Pittsburgh recognized as Biophilic City

Pittsburgh has joined a network of cities committed to putting nature at the heart of growth, development, maintenance and infrastructure projects.

The newest Biophilic City, Pittsburgh was anointed Friday in an announcement at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens by Tim Beatley, the founder of Biophilic Cities and a professor in the University of Virginia School of Architecture.

Biophilia translates to love of nature. It has become a movement among public and urban policy experts and architects to help cities bring nature closer to doorsteps and to help residents make better use of the nature that’s already there.

On his visit to Pittsburgh, Mr. Beatley took in the sights, he said, “and as I walked along the Monongahela and across the Hot Iron [Metal] Bridge in the morning, there were all these people out walking, riding bikes on the river, and there are so many trees. I would say this is a Biophilic City.

“Nature is absolutely essential to a healthy life, not something you can get on vacation. It has to be integrated into daily life.”

Each Biophilic City is required to choose its aspirations and to monitor its own progress. Biophilic Cities will monitor Pittsburgh’s progress, too, but it is not regulatory.

Among Pittsburgh’s commitments are to eliminate the use of all pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, to increase the city’s tree canopy from 42 percent to 60 percent by 2030, to pursue when possible the daylighting of streams in stormwater management efforts and to develop more greenways.

“Our commitment to clean water is not just to build bigger pipes but to restore streams to our valleys,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. “We will no longer use pesticides, so our workers will be weeding by hand. We expected push back but our workers were carrying 40-gallon jugs of poison on their backs.” There has been no push back, “because they understand,” he said.

Among other Biophilic Cities include are Washington, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Singapore, and Wellington, New Zealand.

Pittsburgh has its own biophilic network that meets monthly at the Phipps, and they are open to the public, said Richard Piacentini, executive director of the Phipps. More information is at phipps.conservatory.org.

Grant Ervin, the mayor’s chief resilience officer, said the cost of being a Biophilic City should go down, especially over time.

“Not buying pesticides saves money,” he said. “And we will make considerations in the way we use resources and in our practices.” One example would be to mow less by planting low-maintenance plants instead of grass.

The Biophilic Cities Project, based at the University of Virginia, cites research into the benefits to city dwellers of proximity to nature — better health and rates of recovery, greater access to fresh food and reduction of stress.

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626.