Or at least, when it comes to conserving nature, that’s where you need to start
All You Need Is Love… at least, when it comes to conserving nature, that’s where we need to start
Back in the 1950s and ’60s, German-american psychoanalyst Erich Fromm was all the rage. His bestselling book The Art of Loving, published in 1956, was everywhere. A work very much of its time, it reflected a moment when postwar North Americans were wrestling with changing attitudes to love, sex and marriage amid rumblings of a revolutionary new focus on gender equality. Fromm was a broad and ambitious thinker who was prominent for a period, until public attention moved on and he drifted to the periphery of influence.
As exciting and eye-opening as some of Fromm’s ideas were when first presented, most have died on the vine since. Surprisingly (it certainly would have been to him), it was his later writing on humans’ relationships with nature that has proven to be his most enduring intellectual contribution. In his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), Fromm identified a “passionate love of life and of all that is alive” that is latent in all humans; he called it “biophilia.” He argued that we can maintain a positive and respectful relationship with the environment only by establishing a universal love of all living things that operates on all levels: psychological, economic, political, social and ethical.
E.O. Wilson, renowned biologist and one of the most influential environmental thinkers of the last century, picked up the concept and amplified it: he published a book called in 1984. Wilson defined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life,” but he best summarized it as the fascination humans experience staring at a fire, watching waves crash on a beach or staring at a night sky. He wrote too of the positive physical and psychological effects of spending time with and in nature. In the past 10 years, as ecological awareness has improved, so too has interest in fostering this love of nature, not just for our sanity and well-being, but for the health of the planet. The question becomes, how do we, in an increasingly urbanized world, foster that connection amid the glass and steel and the sound and fury of the city? Surprisingly perhaps, Singapore, the planet’s second most densely populated sovereign state, holds the answer. Singapore is in the vanguard of urban biophilia. Despite a population increase of nearly 100 per cent (two million residents added) between 1986 and 2007, the portion of the tiny island state dedicated to green space actually increased. How did they do it? Front-line innovation, aggressive planning and a commitment to incorporating nature into every facet of city building. Innovative design on a human scale. Because the city is so densely packed and so very vertical, city planners actively encourage the integration of nature in sidewalk-scapes, funding greening conversions and compelling and incentivizing developers to include natural features (green roofs, hanging gardens and balcony farms) 20, 30 and more storeys in the sky.
Canada must follow the example. Despite our rural history, we are a highly urbanized nation today and becoming more so: 85 per cent of us live in cities, suburbs and towns, far removed from the expansive wilderness that comes from being the second largest country on Earth. With effective leadership, well-developed planning policies, and the combined efforts of schools, businesses and government—all prodded by a committed citizenry—we too can add nature to our cities. It will improve the health and happiness of those who live there and in doing so will cause many more of us to treat the planet with affection, empathy and a desire to protect. Our home is in dire need of some care and kindness. All it needs is love.
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore