Kaid Benfield Archive


Biophilia: greening our cities (literally!)

Kaid Benfield

Posted July 24, 2008 at 9:08PM

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Today we have a guest blogger.  I've invited my NRDC colleague Rachel Sohmer, who is a smart growth advocate and conservation biologist, to share some thoughts and images on the subject of biophilia.  The rest of this post is Rachel's, and I think she really delivered.

It’s been a long day. You need a break. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do. Here, try focusing on this:

biking in Spreewald Biosphere Reserve, Germany (by: R. Sohmer)

Nice, right? Feel better yet? How about this:

Hampstead Heath, London (by: R. Sohmer)

Aaaaaahhhh…greenness. By the way, your blood pressure just went down, your work productivity went up, and your hair is even starting to acquire a nice glossy sheen. Ok, I know it doesn’t quite work that way, but the basic premise here is that human beings seem to have an intrinsic emotional need to connect with nature. Via Verde, NYC affordable housing (courtesy of Jonathan Rose Companies)E. O. Wilson and his colleagues call it ‘biophilia,’ and I love anything Dr. Wilson loves, which I guess makes me a biophilia-philiac? Anyway, researchers have shown that even just a view of greenery from your window can give you a psychological and physical boost. And if you find yourself without a tree to look at or a park to stroll through, you can apparently buy some Vitamin G(reen) at your nearest Embassy Suites these days.

So what does this have to do with smart growth? Knowing that part of growing smarter means growing denser (ha, I’m punny), it will be increasingly important to protect and foster the link between people and other living things in urban areas. Whether it’s in the form of parks, community gardens, green roofs, street plantings, or greenways (or ideally all of the above and then some), the success of smart growth rests as least in part on competing with large-lot suburbs on the foliage front.

I mean, seriously. Where would you rather live, even if you’re not a density-phobic sprawlian?:

concrete canyon, Manchester UK (by: Neil Wilkinson, creative commons license) Teardrop Park, NYC (by: pocketmonsterd/DDDiana, creative commons license)

Of course, besides making us happier and healthier people, greener urban environments also deliver those ‘triple bottom line’ environmental, economic and social benefits we all know and love.

Fortunately for all of us, developers like Jonathan Rose (NRDC friend and trustee, and tireless champion of sustainable development) are making it all happen with mixed-used, affordable, ‘biophilic’ projects like Via Verde in the south Bronx (depicted alongside the E.O. Wilson reference above). Check out this PBS clip of Mr. Rose explaining it all better than I ever could…then go outside and get some fresh air!

More city green:

balcony, Madison WI (by: Dawn Perry, creative commons license) Teardrop Park, NYC (by: Payton Chung, creative commons license)

Russell Square, London (c2007 by FK Benfield) East Village NYC (by: Mike Dumlao, creative commons license)