Flatter the forests: create balanced cities with Biomimicry: imitation is the highest form of flattery, and the urban imitating the natural is a feasible goal, Michael Figura explains.

Author:Figura, Michael


Biomimicry is the emulation of nature and its ecosystems to create sustainable human systems. Using Biomimicry, we can learn a lot from a forest to inform the design of a city.

A forest's systems are in balance. A forest receives energy from the sun. The flora and fauna in the forest have symbiotic relationships with one another--one species using the byproducts of other species for energy and protection. Different species are mixed together in close proximity to one another to allow an efficient exchange of nutrients. The flora and fauna in the forest reuse and recycle nutrients in a dosed loop system so that the forest doesn't continually extract nutrients from the earth and dedicate its land and energy to retiring spent resources. Because a forest's systems are in balance with one another, the concept of waste is not present in its ecosystem.

Our cities' systems, on the other hand, are not in balance. Cities currently function by getting energy from burning fossil resources, simultaneously creating pollution and destroying the environment from where the fossil resources came. Our cities' uses are separated from one another so that large amounts of energy are needed to transfer people, raw materials, finished goods and wasted resources from one area to another. Our industries and our personal consumption patterns waste resources by extracting fresh materials from the earth, using them for a finite number of times, and then disposing of those resources in landfills. In many instances, the byproducts of an Industry are so toxic that they cannot be used for any other purpose and have to be disposed of in a specially designated landfill. And, frequently, the very products that we create lot use cannot be recycled back into our industrial metabolism.

Although the challenge to model a city after a forest is daunting, advances are being made on all fronts. Mass acceptance of carbon dioxide's impact on climate change is preventing world leaders and multinational corporations from further ignoring renewable energy. Green building and low-impact site development are going mainstream. The New Urbanism movement has helped revitalize existing cities and has helped develop new town centers throughout the U.S. (For more information on the movement, visit the Congress of New Urbanism at www.cnu.org.)

Pioneers such as William McDonough and Michael Braungart, who have championed the Cradle-to-Cradle approach, are also making...

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