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Numerous scientific studies have revealed the need for humans to connect with nature daily to live happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives. The idea of biophilia identifies humans’ innate love, need, and attachment to nature and living things. Biophilic cities recognize this human inclination and try to incorporate nature into residents’ everyday lives. The idea behind biophilic city design is that urban spaces become more livable and stress is reduced when natural elements are included. 

What are biophilic cities?

Biophilic cities have natural elements incorporated into the environment during the urban planning and design stage. The core idea behind biophilic or nature-friendly cities is that the experience of nature is not just limited to neighborhood parks and gardens, but that nature is weaved into every step of its residents’ lives with urban areas reimagined as a park or forest. As humans are spending more time indoors, city planners and designers see and understand the growing need for humans to connect with nature and the need for a resilient, sustainable, and flourishing city. Biophilic cities seek to foster an awareness of and caring for natural systems and surroundings. In these uncertain and challenging times of climate change and natural disasters, biophilic cities help foster social and landscape resilience.

Benefits of biophilic cities

Biophilic cities provide a range of positive benefits not just at the individual and family level, but these cities also fare better in the face of long-term climate change. Urban spaces that are greener and nature-friendly are known to attract greater interest by residents. We see a stronger sense of community in these cities, which in turn increases urban resilience.

How to create biophilic cities?

Nature does have a tendency to create a bit of a mess and the biophilic urbanism movement is all about adding neat, natural elements such as green roofs, green walls, green balconies, reclaimed streets and alleyways, as well as transforming parks, gardens, and waterways with superior, functional natural systems. These nature-based solutions are not just sustainable and resilient, but enjoyable spaces where humans can flourish. The idea is to have a 24/7 connection with nature, not just the occasional vacation, in urban neighborhoods and communities where we live, work, eat and sleep. 

The process of creating nature-friendly cities begins with greening buildings and individual properties, then extends to blocks and streets, and then to greening communities and regions. Rooftop gardens, clustered housing around green areas, stream restoration, urban forests, and ecological parks, river systems and floodplains, regional greenspace systems, and greening major transport corridors are just some of the ways to create biophilic cities.

Examples of biophilic urbanism

Biophilic urbanism is everywhere. From Hong Kong to Vietnam, Australia to North America, efforts are being made to enhance the green elements and systems in the cities. Installing trails, planting new trees and forests, and installing green walls and vertical gardens, urban environments are becoming greener by implementing initiatives to further the transition to biophilic city design. 

An increasing number of projects in Ho Chi Minh City are using natural materials for building construction and introducing biophilic principles in their design. Chicago and Portland have developed extensive initiatives and subsidies for the installation of green features, such as green rooftops. Seattle has established ‘Green Factor’ standards that mandate minimum green and landscaping elements for new development projects. Toronto, too, has mandated green rooftops for roofs in a certain area. Baltimore and Montreal have taken the initiative to transform barren alleyways and gray spaces in the city into green havens. And then there are multiple cities across the world who have set ambitious tree-planting goals to change their environment into a bio-centric one rather than a human engineered one. 

Looking at the benefits and resilience of biophilic cities, New York City has established specific goals to make it a leader in biophilia. Measures are being taken to conserve and restore nature in the communities, keep ecosystems vibrant, and to make nature locally available to its residents. By the year 2050, New York City aims to provide living environments for species, mitigate damages from coastal storms, clean the air and absorb/filter water from runoff, enable movement of species through the city, and encourage human creativity and appreciation of beauty. 

The benefits of biophilic urbanism are clear. The value biophilic cities bring to its residents goes beyond the positive feelings they create at an individual level. These cities also foster social and landscape resilience, create a stronger sense of community, and are more sustainable long-term in the face of climate change. Numerous cities across the world are seeing these benefits and developing and implementing ambitious programs to restore, protect and expand nature in and around them.