Friday, June 30, 2006


I just got off the phone with a reporter in New York who is writing an article for a Yale environmental publication on biophilia and whether new developments---like Civano where I live or Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Illinois, or Coffee Creek, Indiana---are incorporating the principles of biophilia. Biophilia is a term coined by the iconical Harvard biology professor Edward O. Wilson, and means “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life,” determined by and manifested through a biological need. In short, are there communities in which we strive, overtly and also subvertly, to be more fully connected to and indeed an intrinsic part of nature?

We talked about New Urbanism, about reliance on petroleum, about North American versus European cities, cohousing, landscaping, Arcosanti, urban versus rural development, community gardens, the elusive sense of place, Gaia, whether it all matters in the geologic sense of time, the tipping point. She was interviewing me as the editor of, but even with her dog barking in the background as the postal carrier delivered the mail, it was an interesting conversation that I think will stay with me for a while.

The fundamental question is whether biophilia is percolating through new "sustainable" communities; whether a significant goal of these communities is to connect its human residences with the other mineral, plant, and animal residences in an ecological sense. To which I had to answer: Not that I'm aware of, at least not as a term that I've seen come across's editorial desk.

And yet, in the manner of "baby steps," I do believe the idea of integrating the built and natural environments and its residences in a biological sense is moving forward, even if I cannot point to a full-scale example. Golly, I wish she was writing this article for!

That aside, I do have an additional thought: "Biophilia" sure would make for a cool title of a poem, wouldn't it?


Raines said...

It's definitely happening in cohousing communities!

Our national conference in Chapel Hill, NC this month is all about sustainability.

I know in our community (Berkeley cohousing) we're paying more attention to the trees and raccoons on the property, enjoying localvore (locally-grown) meals (still rare, but increasing), helping people reduce impacts, share trips, use local trees that had be removed in constructing part of the project, building solar-ready, getting to know our neighbors, and not just the human ones.


Laurence Aurbach said...

Stephen Kellert spoke at the first Transect seminar at Yale. His most recent book reiterates green building techniques...Anthony Flint's recent book concludes with a discussion of biophilia and why it may work against smart growth (not a position I agree with, by the way). Biophilia isn't discussed explicitly at charrettes and planning meetings, but the integration of nature with urban environments is important to many designers, I think.

People in the city get very attached, even passionately attached, to their street trees, views of parks, local wildlife, etc. Look at all the fuss over Pale Male. I recall several studies that have found street trees increase the value of a home significantly. I've seen concern for parks, even a little strip of ground, play a role in local politics. Examples are common if you know what you're looking for; it's just that a clear definition of what it means to connect human residences to local ecology hasn't been put forward yet.