The Biophilic City - Nature is Key!

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Author: Isabella Hewitt

The pioneer land-grant university, Michigan State’s campus, embodies nature, culture, and creativity by including ties to the landscape in the surrounding the area. A stark divide lies between MSU and the greater East Lansing area, Grand River, a loud, busy, dividing road that separates the two. Not only is this separation between the two entities, but is a separation point between a more natural setting, MSU, and the developed EL downtown. Planning a city is not simply buildings and stores, but learning how to connect the unnatural with the landscapes. Trees, courtyards, city parks; these are things that draw people into a city. The greater EL area has an amazing resource and example across the street. Michigan State’s campus flows between nature and infrastructure quite seamlessly. From the River Trail to Beaumont Tower, inviting and special spaces are easily found. While the economic development of East Lansing needs to be done, forgoing the need to incorporate nature and greenery negatively impacts the residents of EL and thus, the economic growth of the city too.

When you think of areas that you enjoy to spend time in during the day they typically include areas with light and windows. Humans need fresh air and sunlight to feel happy and that is why we are drawn to places that we feel connected with nature in one way or another. Whether this is tons of windows, taking a walk, sitting in a park, nature inherently draws people to it. There is a hypothesis called biophilia, the idea is that humans an innately drawn to other forms of life and that the urge to be surrounded by greenery and other people is inherently natural. Instead of focusing on massive skyscraping cities, looking towards an innovative idea that draws on the unconscious needs of humans, biophilic cities promote incorporating nature into the design to create a multisensory experience.

Some instances of creating green spaces and better connecting to surrounding nature are creating a green roof on businesses, creating bike trails that connect both business and people and different city gardens like a learning garden or a picnic lawn. These are just some of the numerous ways to create a biophilic city landscape. One of the keys to creating a better community is to ensure that greenery is used in not only a way that betters the environment but also one that encourages social interaction and involvement from the local communities.

Looking towards the future, East Lansing can take a lot away from the idea of a biophilic city, most notably ensuring that in future developments include active greenspace. Active meaning it is not simply a courtyard thrown between cement walls, but spaces that seamlessly flow between the infrastructure and nature. Luckily, East Lansing has the perfect wealth of knowledge and innovation directly across the street, Michigan State’s campus. Efficiently using what resources the city has means that EL will not only look towards the campus design but use the vast knowledge and creativity of MSU to better create a downtown area that furthers economic development, community culture, and inclusion.

Becoming a city of the future means embracing the principles that create a great city. One of these is connectivity with nature and looking towards the new idea of a biophilic city embraces this ideal and goes above and beyond by understanding how this impacts the environment and human life positively. Not only can EL learn from this principle, but can be a leader of change for future cities and communities looking to become more green, successful and inclusive.

An example of this principle at work: Biophilic Cities