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anooi a nourishing intent

outlining the essential features of a biophilic city

in biophilic cities

What is a biophilic city? Is it a green city? A sustainable city? In fact, a biophilic city is a mix of all these and even more.

So let’s outline the elements that make a city truly biophilic…

natural features

Clear enough, a biophilic city is a city with plenty of nature. A city that makes space for green features from rooftops to urban parks, and incorporates other natural features such as rivers, ponds, and more…

But not all urban nature is equal. A biophilic city prioritizes native features (think of native plant species) that support and restore local ecosystems while fostering a closer connection to place. Nature is easily accessible to everyone, and it can be experienced spontaneously (after all, what is the point of having a park if you can’t walk or sit in it?) Also, a biophilic city retains a certain degree of wilderness, leaving some natural areas unplanned and spontaneous.

An urban park rich in greenery.
Credit: MASU Planning
Rainwater flow in a green public area.
Credit: Berger

biophilic design

A biophilic city is one that’s designed according to the principles of biophilic design. It’s rich in natural materials, shapes and textures, full of sensory experiences, true to its local surroundings, connected to natural processes, and genuinely engaging, thanks to a skillful combination of prospect, refuge, mystery and apparent risk design features.

Public seating area shielded by trees.
Credit: Práctica Arquitectura
Close-up of a planted area bounded in a curved shape.
Credit: Straight Curve

sustainable development

Sustainability is a fundamental aspect to consider whenever speaking of urban development.

In a biophilic city, natural elements and design features are not just decorative; they contribute to the overall sustainability of the area. For example, plants absorb carbon, cool the environment, and support the local fauna. Biophilic features double as functional tools to collect rainwater, treat wastewater, produce clean energy…
In short, every design decision takes sustainability into account, making urban environments less of a burden for the planet.

A rich and wild green area.
Credit: Rich Landscapes
Rainwater flowing through a recess in the pavement.
Credit: Berger

outdoor time

Spending more time outdoors is key to restoring a deep connection between people and the natural world.

A biophilic city encourages outdoor time actively, by creating more opportunities for it. Think about usable and enjoyable green areas, practical walking pathways that connect the city, nature-related activities and events, opportunities to garden and grow food…

A walking trail immersed in the forest developing along a water body.
Credit: Scape Studio
A big city park with playgrounds and plenty of occasions to spend time outdoors.
Credit: LUZ – Ph: Luka Vidic

closeness to nature

Closeness to nature is not just physical proximity. It also means curiosity towards nature, knowledge of nature, and direct involvement in it.

A biophilic city is one that aims at cultivating closeness to nature in its wider sense. This begins with design considerations, but also calls for activities and policies that prioritize nature (such as nature-related events, gardening groups, environmental education, biodiversity-driven development plans, and more…).

City garden mixing decorative with edible plants.
Credit: Dan Pearson Studio

not just for people

From a conceptual point of view, a biophilic city is one that values its natural surroundings and sees itself as an integral part of them. Biophilic cities recognize the importance of other life forms besides humans and are designed to support them. This results in rich and biodiverse urban environments where plants, animals, and humans get to live together.

Walking trail immersed in nature lit by floor level lights at night.
Credit: Landscape Architecture Lab – Ph: Aleksandra Matyas

As a whole, a biophilic city is one that values and prioritizes nature, considering it a founding element of urban planning. This will be reflected in design decisions, development strategies, as well as in the culture and behaviour of urban dwellers. In other words, a city is truly biophilic when nature becomes an integral part of all that makes a city – from spaces to policies and people.

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