NYC's Plans for Biophilic Urban Acupuncture

Sourced from GreenBiz

Our access to wild places and nature is shrinking, and so is our will to get to those places. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 80 percent of Americans took at least a weeklong vacation in 1977. Compare that to less than 60 percent of Americans taking a weeklong vacation in 2014.  

Additionally, trips to our National Park system also has been in decline. The Journal of Leisure Research (PDF) published a report in 2014 that shows per capita visitation to our National Park system has declined 19 percent since 1997. If we are trending towards getting out into nature less, we need to actively design our cities to bring nature in. As we continue to select urban places to live, the impetus to embed nature, and specifically urban biophilic acupuncture, is paramount.

Biophilia is humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fire and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and height instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects. Terrapin Bright Green has published two extensive reports on the subject of biophilia, The Economics of Biophilia and 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design.

Urban Acupuncture is a socio-environmental theory that combines contemporary urban design with traditional Chinese acupuncture, using small-scale interventions to transform the larger urban context. Just as the practice of acupuncture is aimed at relieving stress in the human body, the goal of urban acupuncture is to relieve stress in the built environment. Urban acupuncture is intended to to produce small-scale but socially catalytic interventions in the urban fabric. No needles necessary. 

Biophilic Urban Acupuncture (BUA) is the theory that threads and nodes of biophilic interventions in specific urban places can help improve people’s moods, connect people to place and help improve mental health. Biophilic urban acupuncture blends two very important design concepts, biophilia and urban acupuncture.

BUA has higher levels of effectiveness in dense cities versus suburban places due to the ease of pedestrian mobility. A resident that lives in a dense city will spend at least some time each day outside just by the fact that they will be walking to transit, to work or to get a meal. Even though BUA is likely needed in more suburban places, the auto-centric street design and sprawled land-use typically does not lend itself to high quality biophilic opportunities.

Threads and nodes
Smaller BUA interventions should be placed in locations throughout the city which, in a web-like structure, users with different destinations will experience biophilic experiences no matter where they traveling to. These smaller biophilic interventions do not need to be grand in scale to have an impression. Positive impact on self-esteem and mood has been shown to occur in the first five minutes of experiencing nature. Daily, unintentional exposure should be a priority when planning a BUA intervention. The intervention should be placed in a location that receives a large number of users but is embedded into an everyday habitat or commute.

The larger biophilic experience should be placed in an area of the city that can serve a larger amount of the population and should include as many biophilic patterns as possible. These are typically parks such as the Olmsted-designed Central in New York City or the Tommaso Francini-designed Luxembourg Garden in Paris. Large parks that are centrally located within a city and connected by good transit will provide a robust BUA experience to a greater number of residents than parks on the periphery.

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