This review will be of the first three chapters of Timothy Beatley’s book, Biophilic Cities.
Biophilic Cities | Beatley, Timothy. (2011). Biophilic Cities: Integrating nature into urban design and planning. Washington, DC: Island Press.
[Chapter 1 | The Importance of Nature and Wildness in Our Urban Lives]
After just one chapter, I could already tell that this would be an influential book. Author Timothy Beatley introduces the reader to the idea of a Biophilic City in this first chapter by initially drawing attention to the depressing disconnect which separates younger generations from the natural world. He emphasizes the importance of nature in cities, citing economic, physical, psychological, social, and aesthetic benefits while noting measurable statistics. And, much to my liking, he concluded the first chapter by criticizing what he calls the “green urban agenda” for its failure to really address the literal green elements. As I’ve mentioned before, this has been a very big focus of my own concern, and I’m glad to have seen it addressed up-front. This chapter focused on the measurables and quantifiable reasons explaining why we need nature in our cities; yet it only provides a brief glimpse on how we can bring this nature back in. It left me in great anticipation of what was ahead. (This chapter also encouraged me to look back on my own experiences with nature, which I have written about in the post Memories of My Wild Youth)
[Chapter 2 | The Nature of (in) Cities]
The enthusiasm and optimism with which Beatley writes is incredibly inspiring without doubt, it has rubbed off! Reading about the fascinating collections of nature currently thriving in our cities, but that all too often goes unnoticed, ignites a sense of wonder and curiosity. I must say that Beatley’s optimism is even more encouraging, for not only does he have hope for the future, but he doesn’t ignore the current overlooked presence of many wild elements! It gives me an urge to explore, and I would actually like to go about in Baltimore and document the hidden wildness of the City! It’s possible to bring nature into the city, he explains, and it’s happening! After this chapter, I am thoroughly enjoying this book!
[Chapter 3 | Biophilic Cities: What Are They?]
This book really has some exciting conversations. Although I think this chapter was a bit longer than necessary-I found the text to be somewhat repetitive – it was a good piece to read to understand the key principles and some possible metrics of biophilic urban design. At the start of it, Beatley was listing examples of good biophilic design; yet most of these precedents were greenfield development (entirely new construction on previously undeveloped land). This has been most frustrating to me, knowing that new development, despite whatever green initiatives it may boast, is a waste of resources. Meanwhile, infill development and rehabilitative design would be a much better alternative. Although the intention is good, I can’t help but disagree with the process. I recognize that some new green developments have been able to accomplish much more than would have been possible had there not been a clean slate; but, for me, it is more important to address our existing cities. As I read on, however, I found Beatley was referencing more and more redevelopment and retrofit projects, and was more than pleased with their inclusion.
I think this chapter emphasized the significance of language and knowledge. This reminded me of a Paul Gruchow quote mentioned in the first chapter:
“Can you imagine a satisfactory love relationship with someone whose name you do not know?”
That is such a powerful question, how can we expect people to respect nature if we do not even ensure they know what there is to be protected? The chapter also talked about spirit and sensibility. The understanding and connection we can build between humans and the environment is like a glue which holds everything in this world together.
Beatley also shares a similar criticism of mine: that green urbanism is seriously lacking in the green department! Although the elements of green design (efficiency, conservation, transit, etc.) are very necessary pieces of the sustainability puzzle, they fail to address ecology and biodiversity.
While reading this chapter, every idea just clicked with me and made perfect sense- my views are very much in line with Beatley’s. Incorporating concepts of organic architecture and biomimicry (see some links I’ve shared at the end of this post) in his description, he paints a beautiful picture of the ideal city that never sounds excessively utopian or farfetched. Everything he describes can be accomplished within our current means and capabilities, and have already been proven successful elsewhere. It’s just a matter of combining all of the individual success stories in one place. I didn’t really intend for this to be a review of Beatley’s book more than his ideas, but I really do think that’s what has happened. I completely recommend this reading, especially for planners. So far, it is terrific!
There are some great topics in this book that I wish I had more time to review. Until I do, I recommend checking out the follow sources:
- Biomimicry Website
- The entire book, or at least a good portion of it, can be obtained for free online!