Internationally noted urban planner and sustainability author Timothy Beatley of the University of Virginia will be speaking on “Envisioning Biophilic Cities” at 5:30 pm Tuesday, Jan. 17, at Fenton Hall, Room 110 on the UO campus. The free lecture will be preceded by the screening of Beatley’s documentary The Nature of Cities at 5:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 12, also in Fenton Hall.
Beatley is a former UO master’s graduate in planning who went on to get his doctorate and is now an endowed professor of urban and environmental planning in the School of Architecture at UVA. He is considered a leading proponent of “green urbanism” which seeks to reduce the ecological footprint of our cities and at the same time improve quality of life for people who live and work in dense urban environments.
Beatley spoke with EW by phone this week and said he’s concerned about how city life and the natural world are disconnected. He’ll be looking to see how Eugene has evolved since he lived here and hopes to check out the Courthouse Garden and other examples of green urban innovation. He said he’s more familiar with what’s been going on in Portland, where he will be spending a few days after Eugene.
“There’s a lot of discussion in the architecture community about biophilic design,” he said, “and the good notion that we design buildings that bring in daylight and create connections to the outside, incorporating living nature in them and around them.”
He said the architecture community is largely oriented to buildings, but he would like to see the discussion go beyond just structural design. “We need that bond with nature,” he said. “The evidence is pretty convincing that we carry with us, in our ancient brains, the need for connection with the natural world in order to be happy, healthy and productive.”
Beatley noted the difficulties of building green projects in economically difficult times, but he advocates for retrofitting old buildings and upgrading new construction in ways that pay for themselves in sometimes just a few years. He notes that green roofs have an initial higher cost, but they often extend the normal life of roofs, making them good long-term investments. Green walls are expensive to create, but have a big positive impact on the people who live and work near them. He said schools that add more daylight to classrooms will see happier students and teachers, and actually higher academic performance.
One less obvious advantage of green urbanism is lower health care costs. He said bringing more nature into cities with green roofs, green walls, parks and greenbelts has “health benefits that carry a huge economic value.”
In Beatley’s new book Biophilic Cities he outlines the basic elements of a biophilic city and provides examples of how cities in the U.S. and around the world have successfully integrated green elements into their urban cores, even in areas that suffer from urban blight.
In one advance review of the book, Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, writes, "Because of his great vision, Tim Beatley is a hero to many of us. To paraphrase a famous quote, some people see cities as they are and ask why; Tim Beatley sees cities as they could be (filled with nature) and says why not?"
More information on Beatley’s work can be found at www.biophiliccities.org and for more information about the Eugene events and the following Portland events, call (206) 963-6958.