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Disarmingly natural cities...

Posted on 22 January 2015.

The word "biophilia" has made a grand entry into the vocabulary of urban planners – and not without good reason. It has a unique approach to the growth of cities worldwide.

The dictionary defines biophilia as a love of all living things. In other words if you love animals, plants, walking in the park, going to the zoo, or taking care of the environment you are a "biophile". When put like that, it sounds more New Age than anything else. But...

A very old affair

According to the American biologist Edward Osborne Wilson - “the father of biodiversity” - the close relationship between human beings and other creatures dates back to the dawn of time and has developed as the different species have evolved. We need nature since we are a part of it, just as it needs us to protect, enhance, and complete it. A biophilic city is not a city full of hippies, but a growing city that includes our dogs and cats – and in fact all living creatures and their habitats - in addition to me and you. With massive urbanization on a global scale already well underway, biophilic cities are more welcome than ever...

Top of the class

If you think of it as just a utopian vision, think again! People who have been to Singapore, for example, have seen it in practice - the city has a "green" policy that covers everything, everywhere. Ground floors, balconies and rooftops are often covered with plants. You can even take a walk up in the air in the tree canopy!

Photo by Tim Beatley, Biophilic cities project – Copyrights : Tim Beatley
Photo by Tim Beatley, Biophilic cities project – Copyrights : Tim Beatley

The story is the same in Oslo, where no less than two-thirds of the city is protected forest. The network of pedestrian paths is particularly extensive and even the layout of roads and stations has been designed to provide easy access to green spaces. The final third of the capital gives pride of place to the eight major rivers running through it and its large open spaces.

Why keep the flame alive?

Wilson and his peers do not insist on the importance of strengthening ties with our natural roots just because we should all be conscious of the environment. Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive effects of regular contact with nature: of course better health, but also better morale, greater awareness of others, greater sensitivity and sociability, better knowledge of plant and animal species, and more initiatives designed to take care of everything around us. To put it even more simply, biophilia leads to deep personal fulfillment at all levels. Multiply this idea by the number of inhabitants in a city, and you get a more harmonious way of life, which is as useful as it is spiritual. Whether facing economic difficulties or natural disasters, biophiles naturally feel stronger, more able to react. Seen in practice in New Zealand after the series of severe earthquakes in 2011, nature gave the city of Christchurch comfort, energy and the inspiration to rebuild.
In conclusion, we would do well to keep the concept of biophilia in mind in all our efforts to protect our planet.

Find out more:

- The official website for biophilic cities