I’m very fortunate to have a handful of new trees, some grass and public seating bookend the street I live in. One of my favourite times of the day to be out on my balcony is dusk, because when the sun starts setting and the hustle and bustle of the city subsides, a group of Indian myna birds, attracted by that greenery, playfully chirps and flies between the trees. The tweeting draws out neighbours, too, and creates a beautiful moment of connection through nature in an otherwise man-made environment.
An increasing body of research tells us that interaction with nature is associated with better body and brain health. Birds play a particular role in this, in part because they are some of the only animals able to venture into highly developed areas and give out calls audible to the human ear, providing a direct link to the natural world.
The pleasure we get from encountering nature can be explained through the biophilia hypothesis, the idea that humans have an innate affinity for life and living systems: “Human preferences toward things in nature, while refined through experience and culture, are hypothetically the product of biological evolution.”
This theory is guiding academic work but also urban and architectural design. For example, there is solid evidence that having a window looking out to living plants helps speed up the healing process of patients in hospitals. In educational settings, exposure to nature seems to help kids focus better, feel less anxious and improve memory.
It’s fair to conclude then that we need nature. But does nature need us? Probably not. Clive Thompson calls this the biophilia paradox: “Biophilia is asymmetric. We have biophilia, but nature doesn’t have ‘anthrophilia’. In fact, it’s the opposite: If humanity were to vanish tomorrow, the remaining plants and animals would set about rapidly reclaiming all the asphalted-over world we’ve created.”
There is a tragic irony here: our modern existence is largely incompatible with our biophilic need for nature. Our attempt to be closer to nature often comes at a cost to nature.
“We humans should be living a little more densely, to give nature more space away from us. Meanwhile, to satisfy our biophilia, we should be designing more nature into these denser human environments – using everything from an increased number of street-plants to town parks to ‘living walls’ on houses, and buildings that use more natural materials. … We need plants close to us – and far away from us. That’s the biophilia paradox.”Source: Dense Discovery