Life And The Nature of Cities
Cities Are Good For Nature Want to help the environment? Move to a big city. Contrary to popular belief, cities may be the most effective tool we have for helping the environment. A study out of Yale University reported that “New Yorkers have the smallest carbon footprints in the United States: 7.1 metric tons of greenhouse gases per person per year, or less than 30 percent of the national average. Manhattanites generate even less.” How could this be? Networks. As network grow the opportunities for resource cycling increases. Using a resource twice is the same as having twice as many resources.
Though, it may cost more the build city infrastructure frequent use means that it requires far less energy per person. This sounds counterintuitive but the larger a city is the less per capita resources it requires. An interesting discovery by physics Geoffrey West shows that animals and cities scale this way (watch Geoffrey’s TEDtalk here). Good new considering the planet is rapidly urbanizing (180 000 people move into cities each day). As of 2010, more than 50% of the people on the planet live in cities. In many developed nations, the percentage is already above 80%.
What’s clear is that we’re an urban species though less clear is how we want our urban environments to behave and look. In his book Ecocities, architect Ricard Register describes a city as a place for maximizing connections. If true, good cities increase diversity and provide opportunities for connections. After all, isn’t a vibrant city one in which we can work, play, and discover in close place? Good urban design increases the likelihood of connections (What Tony Hsieh calls collisions). As we proceed, let’s not only expand the built environment that of the natural world. Armed with ecological understanding the biophilic city is within reach. Our designs influence the natural world every day, we might as well get good at them.
Biophilic Cities Love and Integrate Natural System Into Their Design
When ecologist Edward O Wilson coined the terms biodiversity and biophilia he opened our eyes to new ways of viewing the world. Now, architects, designers, and academics such as Richard Register, Tim Beatley, and Geoffrey West are using lessons from ecology and network theory to design tomorrow’s resilient urban environment; biophilic cities.
What is a Biophilic City? As coined by E.O.Wilson, biophilia is an inherent love of nature. A biophilic city then embraces and incorporates natural systems into its design. They integrate the built and natural worlds in beneficial ways. The result? Biophilic cities are more interesting and less prone to floods, droughts, resource shortages, waste, and boredom. Biophilic cities have the potential to save money, resources, and spark the imagination.
Cities Are Natural We tend to view our built and natural environments as opposing forces. But I would argue that this perceived incompatibility has more to do with poor design than universal law. As it turns out, urban environments already play host to countless organisms. Let’s go a step further and argue that cities are natural. Far from being static, nature is the process of moving from few to many connections. In this successional process each stage of builds upon the previous stage and creates the conditions necessary for the next. In this way, ecological systems diverge, diversify, and expand over time. What starts off as simple and fragile becomes complex and resilient. As it turns out, cities behave in a similar way. What starts off as a small settlement expands to include many of the needs and services necessary to support the community. At each stage, the future is build on the present. As new connections grow, the system expands and new possibilities emerge.
Biophilic Cities are Resilient Resiliency is a property of systems and a measure of how connected its pieces are. As natural and built systems expands, their potential for connections increases rapidly.
Biophilic Cities Are Ecotones Ecologists describe the intersection of two ecological systems as an ecotone. Ecotones bring together the biodiversity of each plus a few others (think otters at the edge of a lake). As a result, ecotones are rich in ecological relationships. They are among the most biologically diverse places on the planet. By design, Biophilic Cities are ecotones that connect economy, society and nutrients (money, food, and waste) with ecosystem services. Ex. waste water runoff or the heat island effect become ecological solutions.