collaboration [with nature] has a structure in which mutual benefits are generated in the process of utilizing resources, and this mutual benefit further strengthens access and relationship to nature.” — Lee E. & Park S., 2021

Can Biophilia Really Help Us?

The short answer is yes, especially if it’s embedded in policy, acted upon, and becomes a baseline requirement for planning, designing, and building. Other factors such as socio-economic biases and marginalizations would have to be addressed and rendered obsolete to ensure that the benefits of urban greenery are felt by all people.

To live in a city and feel as if you live within an urban oasis is a dream — all of your resources in walking distance with plenty of shade, clean air, freshwater, edible landscapes, and mindfully-designed green buildings and spaces that induce a feeling of calm and wonder.

Whether the will from decision-makers is on the side of urban climate resilience or not should not deter the movement towards biophilic urbanism for all cities.

The barriers against green cities will be shattered with continuous grassroots and top-down movements, scientific research, practical implementation, small and large-scale eco-practices, and widespread education of biophilia and biophilic design.

And replacing those barriers with the ever-increasing health, justice, and sustainability that biophilic urbanism brings allows us to lead happy, healthy, and meaningful lives.

So, let’s bring nature back into our urban spaces.

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Founder of the Meditation Matters Podcast & EcoWell Co. platform. Writer, environmentalist, and self-healing proponent. Explore:

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Nayo Shell

Nayo Shell

Founder of the Meditation Matters Podcast & EcoWell Co. platform. Writer, environmentalist, and self-healing proponent. Explore:

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