Could WHANGĀREI be a Biophilic City?

Biophilia is our attraction to other forms of life manifested in a desire to commune with nature. The energy we put into our pets, our gardens, and the recreational activities that immerse us in nature are the places where this deep human need is met. Plants add huge value aesthetically and contribute to our well-being in ways that science is often uncovering. The Biophilic Cities network is an expanding group of cities who are:

…working collectively to pursue the vision of a natureful city within their unique and diverse environments and cultures. These partner cities are working in concert to conserve and celebrate nature in all its forms and the many important ways in which cities and their inhabitants benefit from the biodiversity and wild urban spaces present in cities. Biophilic Cities acknowledges the importance of daily contact with nature as an element of a meaningful urban life, as well as the ethical responsibility that cities have to conserve global nature as shared habitat for non-human life and people.

From the Biophilic Cities website
The Bosco Verticale Vertical Forest in Milan. Image credit: the Biophilic Cities website

The network has 26 cities globally, including Wellington.

Last summer I spent some time taking infrared images of places in Tai Tokerau including our city. You can read more about it in this post. I was amazed by the differential between constructed surfaces, or bare soils and vegetation. The difference was often 20 degrees centigrade or more as demonstrated in the image below.

A side-by-side infrared and normal image of the Hundertwasser Building, Town Basin, Whangārei

The key to this cooling effect is plants. They cool the surrounding air through transpiration-driven cooling. Part of the radiant energy that lands on plants is used to evaporate water for the processes of photosynthesis and cooling. By contrast radiant energy that hits constructed surfaces creates sensible heat. Beyond this bounty, plants are aesthetically pleasing, provide shade, bring life into the city, encourage biodiversity, and can produce food. What’s not to love!

How could Whangārei become a biophilic city?

The city has spent a lot of money with murals on walls. They are striking and add value to the environment. But let’s start creating some living walls. It would not cost a lot to add light structures, sufficient to take the weight of vines to existing walls. Wisteria would be an option (and the bees would love it), or the native Tecomanthe speciosa, the three kings vine. Even grapes!

There are plenty of stark chain link fences that could support vines and beautify the city. For example, on the boundary of the shared path by Auckland University, or the town basin loop.

Even turf cools – the images prove it. Lawns can get a bad wrap but grass transpires a lot. If everyone raised their mowers by a centimetre, and tolerated a little more untidiness these lawns would cool better, and sequester more carbon. Lawns with flowering and seeding plants attract insects and birds, and these transfer more nutrients creating the nutrient flows that nature has perfected.

New builds could be encouraged to include green walls. And perhaps we could create a contest for the coolest buildings?

Please share your ideas below.

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