26 Jun, 2019

Biophilic cities: where all living things flourish


The inaugural National Clean Technologies Conference was held on the Sunshine Coast in May 2019 bringing together clean technology innovators, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders from around the world. The Living Smart team was there to capture highlights of the program.

As the planet continues to rapidly urbanise, there is a growing sense that a new model is needed: one that overcomes the physical (and mental) disconnect between nature and cities. Professor Timothy Beatley believes that contact with nature is absolutely essential for a happy, healthy and meaningful life. We’ve covered all the inspiring ideas from his keynote presentation for the Living Smart community.

Biophilic cities: where all living things flourish

If you take a moment to consider the things you are drawn to, those that enrich your life and wellbeing, chances are elements of the natural environment will feature prominently.

Studies show that maintaining a connection with living systems has a huge range of benefits: decreased depression and anxiety, lower stress, reduced social isolation and improved cognitive performance, among others.

University of Virginia urban planner and specialist in sustainable communities, Professor Tim Beatley told participants at the National Cleantech Conference that our innate desire to connect with nature provided an opportunity to create cities where all living things could flourish.

The concept of biophilia was described by American biologist and naturalist, E.O. Wilson as “…the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Innate means hereditary and hence part of ultimate human nature.”

Dr Beatley says that at the heart of biophilia is “a belief that nature is essential to living a happy, healthy and meaningful life.”

What is a biophilic city?

Biophilic cities take a holistic approach to development and evolution. Beyond simply creating parks and green spaces, they connect buildings and the spaces between them, creating green corridors and pathways in a seamless co-existence of the built environment, humankind and nature.

If you have ever visited Singapore and marvelled at the vibrant gardens and towering green walls, you have experienced the gratifying phenomenon of a biophilic city first hand. In fact, Singapore is recognised as one of the world’s finest examples of a biophilic city.

“A biophilic city is one that provides an immersive nature,” said Dr Beatley. “A green roof will connect to a forest canopy which will connect to a ground-level park and then to the sea as a continuous ecological ecosystem.”

“Biophilic cities recognise that we share space with other forms of life and that our lives are more enjoyable because we have those species around us.”

A biophilic city embraces:

  • Nature connections
  • Urban nature conservation
  • Coexistence and care for nature (both within the city and across the world)

A global network of cities connected to nature

In 2013 Dr Beatley founded Biophilic Cities, an organisation connects cities around the world that are collectively pursuing the vision of a natural city within their unique, diverse environments and cultures.

What it means to be a biophilic city varies, with participating cities finding creative ways to share space with other forms of life.

The Unites States city of Pittsburgh is undertaking actions to improve air quality, water quality, land use and connecting people to nature [1]. Initiatives include a new 600-acre park, 42% tree canopy coverage, heritage and water trails, and installing 150 nesting towers for chimney swifts, birds which help to manage insect pests that have difficulty nesting in urban areas.

San Francisco was the first US city to mandate the installation of green roofs, and requires many new construction projects to dedicate up to 30% of roof space to solar, living roofs or a combination of both. [2]

Green Roof on Civic Center (San Francisco). Image Credit: Sergio Ruiz.https://www.flickr.com/photos/urbanists/9710802780/in/photostream/

Returning to Singapore, an environmental blueprint developed in 1992 embraced an economic growth model that does not compromise the environment.[3] Green buildings have been mandatory since 2008 and incentive programs fund up to 50% of the installation costs of vertical gardens and rooftop greenery.[4]

The Oasia building in Singapore’s CBD is a remarkable example of this at work. On a 50m x 50m site, this 30-storey office/hotel has achieved 750% more green space than the lawn on the original site. Twenty-one varieties of flowering vines and open sky gardens adorn the building, attracting visitors,birds and insects.

Oasia Hotel (Singapore). Image Credit: Tim Beatley.

Lasting benefits

Dr Beatley says there is mounting evidence these initiatives contribute positively to the life of a city and deliver “tremendous health benefits”.

“Commonly doctors are now recognising that nature has powerful healing properties and prescribing a walk in the park or a dose of birdsong to help improve a range of physical and mental health outcomes,” he said.

Research also shows that nature brings us together, helps to build social capital, friendships and connections.

“We are more cooperative and more likely to be generous in the presence of nature. We need to think about a different way of judging progress and invest in the capability and the infrastructure that allows us to be outside,” Dr Beatley said.

Find out more about Biophilic Cities at https://www.biophiliccities.org/

Do you know someone who is doing great things to make our communities more sustainable on the Sunshine Coast, Redlands or Moreton Bay regions? We would love to share their story! Please send the details to sustainability@sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au.

Hero image Southern Ridges Park Connectors (Singapore). Image Credit: Tim Beatley.


  1. http://pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/biophilic-cities-initiative
  2. https://sfgov.org/sfplanningarchive/san-francisco-better-roofs
  3. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1370_2008-11-22.html
  4. https://www.nparks.gov.sg/skyrisegreenery/incentive-scheme

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