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Geo Designing Nature Into CitiesCities are currently under tremendous pressure. From increasing populations to climate change, traffic congestion to poor air quality, aging and struggling infrastructure to poor quality of life, urban areas are struggling to keep up with the constant demands. The world’s population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 with around 6.7 billion of those people, nearly 70 percent, projected to live in urban centers. Cities will be under immense stress, so the planning of sustainable, livable urban cities needs to start now. Geo designing nature into cities is absolutely essential.

Benefits of Geo Designing Nature Into Cities

There is growing evidence that adding natural elements into urban centers provides psychological and social benefits to its residents. Empirical studies have concluded that being in nature fosters creativity, increases productivity, and relieves chronic stress. People who spend more time outdoors with ample sunlight, greenery, and natural views tend to be happier, healthier, and positive. Biophilic cities also promote an overall sense of community among the residents.

Apart from the psychological benefits, there are also environmental benefits. Greening cities and geo designing nature into urban hubs can stop urban flooding by storing water, reduce air pollution by filtering out toxins, and cool cities reducing the number of deaths due to heatwaves. 

Urban planners and designers need to take a more holistic view of urban centers and make room for biodiversity and ecology. 

Constraints of Geo Design

Landscape architect Ian McHarg published Design with Nature in 1969 in which he documented the McHargian Mapping Overlay System, a revolutionary method of design. It involved a series of maps each illustrating different ecological data, which were layered and combined geographically. The resulting data was then used to evaluate suitable places for site-specific development and to make informed design decisions. Almost 50 years later and we still have trouble geo designing nature into cities, despite the wealth of data on our hands. Current urban planning considers biodiversity a constraint, so is often difficult to find in urban areas. It fails to connect nature with humans where they can benefit from it the most. Cities need to use Geographic Information System (GIS) as a guide to aid nature-focused geo design. 

Embedding Nature into Urban Hubs

In 1898, Victorian social reformer Ebenezer Howard published Garden Cities of Tomorrow proposing the idea of creating communities that brought the best of urban and rural – homes surrounded by nature, but close to work and shops. It has been more than a century and we are still facing the challenges that Howard and his work tried to overcome. 

There are several ways to achieve a community feels that combines both urban and natural elements. When it comes to individual buildings, green rooftops, sky gardens, green walls, green courtyards, and rooftop gardens are ways nature can be added. Blocks and streets can be designed with clustered housing around green areas, green streets can be added, streams can be restored, and urban forests can be created. Biophilic design elements such as community gardens, neighborhood parks, urban ecological networks, greening utility corridors, and floodplains can be integrated at the neighborhood and community level. Including these design elements in urban environments will ensure that nature is ‘built-in’ to urban life and will provide many of the social, psychological, and environmental benefits previously discussed. 

The Effects of Incorporating or Ignoring Nature in Geo Design 

In the city of New Orleans, vulnerability to storms and flooding has dramatically increased due to wetlands changes. A study found that had the original wetlands been intact and in better shape, a substantial portion of the $100 billion-plus damages from Hurricane Katrina could have been avoided. Further, it was estimated that coastal wetlands provide some $23 billion a year in hurricane protection benefits. This just goes on to show the considerable economic value that these ‘flood protection services’ and natural systems offer. 

New York City has invested in the conservation and protection of its upper watersheds in the Catskills Mountains (more than 70,000 acres protected through less-than-fee simple acquisition), a model strongly supporting ecological infrastructure. This is a far more cost-effective method than the multi-billion dollar cost of water filtration plants. The city of Denver, too, has entered into long term restoration and conservation arrangements to make it less susceptible to water-supply impacts associated with wildfire and forest degradation in its source watersheds. 

Toronto has now mandated the installation of green rooftops for roofs over a certain size. It is estimated that this move would help in reducing the urban temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius or more. The city of Brisbane, already an extensively green city, has moved to create a connected network of natural areas, with topographic variation and diversity. It is believed that this move will allow native biodiversity to adapt and shift according to climate changes. 

As you can see, geo designing nature into cities helps them become more resilient while insulating against future challenges and stresses. It also helps its residents in leading a healthier lifestyle and strengthens emotional bonds to the overall community.