“The magic of the street is the mingling of the errand and the epiphany”- Rebecca Solnit
The pandemic takeover woke the world to realize the significance of nature and its deep-seated influence in our evolutionary process that reflects in our daily lives to this day. Lush green public spaces had now turned into a health hazard, but the lack of the physical and psychological stimulus of nature was causing an equal amount of havoc. This led designers to guide nature to flow out of bounded public spaces and into environments of regular circulation and activity. The end product of this attempt was the conversion of a century-old theory into reality in the form of Biophilic Streets.
Decoding the Terms
Biophilia is the basic human instinct to have an affiliation with the natural environment. The influence of nature has always been crucial in guiding our behavioral patterns and our physical health. Although designated biophilic spaces have been the norm since industrialization, trends have begun to change in the recent past. Streets began to be recognized as spaces that require revamping as they have now become the focus of beaming public life, especially in cities. They are not mere circulatory passages but provide accessibility to the formation of a closely-knit community through the activities promoted by the space. These core factors led to the amalgamation of the two concepts to create a wide range of economic, environmental, and social benefits.
Biophilic urbanism has appeared effective to bring about a much more purposeful technique of guiding the growth of nature in cities, not merely between rigid edifices, but also through and over them in ways that change the relationship between people and nature positively while deriving benefits from the natural services. Although the constant mention of biophilic urbanism to streets has been appearing in literature for the last few years and has inspired the work of biophilic designers, it has not been developed into a solid design framework to demonstrate its purpose, multifunctionality, mode of delivery, and benefits. Since the work of Jane Jacobs, detailed designs of Jan Gehl, and a few groups such as Project for Public Spaces, the social and economic value of streets have been put under a different light. The combined efforts have enabled streets to be viewed for much more than mobility, and plain words are now turning into designs of strong conviction and blatant progressive results.
The Core of the Design
An urban street can be defined as an organism that constantly evolves, adapts, and responds to its immediate environment. It does not stand tall and proud, but merges into everyone’s lives on a subconscious level, manipulating much more than an individual’s cognitive abilities. People spend eight times more time in streets as compared to parks which makes its impact quite evident. Multiple factors affect a street’s function and growth- history of the street, the existing social, environmental, architectural, and structural conditions, existing infrastructure, policies and regulations, project size, zoning and land use, and its potential future as a place. These factors formed the crux which developed into categories of design strategies that consider design functions, objectives, elements, and the characteristics of a biophilic street. The six categories are traffic planning, energy management, stormwater management, biodiversity management, street furniture and activities, and education
The Elements of Composition
As mobility is the prime purpose of streets, biophilic strategies tend to play an obvious role in controlling traffic patterns. Trees and bushes tend to psychologically give drivers a sense of requirement to go slower. The location, development pattern, measures, devices, and even the type of vegetation determine the effectiveness of traffic calming schemes. Chicanes or engineered stormwater gardens is another effective biophilic traffic calming strategy. Biophilia and energy efficiency have always gone hand in hand. Energy management strategies in biophilic streets help in cooling a city where the urban heat island effect leads to easier walkability, improved urban economics, and also cooling the structures beside the street. Biophilic infrastructure has helped retain most of the polluted initial run-off by the use of bio-retention and filtration. Biophilic designers have transformed rooftops into intensive and extensive gardens. The conversion of these large impervious areas can be considered as an alternative to stormwater management systems and has now become an inseparable part of biophilic streets.
Due to the constraint in the availability of open spaces in urbanized areas, the potential of rooftops and vertical surfaces is momentous. Rainfall has minimal or no impact on the green walls as most of it was blocked by the gutters integrated into the stormwater management system. Therefore, to improve the efficiency of the green roof and wall systems, the run-off from the roof is collected and used for drip irrigation. Just as urban parks, biophilic streets also can offer refuge to native biota by providing food, shelter, breeding sites, and ease of movement for wildlife to thrive harmoniously. Green shelters as bus and bicycle stands, street art and play installations as well as furniture have been introduced in many biophilic streets around the world to facilitate interaction between flora and fauna and to support the development of a balanced ecosystem. Vegetation in public transport shelters is a prime position for filtering contamination and particulate matter from transport vehicles, instantly evolving a healthy environment for all living beings.
Developing a Community
Biophilic streets are designed to encourage optional activities, facilitate the formation of a sense of community and redefine the identity of the neighborhood. Streets that incorporate an extensive amount of daily biophilic experiences also tend to offer prospects for teaching, learning, and entertainment. Boulevards or other wide streets create prospects for entertainment such as play equipment, interactive furniture, art installations, aesthetic spatial additions, games, and other modes of social interactions. Therefore, the best executed biophilic streets are environmentally uplifting and also persuade more people to move outside and interact through shared activities. The increase in activities and mixture of uses also tend to make the streets safer for the general public.
From Strategies to Application
Although designers around the world have been making immense theoretical advancements in biophilic street design, it would be futile if these are not implemented in reality. Multiple cities around the world have taken up biophilic street projects and have either refurbished their streets or are in the process of doing so. Biophilic retrofitting a former urban highway in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, the streets renewal project in Downtown Berkeley and SW Montgomery Green Street in Portland, United States, and the Green your Lane project in Melbourne, Australia are a few notable projects. San Francisco’s street park concept is another community-based initiative that has elevated the health of the public to a great extent. Singapore has continually proved to be one of the pioneers in biophilic design and is constantly improving its streetscape to meet the strategies towards sustainable urbanism. Biophilic urbanism is also becoming a major policy zone for delivering tangible benefits to the people, the environment, and the economy and infrastructure of the city. Biophilic street strategies along with water-sensitive, biodiversity-sensitive, regenerative, and resilient urban design have the capability of completely shifting our perspective towards the future of our urban landscapes. Biophilic streets are therefore one of the most crucial steps towards a holistic approach for a healthier and more harmonious future for all.
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Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Biophilic design. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophilic_design.
quotefancy.com. (n.d.). Rebecca Solnit Quote: “The magic of the street is the mingling of the errand and the epiphany.” [online] Available at: https://quotefancy.com/quote/1421208/Rebecca-Solnit-The-magic-of-the-street-is-the-mingling-of-the-errand-and-the-epiphany [Accessed 26 Sep. 2021].