Story at a glance

  • Biophilic cities try to incorporate nature in residents’ everyday lives.
  • “We start from the assumption that nature and contact with the natural world are not optional, but absolutely essential to leading a happy, healthy meaningful life,” says one expert.
  • Richmond, Va,. is the newest official biophilic city.

If you’ve never heard of a biophilic city before, you probably will soon — there’s a growing movement emerging globally.

So what is a biophilic city?

These are cities that aspire to be more rich in nature within their unique and diverse environments and where the planning and design abundantly incorporate the natural world into the daily lives of residents. It's based on the idea that humans have an innate love for and desire and necessity to connect with nature.  

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“We describe the vision of Biophilic Cities as one of immersive nature — nature is not just something to be found in a park here and there that you have to walk to, but rather we need to re-imagine the city AS a park, or AS a forest,” says Tim Beatley in an interview with Changing America. Beatley is a University of Virginia professor of sustainable communities in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, School of Architecture. He is also the founder and executive director of the Biophilic Cities network.

“We start from the assumption that nature and contact with the natural world are not optional, but absolutely essential to leading a happy, healthy meaningful life. We need nature close by and around us. It can't just be something we visit once or twice a year, say by visiting a faraway national park,” he says.

“The idea and vision of Biophilic Cities is definitely gaining traction globally, and there is a renewed appreciation for how essential nature is in cities and how it can help to make them more resilient and flourishing places,” Beatley says. “We know, for instance, that cities face tremendous pressures from climate change — a key response must be nature and nature-based solutions, such as cooling cities with trees and urban forests.”

Beatley’s colleague, Peter Newman, distinguished professor of sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, tells Changing America about the vital importance of nature.

“People, especially those living in cities, need a daily dose of nature in their lives to enable them to be healthy and productive. We need to see it, feel it, smell it, as that is how we are created — it's in our DNA. Cities have often lost this connection with their concrete, steel and bitumen, not to mention their plastic,” he says.

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Newman says he has dedicated nearly 50 years to activism, research and teaching about how to make cities more sustainable.

He made a film with Beatley called “Singapore: Biophilic City” that is being shown in presentations across the country.

Singapore is seen as an exceptional biophilic city. “In our movie we show how Biophilic values began with the first Prime Minister of Singapore saying that the environment in the city was as important as the economy and making National Parks a part of the Department of National Development,” says Newman, who got the idea about making the film after he spent some time in Singapore teaching a course to students at National University of Singapore.

Singapore is one of the best examples in showing that you can accommodate dense development and population growth and also actually protect and grow the nature as well,” says Beatley. Lush greenery is woven throughout the city, not only in numerous parks, but incorporated even into the design of tall buildings. 

"Singapore has now officially changed their motto from Singapore, Garden City to Singapore, a City in a Garden, and actually now, they commonly say, A Biophilic City in a Garden," says Beatley.

The recent presentation of the “Singapore: Biophilic City” film, last week, at the Richmond Public Library's main branch, as part of the 10th RVA Environmental Film Festival, was significant, as Richmond, Va., just became the newest official member of the Biophilic City network.

“Richmond is in many ways already a wild and biophilic city, and has taken some impressive steps to connect residents to the James River for instance, one of its most important natural assets,” says Beatley.

Published on Feb 12, 2020