skip to main content

→ Top Stories:
Clean Power plan
Safe Chemicals

Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Biophilia: greening our cities (literally!)

Kaid Benfield

Posted July 24, 2008

, , ,
Share | | |


Today we have a guest blogger.  I've invited my NRDC colleague Rachel Sohmer, who is a smart growth advocate and conservation biologist, to share some thoughts and images on the subject of biophilia.  The rest of this post is Rachel's, and I think she really delivered.

It’s been a long day. You need a break. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do. Here, try focusing on this:

biking in Spreewald Biosphere Reserve, Germany (by: R. Sohmer)

Nice, right? Feel better yet? How about this:

Hampstead Heath, London (by: R. Sohmer)

Aaaaaahhhh…greenness. By the way, your blood pressure just went down, your work productivity went up, and your hair is even starting to acquire a nice glossy sheen. Ok, I know it doesn’t quite work that way, but the basic premise here is that human beings seem to have an intrinsic emotional need to connect with nature. Via Verde, NYC affordable housing (courtesy of Jonathan Rose Companies)E. O. Wilson and his colleagues call it ‘biophilia,’ and I love anything Dr. Wilson loves, which I guess makes me a biophilia-philiac? Anyway, researchers have shown that even just a view of greenery from your window can give you a psychological and physical boost. And if you find yourself without a tree to look at or a park to stroll through, you can apparently buy some Vitamin G(reen) at your nearest Embassy Suites these days.

So what does this have to do with smart growth? Knowing that part of growing smarter means growing denser (ha, I’m punny), it will be increasingly important to protect and foster the link between people and other living things in urban areas. Whether it’s in the form of parks, community gardens, green roofs, street plantings, or greenways (or ideally all of the above and then some), the success of smart growth rests as least in part on competing with large-lot suburbs on the foliage front.

I mean, seriously. Where would you rather live, even if you’re not a density-phobic sprawlian?:

concrete canyon, Manchester UK (by: Neil Wilkinson, creative commons license) Teardrop Park, NYC (by: pocketmonsterd/DDDiana, creative commons license)

Of course, besides making us happier and healthier people, greener urban environments also deliver those ‘triple bottom line’ environmental, economic and social benefits we all know and love.

Fortunately for all of us, developers like Jonathan Rose (NRDC friend and trustee, and tireless champion of sustainable development) are making it all happen with mixed-used, affordable, ‘biophilic’ projects like Via Verde in the south Bronx (depicted alongside the E.O. Wilson reference above). Check out this PBS clip of Mr. Rose explaining it all better than I ever could…then go outside and get some fresh air!

More city green:

balcony, Madison WI (by: Dawn Perry, creative commons license) Teardrop Park, NYC (by: Payton Chung, creative commons license)

Russell Square, London (c2007 by FK Benfield) East Village NYC (by: Mike Dumlao, creative commons license)


Share | | |


JudyJul 25 2008 03:35 PM

You might want to make your photos public instead of private on Flickr - that way all of us can see them. :)

Kaid @ NRDCJul 25 2008 03:49 PM

Thanks for reading, Judy. Five of them have been publicly accessible since we posted, and now two more are. There are only two that we need to keep private. Hope that helps.

Alicia ScottiJul 29 2008 10:51 AM

This is great! And turning the Bronx greener may make it more appealing. We recently moved to the Bronx, where we get incredible sunlight all day long -- and that equals 20 tomato plants flourishing on my urban deck. It is amazing to be smelling these plants (tons of basil), touching their leaves and being in the Bronx!
I hope Jonathan gets to bring his green development to reality.

Mike StollJul 29 2008 12:22 PM


Great read! Something else your readers might be interested in is the Science Barge, a floating sustainable greenhouse that is dedicated to figuring out how to make New York greener. If you want to get a taste of it without having to visit, the New York Academy of Sciences just did a Podcast about the barge. You can listen to that here.

Kaid @ NRDCJul 29 2008 02:24 PM

Thanks for the link, Mike - it would be interesting to see the barge concept evolve into a sort of floating, green farmers' market . . .

Alicia, congrats on your new home and thanks for the comment. One must keep an eye on one's tomatoes these days. ;)

Comments are closed for this post.


Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit

Feeds: Stay Plugged In