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Net positive biophilic urbanism

Janis Lynn Birkeland ( Sustainable Systems Auckland New Zealand )

Smart and Sustainable Built Environment

ISSN: 2046-6099

Article publication date: 12 March 2016



Positive Development and Biophilic Urbanism appear to be grounded in a different human-nature relationship. Biophilic Urbanism builds on the theory that humans have an innate need to feel connected with nature, and explores ways to amplify its psychological and physiological benefits. Positive Development contends that development must proactively increase nature in absolute terms (beyond pre-industrial conditions). Hence it proposes a radical reconstruction of development design and decision making. Are these positions compatible?


A literature review revealed many similarities and differences between the two theories, and the views and visions among individual proponents of sustainability paradigms vary. Therefore, the comparison focused on the respective role of nature, a foundational element in each theory.


Biophilic urbanism stresses the individual’s experience of nature and its importance to human life quality. Positive Development stresses the preservation of species and ecosystems through the re-design of institutional systems and physical structures that increase the ecological base and public estate. Both viewpoints are essential to the whole system transformation that sustainability requires. However, if urban development does not increase urban nature and wilderness well beyond past/ongoing depletion and damage, the natural life support system will collapse.

Research limitations/implications

These paradigms are too complex to be represented in a brief commentary, so the discussion focuses on a crucial difference. Since many papers in this special issue discuss Biophilic Urbanism references, the emphasis here is on the lesser known theory.


These paradigms evolved independently and, as far as is known, this is the first time their essential messages are compared.


Birkeland, J.L. (2016), "Net positive biophilic urbanism", Smart and Sustainable Built Environment, Vol. 5 No. 1.



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