When we think of environmental consciousness, or the green movement, as it applies to real estate, most of us typically think of a GreenStar refrigerator or a LEED-certified building. If you're going above and beyond, you might install xeriscape using native plants or energy-efficient roofing and insulation.
It can be easy to focus on what we have immediate control over, like the building characteristics and perhaps the landscaping around the property. It's much harder to take in the big picture of interacting with the environment across an entire cityscape and creating a collaborative network to support the natural systems in what is often a sea of concrete and buildings dotted with the occasional tree.
But that is exactly what biomorphic urbanism seeks to accomplish. Find out if this approach to urban development is the green wave of the future and how real estate investors can participate.
What is biomorphic urbanism?
The definition of biomorphic urbanism comes from the root words "bio," meaning life, and "morphic," meaning form. Together, they give us the overarching meaning: cities formed by life. Biomorphic urbanism attempts to allow the natural environment to intermingle with a city's typical elements with the goal of supporting the plants and animals while improving residents' overall quality of life -- one where city dwellers have a chance to immerse themselves in the natural world without having to take a day trip to a park outside the city limits or on the other side of town. This could be as simple as a tree-lined street with shrubs, greenery, and wildflowers interspersed or office buildings with ample natural light and a living roof or wall where employees have lunch. Anything that connects people to nature within a city is what makes a biomorphic city.
Why does biomorphic urbanism matter?
Aside from "looking prettier," a living city offers a lot of benefits to the residents and business owners who live and work there. People are just plain happier, experiencing significantly greater well-being and lower mental stress when they live in areas with more green space. Half of the adults in the United States do not partake in the recommended amount of aerobic activity. But knowing that adults are three times more likely to be active in green spaces, biomorphic urbanism promotes and encourages outdoor aerobic activity by providing more space to enjoy and be in nature. It positively impacts children in similar ways. A study found that children with ADHD were able to focus better after a 20-minute walk in an urban park as compared to other urban settings, like a downtown area.
Greenspaces even help reduce crime in a given area. There were 56% fewer violent crimes in inner-city public housing developments that had nature nearby. Less crime and prettier settings improves the value of properties. It is challenging to quantify exactly why and how much a green space can improve property value, but the general consensus and literature reviews indicate that it does. One study found that a house within a quarter mile of a park saw increased values of up to 60%. Shoppers are also willing to spend more on their purchases when there is a high-quality tree canopy in the central business district further supporting the concept of improved economics. There are also the obvious environmental benefits, like cleaning the air, reducing stormwater runoff, reducing heat, and creating biodiversity in wildlife while supporting animals that otherwise may not have adequate shelter or food.
How can real estate investors implement biomorphic urbanism?
For real estate investors, there are several ways to incorporate biomorphic urbanism principles regardless of the city's official plans. As a residential investor, you can incorporate energy-saving features into the home and install wildlife-friendly landscaping. As a commercial investor, you can install wildlife-friendly landscapes, convert drainage areas to wildlife ecosystems, create living walls, or install rooftop gardens if the building is capable of supporting it. As a developer, you have all of the aforementioned options but can take things a step further by designing with this connectivity in mind rather than retrofitting buildings and spaces.
Cities around the world have started taking definitive action toward becoming biomorphic cities and are paving the wave for others to follow suit. Major global markets, including Singapore, Medellin, Vancouver, and Milwaukee, have all taken significant efforts into biomorphic urbanism. With governments and residents clearly in support of more natural cities going forward, integrating these concepts into your investments can make sense both financially and socially while helping to create a better environment for all.