Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, November 23, 2012

What is Biophilic Urbanism?

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¨For Professor Heerwagen, biophilia is best defined by the amazing biologist E.O. Wilson, who came up with the actual concept. It relates to the “innate emotional connection of humans to all living things.” In cities, for example, this means that people are attracted to trees and will pay more to live in areas with them. People will pay more for hotel rooms with views of nature. “These are things we intuitively know. We chose places that are greener.” Dr. Richard Jackson, former head of environmental health at the CDC, also made a similar point but connected nature with physical and mental health. Heerwagen quoted him: “In medicine, where the body is really matters.” Health is essentially place-based.

Research on the Benefits of Nature
Heerwagen outlined some fascinating recent research: In a recent study that examined the impact of exercising in nature vs. working out in areas devoid of nature, researchers found that “green exercise” in natural spaces “lowered tension, anxiety, and blood pressure,” beyond the benefits of exercise itself.
For kids, playing out in nature also has big benefits: “nature play is more imaginative.” Kids playing in nature play longer and more collaboratively. In contrast, in a closed-off playground, the play was “more aggressive and shorter.” While playing in nature, kids are “particularly attracted to spaces that offer protection and safety,” or “prospect and refuge.”
Researchers in the Netherlands recently looked at the benefits of what they call “Vitamin G.” Examining 10,000 residents in a massive study, the researchers found that the amount of green space in a 5-km zone around a person really impacts their health. “A 20 percent increase in nearby green space was effectively equivalent to another 5 years of life.”
Nature, said Heerwagen, also promotes positive emotions, psychological resilience, and wellbeing. Pleasant environments, researchers have demonstrated, stimulate opioid receptors so we actually feel a sense of pleasure.
Excerpt from: 

Edward 0. Wilson, a Harvard myrmecologist and conservationist, in popularizing the term "biophilia," suggested that we need daily contact with nature to be healthy, productive individuals, partly because we have co-evolved with nature.  Specifically, Wilson describes biophilia as "the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate means hereditary, and hence, part of ultimate human nature."  To Wilson, biophilia is a "complex of learning rules" developed over thousands of years of evolution and human-environment interaction:

For more than 99 percent of human history people have lived in hunter-gatherer bands totally and intimately involved with other organisms. During this period of deep history, and still farther back ... they depended on an exact learned knowledge of crucial aspects of natural history... In short, the brain evolved in a biocentric world, not a machine-regulated world. It would be therefore quite  extraordinary to find that all learning rules related to that world have been erased in a few thousand years, even in the tiny minority of peoples who have existed for more than one or two generations in wholly urban environments.

The empirical evidence of biophilia, and of social, psychological, pedagogical, and other benefits from direct and indirect exposure to nature, is mounting and impressive. Research has shown that a connection with nature has the ability to reduce stress, aid recovery from illness, enhance cognitive skills and academic performance, and aid in moderating the effects of ADHD, autism and other child illnesses. A recent study by MIND, a British mental health charity, compared the effects on mood of a walk in nature with a walk in a shopping mall."' The differences in the effects of these two walks are remarkable, though not unexpected. The study concluded that "green exercise has particular benefits for people experiencing mental distress. It directly benefits mental health (lowering stress and boosting self-esteem), improves physical health (lowering blood pressure and helping to tackle obesity), provides a source of meaning and purpose, and helps to develop skills and form social connections."' The results showed marked improvements in selfesteem following the outdoor nature walk (ninety percent improved), compared to much smaller improvements for those walking in the shopping center (seventeen percent improved).'" Indeed, a large percentage of the indoor walkers actually reported a decline in self-esteem (forty-four percent declined). Similarly, the green outdoor walk resulted in significant improvements in mood. (....)
Ideally, biophilic urbanism requires action on multiple geographic scales in a "rooftop to region" or "room to region" approach. Access to nature can occur in many different ways and through access to a range and variety of natural features. The type and extent of these features will vary in part depending on the scale of attention. Ideally, multi-scalar attention results in a nested set of natural features that move from building and site to region and bioregion, creating the conditions for biophilic living. This, in turn, results in an extensive biophilic design palette.

Excerpt from:
Biophilic Urbanism: Inviting Nature Back to Our Communities and Into Our Lives
Repository Citation
Timothy Beatley, Biophilic Urbanism: Inviting Nature Back to Our Communities and Into Our Lives, 34 Wm. & Mary Envtl. L. & Pol'y Rev. 209 (2009), iss1/6

A more specific definition:

  • Biophilic cities are cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites; biophilic cities are biodiverse cities, that value, protect and actively restore this biodiversity; biophilic cities are green and growing cities, organic and natureful;
  • In biophilic cities, residents feel a deep affinity with the unique flora, fauna and fungi found there, and with the climate, topography, and other special qualities of place and environment that serve to define the urban home; In biophilic cities citizens can easily recognize common species of trees, flowers, insects and birds (and in turn care deeply about them);
  • Biophilic cities are cities that provide abundant opportunities to be outside and to enjoy nature through strolling, hiking, bicycling, exploring; biophilic cities nudge us to spend more time amongst the trees, birds and sunlight.
  • Biophilic cities are rich multisensory environments, the where the sounds of nature (and other sensory experiences) are as appreciated as much as the visual or ocular experience; biophilic cities celebrate natural forms, shapes, and materials;
  • Biophilic cities place importance on education about nature and biodiversity, and on providing many and varied opportunities to learn about and directly experience nature; In biophilic cities there are many opportunities to join with others in learning about, enjoying, deeply connecting with, and helping to steward over nature, whether though a nature club, organized hikes, camping in city parks, or volunteering for nature restoration projects.
  • Biophilic cities invest in the social and physical infrastructure that helps to bring urbanites in closer connection and understanding of nature, whether through natural history museums, wildlife centers, school-based nature initiatives, or parks and recreation programs and projects, among many others;
  • Biophilic cities are globally responsible cities that recognize the importance of actions to limit the impact of resource use on nature and biodiversity beyond their urban borders; biophilic cities take steps to actively support the conservation global nature;
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