Microbiome inspired green infrastructure: rewilding the city, one human body at a time.

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Green roofs, living walls, urban green landscape could prove to provide more benefits than first thought. In addition to the obvious nature, biodiversity benefits and the biophilic wellbeing and air benefits, connection to nature can also rewild the microbiome ecosystems within our bodies leading to better health. (Microbiomes are the billions of microbes that live on and within our bodies and regulate our health)

With the first law of ecology, (and that oft quoted John Muir sound bite) that everything is connected, it is not so surprising that the microbiome in our bodies is connected to the wider natural eco-system. A topic I touched on with Specifi building engineers in Leeds recently!

In FutuREstorative I talk of rewilding nature, buildings and people. Rewilding is not just about reintroducing big predators such as the wolf, or reintroducing missing parts of any natural ecosystem chain, but about ‘creating conditions that allow the emergence of natural responsiveness and development’. This is regenerative, not restricting what we allow nature to do, but seeing the the way we design, construct and maintain the built environment as a part of nature, not apart from nature

Yet, the next frontier in rewilding and indeed, in the evolving sustainability nexus of buildings and wellbeing could well be within the human body itself. Researchers are exploring ways to ‘rewild’ the microbiome of urban dwellers whose microbiome state maybe below par (due to urban environments and lack of nature) back a more natural and healthier state.

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A vision for the future: microbiome-inspired green infrastructure (MIGI) and multi-sensorial, multiculturally inclusive, and foraging-friendly green spaces (created by the paper author).

A paper published in the journal Challenges, explores the human body as a holobiont—that is a ‘host along with billions of microbial organisms working symbiotically to form a functioning ecological unit’— that has the potential to enhance both human and planetary health. And the way we design cities can be a vital contribution. In the paper, Jake Robinson of University of Sheffield UK and Jacob Mills and Martin Breed of the University of Adelaide in Australia propose that urban planners focus on creating microbiome-inspired green infrastructure to “innovative living urban features that could potentially enhance public health via health-inducing microbial interactions.”

The paper notes that ‘connecting with nature, both physically and psychologically, has been shown to enhance our health and wellbeing, and adds to other recent calls for the inclusion of the environment-microbiome-health axis in nature–human health research’

A call for microbiome inspired green infrastructure – “innovative living urban features that could potentially enhance public health via health-inducing microbial interactions.” – would certainly widen the project design team to include biologists and microbiome professionals.

Robinson, J.M.; Mills, J.G.; Breed, M.F. “Walking Ecosystems in Microbiome-Inspired Green Infrastructure: An Ecological Perspective on Enhancing Personal and Planetary Health.” Challenges. 2018, 9, 40.

Source (and borrowed inspiration for the title) for this blog post appeared in Anthropocene Magazine in November 2018

Header Image: Jenny Hill, Swinsty Reservoir, United Kingdom, Unsplash

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Ash disease and the built environment

There has been a huge amount of coverage in the media, and indeed across social media on Ash dieback disease, but little as yet related to the built environment, and the role we may have played in the spread of the disease or the potential impact it may, no will, have on the built environment.

Despite the UK Government (DEFRA) slow response, not to mention odd instructions to wash boots dogs and children after visits to the countryside, the causes of Ash Dieback seems to be emerging as:

  • Climate Change
  • Bio Security, or lack of
  • Demand for instant landscaping

The built environment is accountable for around 40% of climate change issues (waste, transport, carbon, energy etc) but its the increase in demand for instant green that may be our biggest contribution.  Odd isn’t it that efforts to plant trees and plants to provide green landscapes and green roofs in response to CO2 and biodiversity issues may have opened the door to yet bigger problems.

There is of course a great example of complexity theory at play here, we can no longer rely on cause effect thinking, but need to consider wider, biodiversity consequences. As Muir is quoted as saying ” when we tug at one part of nature we tug at the whole of nature”

  • We face a tidal wave of diseases with over 30 damaging pathogens identified poised, ready to threaten UK trees and plants. See Guardian article.
  • We face movement and transport restriction on timbers from Ash, Scots Pine and other plants, both in landscaping and use in construction, finishes and furniture.
  • We need to rethink, and fast

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I am reminded of my visit to UBC CIRS building in Vancouver last year and the gorgeous timbers in the atrium and main hall, timbers ‘salvaged’ from local forests affected by pine beetle disease and closely monitored by the Living Building Challenge.

As we launch Living Building in the UK with a UK collaborative, it may well be that the certification of future green buildings in the UK is through standards such as the Living Building Challenge, that give hard earned recognition to buildings and facilities that, like plants, contribute to making the world a better place.

The CIRS Building was recently profiled in our CKE Green Vision series with a presentation from Max Richter at Perkin+Will.

Green Vision is a key driver in launching Living Building thinking into the UK. Look out for more announcements at the next Green Vision conference event on the 12th Dec in Leeds and across the web. (Hashtag #GVis2012)

For more information on the Living Building collaborative in the UK, leave a comment, get in touch or pop over to our Living Building UK Collaborative page on Facebook and say hello.