“Polisphilia” — Our Urban World's New Word

“Polisphilia” — Our Urban World's New Word

The Three Reasons Why Sustainable Cities are Now Achievable, and the Three Steps to Getting There
By Emma Stewart, Ph.D.

For thousands of years, humans have struggled to balance our “biophilia” – our innate affinity for non-human forms of life — with our proclivity for urbanization (to coin a new term, perhaps we could call this “polisphilia”?).

Being biophilic, we instinctively love the settings of forests and pasture in which we evolved to become human, but we also crave the human settlements that foster culture and camaraderie, and make us unique as a species.

For the past century, we’ve tried to straddle these two loves by living in cities but breathing in the countryside (per Henry David Thoreau), though only the wealthy could afford such a lifestyle. We experimented with greenbelts in London and central urban parks in NY. We took advantage of the invention of the streetcar and air conditioning to create quasi-country estates, like that of The Hamptons.

But this proved to be sub-optimal on both fronts, and the resultant sprawl – by binding us to cars and large, appliance-centric homes — had the effect of damaging the very natural environment we aimed to appreciate.

We have now arrived at a unique moment in time when this balancing act between biophilia and polisphilia can be achieved. Why? Because of the emergence of 3 simultaneous phenomena:

A. A global shift in power from nation states to cities
B. Early recognition of the collapse of life-supporting ecological systems
C. A prodigious leap in our ability to collect, store, and process data

We can capitalize on these 3 phenomena to create smart and sustainable cities that – while not a panacea – will set humankind on a healthy and wealthy trajectory for centuries to come.