As planet Earth continues to urbanize at a rapid clip there are many challenges ahead, but one of the most important will be to figure out how to bring out cities that are sustainable and resilient, and that foster connections to and daily contact with the natural world. It is the latter goal that defines what we have been calling Biophilic Cities. These are cities that understand that nature is essential to healthy, happy and meaningful urban life, and that place nature at the heart of their planning, design and governance.
The evidence of the power of nature is mounting and Biophilic Cities recognize that contact with nature is not optional but essential. Nature in cities helps to reduce long term stress and is a critical element in achieving emotional and physical health. New studies show that people are more likely to think creatively, to be generous, and to take longer-term thinking and decisions in the presence of nature. Growing more nature, and designing more nature in our cities will, moreover, help them to be more resilient and sustainable. Urban nature is no longer a luxury, but rather is absolutely essential to long term health and viability of urban life.
This is why we started the Biophilic Cities Project here at the University of Virginia. With funding from the Summit and George Mitchell Foundations we have been working with a series of partner cities around the US and the world to explore what Biophilic Cities are, and could be. What do they look and feel like, and what creative steps, initiatives and strategies might be undertaken to profoundly enhance rebuild connections with the natural world. We have been documenting good practice (much of it found on the website BiophilicCities.org), including through filmmaking. There are exemplars already—places like Singapore, where creatively integrating new nature into the vertical realm of high-rise buildings(IMAGE Singapore Solaris); Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country in Spain, with its efforts at extending its Green Ring into the center of the city (an interior Green Ring!); and Wellington, New Zealand, where efforts are underway to develop a “Blue Belt” to encompass and celebrate marine nature, similar to the city’s network of terrestrial green belts and green space.
We are inspired by the many efforts underway and the commitments our partner cities have shown to making nature a key design standard and a local priority in planning and management. There is much more to be done, of course, and about a year ago we launched a new global Biophilic Cities Network. Cities will be asked to officially adopt a proclamation or other statement of their intent to join the network , will be asked to collect and track certain biophilic city indicators, and to develop goals for becoming more nature-ful in the future. Once in the Network cities will be expected to share information and experiences, and to provide support, however they can, for individuals, organizations and other cities working on behalf of nature, and in support of a global Biophilic Cities movement. We are hopeful that cities can and will lead the way—indeed they must—in forging new models for living sustainably, resiliently, and in close connection with the natural world.