The Biophilic Design Movement Takes Shape (Part 2)

San Francisco sidewalk garden created by Argonne School / Richmond District Blog

The hard work ahead involves integrating biophilic planning and design into codes, “which are dry but critical,” argued Tim Beatley, professor at the University of Virginia and author of The Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design, at the Biophilic Leadership Summit, which was hosted at Serenbe, an agricultural community outside of Atlanta. Beatley said the good news is more cities are “moving from experimenting with biophilic design practices to codifying them.”

James Brown, director of biophilic codes at the Biophilic Cities Project, pointed to a few examples of biophilic codes: Toronto’s green roof bylaw, which requires green roofs on all new development; Arizona’s dark skies policies, which protect wildlife and humans from unnecessary nighttime light pollution; Denver’s view plane ordinance, which guarantees views of the Rocky mountains; San Francisco’s sidewalk landscape permits, which enable any resident to plant a sidewalk garden; and Boston’s coming stringent protections for trees.

The Biophilic Cities Project is now putting together a database of codes that can serve as inspiration for communities. He said there are many areas to cover in the built environment, but “the urban forest has the oldest set of biophilic codes — every city limits what you can or can’t do with trees.”

And we heard about efforts to enshrine biophilic planning and design in a few major cities. Stephanie Stuckey, chief resilience officer for Atlanta, is partnering with the Nature Conservancy to create a map that identifies “which trees need to be protected strategically to maintain biodiversity.”

Mary Lynn Wilhere, with the district department of the environment and energy in Washington, D.C., said “putting biophilia into the codes is the next step.”

D.C. is already doing a lot — it’s implementing a wildlife action plan, which aims to restore and create wildlife habitats, and developing a GIS map of the city’s 1,000 small parks to figure out the best way “to link them up into pollinator pathways, where people can have more biophilic experiences.”

The city recently created a green area ratio (GAR) modeled after Singapore’s, which requires developers to replace the green space they have built over on the ground in their building’s roof and facade. “We want to figure out how to use the GAR to advance biophilia.” Policymakers, planners, and “developers will want clear language on biophilia requirements,” based in the latest scientific data. Another plus to the new approach: D.C’s new stormwater runoff and GAR fees are expected to “pay for a lot of biophilic projects.”

Later, Bill Browning, a founder of Terrapin Bright Green and author of the widely-cited 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, described how WOHA, the architects of Singapore’s Parkroyal on Pickering Hotel, also known as the “jungle hotel,” took great advantage of Singapore’s GAR to maximize green space and biodiversity. “In Singapore, architects now compete to see how much greenery they can add, even going for a 5:1 ratio.”

Parkroyal on Pickering by WOHA / Dezeen

And then Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the urban design program at Georgia Tech school of architecture and co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia, gave everyone a reality check, arguing biophilic planners and designers must look beyond cities to suburbia, which is where 67 percent or 80 percent of Americans live (depending on how you calculate).

Of the 1,400 case studies she has collected on efforts to make suburbia more walkable and sustainable, she found that, sadly, only 2 percent of projects featured “regreening.” One example in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Guthrie Green Urban Park, a geothermal and solar-powered park by SWA Group, took root over a truck loading facility. Beyond catalytic projects or code changes, Dunham-Jones floated some other ideas for how to “incentivize re-greening,” including green infrastructure banks and bonds, or a biophilia revolving trust.

Guthrie Green Urban Park / SWA Group

Dunham-Jones concluded that “regreening is not happening enough.” And if it does happen, “it’s not justified in terms of biophilia.” At least half of all suburban retrofits need to be transformed into green spaces that can boost biodiversity. “But we are nowhere near close.”

Read part 1.

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