Hames Sharley director, previous Adjunct Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, member of the Green Building Council of Australia board and the National Council of Directors of Environment Business Australia - Darren Bilsborough has extensive experience in Biophilia and environmental design. Based on his paper titled The Biophilic City: Can it Improve Economic Prosperity, here, Bilsborough summarises his paper into six key areas: biodiversity, climate change, urban farming, cooler cities, bio-sequestration and health and productivity.

Australian government perspective

With now over 50% of the world’s population and 90% of Australia’s population living in urban areas, our cities are becoming increasingly more vulnerable. The risks to our cities and to our cities’ residents has never been greater, with multiple threats from climate change, the multiple peaks of peak food, peak water, peak oil, the pollution of our air, waterways and soils, our ever-diminishing natural resources and biodiversity.

These risks can be averted, but only through strategically planning for the mitigation of these risks into the future. The federal government has recognised this urgent need through mandating that states and territories have capital city strategic plans that meet national criteria for transport, housing, urban development and sustainability. The government’s intention is for the plans to contribute to lifting economic productivity, responding to climate change and ensuring the nation is geared up for 35 million people by 2049.

Biophilic cities offer an opportunity to tackle climate change, actively engage the participation of community, raise economic productivity, reduce pressures on health services by ensuring a healthier population, and sustain a more efficient use of natural resources. The goal now is to pursue these economic rationales to achieve the policy levers that will deliver this biophilic city vision.

What is Biophilia?

Biophilia literally means ‘love of our living systems’. A biophilic city is a city that works with natural ecosystems to incorporate biodiversity, landscape, food production and water management in every area of the built environment. It can improve economic prosperity in the following ways:

1. Biodiversity

Our physical, physiological and psychological health depends on the health of other species, and on the integrity and vitality of natural ecosystems. The loss of biodiversity poses many potential costs to human health.

The value of our natural ecosystems should be considered through a cost-benefit analysis of all their attributes. For example, the value of a forest is that it provides food, building materials, a carbon sink, a water purifier and a tourist attraction. This broader analysis of cumulative benefits has influenced the property development industry to build commercial green buildings. Similarly, we can extend the same rationale to biophilic cities.

2. Climate change

We need to consider how our current urban settlement patterns might change or adapt to future environmental changes. There is evidence that ‘urban greening’ provides a means for cities to adapt to future climate change. Analysing the economic effects of climate change on urban spaces, allows us to construct a sound base for investing in planning and design of alternative urban settlement models.

3. Urban farming

Urban farming is about creating inner-city farms from spare lots, balconies and roof-tops. The potential of urban farming has gained prominence after a series of global food scares which highlighted the need to secure safe food sources. It has long been an accepted practice in European countries and is being embraced by many developing countries, Cuba for example.

4. Cooler cities

Greening helps cool cities by cutting the amount of heat-absorbing surfaces and providing cool shade, offsetting the ‘urban heat island’ effect. A US ‘cool community’ program has projected heat reductions of up to 3°C as a result of physical greening of cities. For an estimated cost of US$1 billion, the program would provide estimated annual savings of US$170 million from reduced energy and air-conditioning costs.

5. Bio-sequestration

One of the key benefits of combining biodiversity and climate change strategies in biophilic cities is the potential for bio-sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Biological carbon capture and storage (BioCCS) may be the only way for global CO2 levels to be reduced and maintained to levels recommended by leading climate scientists.

6. Health and productivity

Governments are grappling with the rising costs of healthcare and the demands being placed on health services and health workers. Just as the health agenda drove the green building revolution - with increases in staff productivity and a reduction in sick-building syndrome – so, too, the opportunity exists for significant health benefits through better planning of our cities.

This article was originally published in Sustainability Matters.


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