Studies have shown that nature, particularly exposure to nature, not only enhances one’s well-being but can actually improve your concentration, your health and your generosity. Exposure can also significantly reduce stress and alleviate symptoms from ADHD, autism and depression, among other mental illnesses. It’s no surprise then that researchers and urban planners are aligning to better understand this relationship in order to improve upon current and future design of global urban centers.
As more and more people leave the suburbs for the cities, maintaining the balance between green and urban space will be critical. Efforts to maintain this balance include everything from rooftop gardens, green walls, greenways, urban forestry and park space. Some of the less literal green improvements include enhanced public transportation, bike share programs and energy efficiency measures and renewable energy retrofits for city buildings.
In his book, “Biophilic Cities,” Timothy Beatley details the importance of not only understanding the connection between humans and the planet, but applying that connection to everyday life. Instead of nature being something that’s “out there” or a wild place you venture to only on your weekend hike, visualize nature as integrated with your morning commute to work, your lunch break or your trip to the grocery store. Beatley, along with other notable naturalists, including John Muir, Rachel Carson and Henry David Thoreau, encourages the reader to appreciate the nature directly outside her door, even if she doesn’t have access to an idyllic park or forest. For example, pay close attention to the birds in your neighborhood, or to the wildflowers that grow through the sidewalk cracks. Take a moment to stop and reflect about your greater connection to the planet and this, Beatley points out, will have positive, sweeping impacts in many areas.
Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of ”Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom for the Urban Wilderness,” also encourages this open-eyed approach. Haupt specifically focuses on her relationship with crows, a typically shunned and feared animal, and invites the reader to question his assumption with the common bird leaving the reader to reevaluate any and all preconceived notions about not only crows, but about the intricate natural web of life, of which humans are a part.
As climate change begins to significantly alter the planet as we know it, so-called biophilic population centers, or cities, and the symbiotic relationship between human development and the natural world will become ever more critical. Although many continue to try, the Earth simply cannot sustain the current rate of expansion and resource exploitation, particularly given the rapid growth of developing nations like China. To compensate, fields like environmental psychology, or ecopsychology, will inevitably play a more critical role in urban design and planning as our perception of reality begins to shift with a rapidly changing ecosystem.
The good news is that many cities worldwide are already integrating green design into their urban models. Cities like London, Paris, San Francisco, New York City, Toronto, Helsinki, and Singapore, to name a few, are building with ecology and balance in mind, and this includes increased energy efficiency measures for buildings, rooftop gardens and enhanced access to green space. Brooklyn, NY recently hailed the largest rooftop garden in the United States and San Francisco mandates a city-wide composting and recycling program where over 75% of waste is diverted from landfills. Cities like Montreal, Paris, Boston and Washington, DC have integrated successful bike share programs for both commuting and residential purposes and membership continues to rise.
Whatever your viewpoint, nature is everywhere and it’s important to acknowledge this fact. The more disassociated one is with nature, the less likely one is to care about environmental issues, or to act to protect natural spaces. Biophilic city design is therefore a wonderful way to blend two historically distinct worlds. We’re all a part of the system, after all.
Photo Credit: Kalardi