Harnessing the human-nature relationship to create natural environment
How can we improve urban life in a changing environment using biophilic design? To answer this question, Thomas Panagopoulos, a researcher at the Research Centre for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-being (CinTurs) at the University of Algarve, is coordinating the BIODES project, which is funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT). This project aims to demonstrate innovative, replicable nature-based solutions in “pioneering” cities that will work as “living laboratories”. Once tested, the solutions will be included in planning proposals for other cities.
“Biophilic design is an innovative way to harness the connection between people and nature, in order to create natural environments where one can live, work and learn. Nature-based solutions are used to mitigate the impacts of climate change, by bringing nature into urban environments to improve the well-being of communities,” explains the researcher.
The cities of Faro and Elvas will serve as the pilot areas for biophilic design testing, representing different sized cities and structures with varying socioeconomic conditions. In Faro, the aim will be to improve accessibility as well as create opportunities for children with disabilities to come into contact with nature and learn through biophilic design. In Elvas, having met with the main local players, the decision was taken to create an urban vegetable garden at the Vila Boim School Cluster.
In both circumstances, the populations were actively involved from the very beginning of the project, when interviews were conducted with key local players. Local children – the next generation, who will benefit most from the initiative – participated in biophilic design demonstrations, in addition to teachers, parents, local entities and the University.
As Thomas Panagopoulos explains, “Urbanisation is one of the challenges we face in the 21st century, especially at a time when an increasingly significant percentage of the population lives in urban areas.”
It is estimated that 75% of the world’s population will live in urban environments by 2050. It is easy to see that green spaces are not increasing proportionately, resulting in a decrease in the ratio of ecosystem services per person and a declining quality of life in cities.
“What we want to do with the BIODES project is demonstrate opportunities with which to naturalise cities, and use nature-based solutions as a response to crises and a means through which to develop more resilient cities,” explains the researcher, adding that, “The idea is to create more sustainable cities that provide well-being and environmental justice for all.”
This project meets the aims of Goal 11 “Sustainable Cities and Communities”.
Thomas Panagopoulos has aBachelor’s Degree in Forestry Engineering, a Master’s in Renewable Natural Resources, a PhD in Forest Sciences and Natural Environment and is a researcher for the Centre for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-being (CinTurs).