Thursday, April 15

Revitalizing Our Cities: Beauty, Biodiversity, and the Biophilic Cities Movement | Architecture


OROur cities are dominated by glass-fronted buildings that overheat like greenhouses and then consume energy to cool down. Instead, we could have buildings that are intimately connected to the living systems that have evolved with us, that celebrate the connection between humans and nature that is critical to our well-being.

As more of us in Australia live in urban areas and our cities grow, bringing nature to our cities is a key part of establishing and rebuilding that connection. In addition to bringing beauty to urban environments, we know that people are healthier when they are connected to nature. Research also shows that crime rates decrease in tree-lined street areas and that property values ​​increase.

Nature knows how to handle floods and weather events and is more adaptable than many of our designed systems, but we refuse to learn from it. As we fight to change the way we live due to climate change, we have the opportunity to learn from both natural systems and indigenous cultures that have dominated managing and supporting Australia’s diversity for thousands of years.

The “Greener Places” framework, published by the New South Wales government architect last year, outlines the many benefits of green infrastructure; from increased interaction and social inclusion to reduced flood risk and improved property values. With all this knowledge about the benefits of nature in cities, we are still seeing developments that have little or no nature and, if they do, little thought is given to creating habitats that can increase biodiversity. A regenerative design approach, one that creates opportunities for people and nature to thrive together, is emerging as a way forward, much like the Biophilic Cities movement that started in the US and is now present in Australia. .

Our cities could once again wither and become habitats for native species everywhere, even in the densest CBD environments, while creating attractive community spaces for people. As Australian cities become denser, the benefits of connecting with nature increase, yet we often tell ourselves that it is not possible to bring nature into the city, that it requires too much space, or that it is best left to creation. of parks where you can stay. separated from our built spaces.

Highline in New York City provides examples to cities elsewhere of how leftover spaces in cities can be completely transformed to connect both people and nature.
New York’s Highline provides an example to cities elsewhere of how leftover spaces in cities can be completely transformed to connect both people and nature. Photograph: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Biodiversity exists everywhere, even the smallest urban green spaces provide essential habitats for the tiniest species. If we can connect those small spaces, then the potential increases. Fortunately, we are seeing emerging projects in cities around the world that demonstrate the possibilities.

High-profile projects like The Highline in New York City provide examples to cities elsewhere of how leftover spaces in cities can be completely transformed to connect people and nature. Re-wilding is about adding nature everywhere, not just in parks, by using nature-based solutions or green infrastructure at the edges of our streets, in excess spaces, and within and within our buildings. If we consider our developments as spaces for nature, from which we cut out the spaces for human use instead of those in which we design for human use and add a symbolic amount of green to them at the edge, we will have the opportunity to attract people. and nature in a healthy balance.

Perth City Farm, located next to the railway line.  Australia's cities are littered with leftover space, from train cuts to parking lots and abandoned industrial sites.
Perth City Farm, located next to the railway line. Australia’s cities are littered with leftover space, from train cuts to parking lots and abandoned industrial sites. Photograph: Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Our cities in Australia are littered with leftover space, from train cuts to parking lots and abandoned industrial sites. Too often, our busiest roads are harsh environments with little or no nature, and the rooftops and squares of our cities are hard surfaces that contribute to increased heat and polluted water runoff. The nature we add doesn’t just have to be trees, projects like Sydney’s Camperdown Commons, Perth City Farm or Melbourne’s SkyFarm demonstrate the opportunity to grow food in our cities while increasing community engagement and interaction.

There are many ambitions within our cities to create blue / green grids and various plans, frameworks, and guidelines outlining the opportunities and benefits. The City of Melbourne’s Green Our City Strategic Action Plan outlines how green walls and roofs can play a role in bringing nature into the city, for example. What we lack is the broad integration of these frameworks into the actual design and engineering of our cities, as well as the economic will to give some space to nature.

We are generally short-sighted and cannot see the long-term benefits that nature brings us. Too often we do not conduct an analysis of the economic benefits of increasing property values, reducing pollutants in waterways, and the cleaner air that results from these measures. Several high-profile construction projects in Sydney and Melbourne have led the way in exploring how to include nature. The planned Green Spine project in Melbourne integrates nature as a defining design feature and the successful One Central Park project in Sydney provides a vibrant example of urban greening that brings nature from the ground to its facade. A movement that demonstrates regenerative thinking is showing signs of emergence.

The award-winning One Central Park, in Chippendale, Sydney.
The award-winning One Central Park, in Chippendale, Sydney. Photography: Michael Yip

The bones are there for the revitalization of our cities to become a reality. Government frameworks, commitments and priorities recognize the benefits, we have built examples that can act as catalyst projects for others, and time is becoming critical with regard to both climate change and biodiversity loss – themes that surveys consistently show are of great importance to Australians. Hopefully more species don’t need to go extinct, devastating wildfires, catastrophic floods, and chaotic displays of changing weather patterns for us to take action.

A decade ago, the United Nations Convention set targets for biodiversity; Alarmingly, none of them have been achieved. In the next decade, we must take our responsibility to help nature prosper, the survival of all the other species we depend on is in our hands. Over the past 200 years, Australia has lost 75% of its rainforests and has the world’s worst record for mammalian extinctions. While we continue to view nature as something that we can take and destroy and as something that is separate from us, it is unlikely that anything will change. Here in Australia, even the threat of extinction of the koalas after last year’s wildfires has not resulted in sufficient action.

Fundamentally, our relationship with nature is key to this change, we need to embrace nature in our daily lives and act with the knowledge that everything we do to nature, we do to ourselves.

Amanda Sturgeon is the Head of Regenerative Design and Climate Change Practice for Mott MacDonald Asia Pacific, New Zealand and Australia.

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