Cities play a crucial role in the fight against climate change. They already account for over half of the world’s population and it is projected that six out of every ten people on earth will be living in cities by 2025. Cities and their residents are also responsible for approximately 80 percent of the GHGs emitted worldwide. Historically, societies unable to solve their environmental crisis have either migrated or become extinct. Early societies may have even achieved a better consistency among their resource extraction, transformation, use, life cycle, and flow, a viscosity more in tune with their ecosystems than our own. Therefore, cities themselves must be viewed as complex ecological systems and this attitude must include any approach to designing cities and managing their use of resources.

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Conceptual design for biomimetic Eco-village in Belgium ©My Modern Met

Future Cities

Cities are where life is often at its most precarious, it is also where we have the greatest tangible opportunity for improvement, intervention, and radical change. Cities of the future must no longer be zoned as today, in linear, isolated one-activity zones but rather they will resemble the more mixed-use richly layered cities of the past. Living, working, learning, and leisure should overlap and be housed in continuous, varied, and changing zero-fossil-energy operated, and flexible resource-efficient infrastructures. Cities only survive because of human, material, and communication networks with their hinterlands or bioregions by placing them into a broader geographic context. Successful universal sustainability assessments and ecological footprinting can only be realistically applied for the interrelated life cycle of systems, materials, and integrated land-use planning in this wider geophysical perspective.

Biomimicry, Low-Carbon-Economy (LCE), and Industrial Ecology (IE)

The field of Biomimicry (from bios meaning life and mimesis meaning to imitate) serves as an ancient concept for science that examines nature’s occurring phenomena, processes, and elements. It emulates the natural environment to solve human problems sustainably in regards to habitat/location, climate, nutrient, social, and temporal conditions. Biomimicry suggests that there should be living within natural limits because we are dependent on nature. However, how we experience such constraints is always mediated by our technological, cultural, and social-economic systems. Nature as a model for biomimicry largely presents us still with mysteries beyond our comprehension to improve sustainable practice.

The most striking difference between human technologies and living structures is that human artifacts are manufactured or stick-and-build and living things are grown. Related to this, living things are self-sufficient organisms, which also self-repair and reproduce. In contrast, man made structures like buildings only make sense when fitted into the complex social-economic and cultural networks of human society. They depend on outside support through massive infrastructural resource inputs to operate and maintain the city’s survival.

Closed-loop systems integration thinking is based on the concepts of the Low-Carbon Economy (LCE) and Industrial Ecology (IE), which proposes a view of industrial systems as being part of an interrelated complex ecosystem. It is the idea that we should model our systems after natural ones if we want to be sustainable. The aim of all three theories (Biomimicry, LCE, and IE) is to integrate all aspects of the city around technologies that produce energy and materials with little or no GHG emission. Therefore, around populations, buildings, machines, and devices which use those energies and materials efficiently, and dispose of or recycle its wastes to have a minimal or no output of GHGs.

Cities generally have multi-layered systems and subsystems for land usage, such as services, utilities, industry, offices, housing, and transportation. Big cities or metropolises usually have associated suburbs and urban sprawl, creating numerous business commuters traveling to urban centers of employment within different peak times. Big cities or metropolises usually have associated suburbs and urban sprawl, creating numerous business commuters traveling to urban centers of employment within different peak times. Biomimicry in the context of a city can be best seen by the city’s life-cycle planning and assessment implying all potential environmental impacts caused by a product, system, or building project during its life cycle. This includes raw material extraction and processing, manufacture, use/operation, maintenance, reuse, and recycling as a new circular resource input process.

Biomimicry in the city of Freiburg, Germany

How city resources are used with natural relationships at the urban scale can be seen as “closed-loop” or “circular metabolism”, where current linear resource input moves towards a circular cycle, and where renewable energy is used and waste is recovered as a resource. The city is biomimicking nature to overlap other social-economic and cultural-technological fields, which are leading to innovation for significant resource conservation and GHG-reduction.

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Sustainable city of Freiburg, Germany ©WalesOnline

Area: 153.07 km2 of which 40% forest
Population Urban district :225,000 (2009),
Density: 1,421 /km2
Annual Solar Radiation: 1,117 kW/m2 , and 1,800 hrs/year sunshine

Freiburg, a historic town in Southwest Germany, has been leading environmental policy and practice for over two decades. The city has generated worldwide interest for its sustainable redevelopment projects. With its current 225,000 inhabitants, Freiburg has been a university town for 550 years and has about 1 million overnight guests per year with the highest peak in summer and fall, of which 1/3 are coming from abroad.

Freiburg has implemented numerous innovative measures. Almost 50 percent of the city’s electricity is generated by combined heating and power plants (CHP) using biogas from landfills and sewage treatment facilities using waste heat from one process to run another process that requires a lower temperature. Besides, private and public solar wind and geothermal energy sources add up to nearly zero fossil energy use by 2030.

In 1969, the City of Freiburg developed an urban transport policy by designing a compact city with walkable neighborhoods that include decentralized services and markets, which gives preference to environment-friendly modes of movement (pedestrian traffic, cycling, and local public transport). The city was rewarded for its efforts with the “European Local Public Transport Award”. Compared with other cities in Germany, Freiburg has the lowest motor vehicle density as well, with 423 motor vehicles per 1,000 people.

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Sustainable city of Freiburg, Germany ©WalesOnline
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Sustainable city of Freiburg, Germany ©WalesOnline
Harshini Aithal
Author

An optimistic Architect, loves to understand the impact of nature on human minds and interpret it with her architectural abilities making her an avid blogger, which is  about sustainable cities, bio-philic holistic design philosophy and built environment. She is currently pursuing her diploma in Horticulture and Landscape Design.

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