Exploring Biophilic Cities
The theory and practice of planning and designing biophilic cities from global leaders and practitioners
RETHINKING THE WAY WE DO GREEN URBANISM
An audacious piece of urban infrastructure is under way in Washington, D.C.: a $45 million pedestrian “bridge park” that will span the Anacostia River, running parallel to the car bridge replacement on 11th Street. Just a short distance from the U.S. Capitol, the 11th Street Bridge Park promises to be a popular new park and city destination, just like the High Line in New York City — except for one key feature.
The High Line has showed that displacement and gentrification are often a result of green urbanism projects. But in D.C., the park’s designers are working to neutralize that affect. By seeking the community’s input during the design process, they’re planning to minimize the negative — and maximize the positive — impacts on underserved neighborhoods east of the river.
I spoke to Scott Kratz, who coordinates planning for the 11th Street Bridge Park under the auspices of the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River. Now in its preconstruction phase, the bridge’s innovative design is the product of a public design competition. The winning entry was a productive collaboration between OMA and the OLIN landscape architecture studio.
WHY WE SHOULD LIVE IN CITIES WITH OTTERS
By now you may have heard about or seen footage of Singapore’s Otters - they have achieved a remarkable celebrity status, locally and internationally. The otters are the subject of various news reports and video segments, with film crews from the UK, Japan and elsewhere seeking out these highly charismatic critters.
On a trip to Singapore last year, I had the chance to see them for myself. They are, to be sure, one highly visible outcome of this city-state’s commitment to supporting urban nature. That otters have returned to this dense and growing city is itself remarkable, as is the fact that they have become a public craze and an international sensation. On a Sunday afternoon, I had the chance to see them up close (and we brought along a videographer to capture the experience, some of which can be seen in the film segment below). Guided by Lena Chan and Max Khoo of Singapore’s National Parks Board (Nparks), we found and followed the so-called Bishan family of the Smooth-Coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). Indigenous to this city-state, these otters have only re-appeared in recent years. Max Khoo, who is studying the otters for this senior thesis, tells me that there are an estimated 10-12 distinct families living in Singapore, with a total of as many as 80 otters.
Open Space Initiatives: The Pittsburgh Greenway Program
The Greenways for Pittsburgh program was initiated in 1980 by the city's Department of City Planning. Since then, Pittsburgh has renewed the greenways project, revitalizing current greenways and creating new ones for the Pittsburgh community. Currently, there are 12 greenways in Pittsburgh, making up 605 total acres of open space in varying locations throughout the city.
What is a greenway?
A greenway is a permanently conserved, passive open space that is stewarded primarily by the community, and serves to benefit adjacent neighborhoods and the general public.
Greenways are beneficial to both the nature in a city and its residents, protecting the local ecology while providing an outlet for activities such as biking, walking, and running. They can include trails, plantings, green infrastructure, and even art installations. Studies have also shown that greenways can improve employment density in urban areas.
Categories of Greenways
The City of Pittsburgh has outlined three types of greenways, each of which allowing for different opportunities depending on their unique characteristics.
Imagine the future cities that we would really want to live in
Published on apolitical
Take a moment reader and envision a healthy city of the future. What is the picture that comes to mind? Does clean technology play a role? Is it free from cars and other carbon craving machines?
Is that vision also rich in nature? Such a living landscape is what we innately crave. E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis tells us that the human species has thrived in part because of our innate affinity with and connection to the living world.
An incredibly fruitful partnership — that has gone awry. Our current trajectory away from a symbiotic relationship with nature has disrupted the planet’s and our own prosperity in the currency of flourishing, healthy and happy lives.
Evidence demonstrates that daily connection with nature in the places we live reduces stress, decreases rates of depression and anxiety, and boosts the immune system. A recent piece on Apolitical documents a UK government initiative to combat loneliness by planning for green spaces that reduce social isolation.
A City that Celebrates its Connection to Nature: Phoenix, Arizona Officially Joins the Biophilic Cities Network
The Biophilic Cities Network welcomes Phoenix, Arizona, the fifth largest city in the nation, as an official Partner City. A city known for its unique biophilic features in the arid southwestern United States, Phoenix has an impressive portfolio of conservation, educational, and restoration efforts. The Biophilic Cities Project has long studied Phoenix for its biophilic features and collaborated with David Pijawka, Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning at Arizona State University, along with many students since the inception of the Biophilic Cities Project. At a glance, Phoenix is home to:
41,000 acres of desert parks and mountain preserves;
200+ miles of trails;
182 flatland parks; and
16,000+ acres of land in one park, South Mountain Park/Preserve, which is one of the largest municipally operated parks in the country.
Global Cities Answering the Call for Bold Leadership
Cities are in an unprecedented position of global leadership as innovators and incubators for creative solutions for sustainability. An oft repeated message from participants in the recent ICLEI World Congress was that to meet present environmental and sustainability challenges, cities must “be bold” in the solutions that they design and pursue. Business as usual is simply not enough.
Cities are embracing nature-based solutions as a primary pillar of the path forward. The ICLEI Montréal Commitment and Strategic Vision for 2018-2024 identifies nature-based development as critical pathway that cities must embrace in this urban century to achieve sustainability. Indeed, a focus on nature-based solutions was a primary theme throughout the three-day World Congress.
Addressing the question of how Biophilic Cities represents an innovative approach to scale local solutions, I was a participant in the Urban Nature Forum that marked a launching point for the focus on planning and designing natureful cities. The forum included a blend of presentations from Montréal based practitioners, representatives from city governments and non-governmental global innovators like Biophilic Cities.