Interview with Helga Fassbinder by Elisabeth Wertmann, 

Österreichisches Wirtschaftsblatt

Elisabeth Wertmann: Biotope City – what does this mean? 
Helga Fassbinder: The concept „Biotope City“ – city seen as nature – is an all-embracing concept, more inclusive than the concepts of the „Sustainable City“ or the „Green City“. These two, however, are two of three elements that add up to Biotope City:
A sustainable way of building virtually is the ‚intrinsic truth‘ of a city, barely visible to the eye. It is about measures of energy saving, ecological construction and about the durability and the possibilities to recycle building materials.
The greens in a city, in contrast, are clearly visible – but not their positive effects: chlorophyll enhances the air quality, it bonds carbon dioxide and lowers the concentration of particulate matter and it slows down the runoff of rainwater, which is important during heavy rainfall. We have known for decades that for these reasons trees in a city are important. Over time, the realization has been added that green roofs and a „green skin“ on the cladding can have the same positive effects – they even contribute one other advantage, which is the regulation of temperature: insulation in winter and cooling in summer. These two elements have been recognized in recent years by a growing number of people. They are sensitized by natural phenomena of global dimensions: by climate change and global warming, by the increase of storms and heavy rainfall and by what we call the „ozone holes“, the dwindling of the atmospheric shield of our planet.
The Biotope City concept now adds another element – something, that at first happens in our heads: the realization that we and our cities do not form an antagonism to nature, but that our cities are nothing else but one other of the many alternatives, or rather, forms that constitute nature – like heathland, forest, savannah, rocky landscape and so on.

We with our cities are, in a manner of speaking, the variety „rocky landscape interspersed with traces of green“. Plants and animals have this perception. Biologists have discovered that biodiversity in cities is higher than in the countryside, i.e. the variety of animal and plant species is higher than on the surrounding, undeveloped land. The reason is that the highly monocultural management has lead to a loss of flora and fauna in the country.
With this realization of city as a form of nature we need to revise our habitual self-perception of us as city dwellers. We are not outside nature – we are one part of her: the city is not a contrast to the countryside, to nature!

Finally we can free ourselves of this acient-old misbelief that is deeply rooted in our Jewish-Christian notion of our dominance over nature – a notion that has lead to an unrestrained exploitative attitude. We have reached the limit of the feasible as natural phenomena like the rapid loss of biodiversity and climate change with its ever more dramatic consequences – storms, inundations and desertification – show. Simultaneously appears the final depletion of our traditional sources of energy. We face a huge problem for which we need to find a solution very quickly.
Here comes the realization about the true character of our cities – that really are part of nature – to our aid: we have to and we can embed ourselves again consciously in the laws and cycles of nature. Organic life, animals and plants are our fellows and allies in the battle for global survival. We need to recognize the advantage of a ‚together‘ instead of an ‚against‘. Trees and plants help us without the input of energy to clean our city air, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, slow down and restrain rainwater runoff, cool down temperatures in summer for some degrees and decrease the cooling by cold winter winds. Trees and plants, on their part, cannot live without birds and insects, so we need to arrange the exterior shell of our houses in a way that a variety of birds that keep insect population to a certain level find a place to nest. Bees love the flowers our cities have to offer, in cities the looming bee extinction does not exist (!) and bees find nourishment for 10 times more honey than in the country – this has been announced by the apiculturist association of Ile the France about the beehives in Paris. Even bigger mammals come into town to go hunting at night, foxes, in Berlin even wild boars… and at daytime doves clean away everything edible and leave almost nothing for nocturnal mice and rats.
However, there are more than the tangible advantages of cooperation. There is also the beauty of togetherness. We look through the window at the green leaves, at vines on the cladding and know about the enchanted gardens on our rooftops. Psychologists have asserted that the sight of green helps to heal body and soul: hospital patients demonstrably recover more quickly if their window opens to green spaces outside…Biotope City, city as nature, is a place of a new beauty and filled with deep emotional experiences: to witness the turning of the seasons in the vegetation, the nesting of the birds in niches that our buildings have to offer, the manifold plants on our roofs, the enlivenment of bare walls and bleak claddings by Virginia creeper and ivy up to marvellous vertical horticultural artworks as designed, for example, by the French biologist Partick Blanc.
The point is not a lower density of the city, by no means. Paris counts among the pioneers of such cities, being the densest city on the European continent. Not the building density hinders this concept, but the acquired habits of thinking. We need to find another attitude: no longer the one of a city dweller, that eradicates every sprouting little grass as soon as possible, but the one of a nourishing and caring gardener that rejoices in the nature surrounding him – without being unsettled by the claim that city wasn’t nature… And we need to comprise the organic world as a self-evident element into the design of our buildings. The rationality of modernity achieves a new, additional dimension: green as a consciously chosen element of design, such as stone, steel, wood and concrete, and not as a ‚architectural cover-up‘ for failed corners.
Revitalized districts that meet with the elements of ’sustainability‘ and ‚greening‘ should be revised further developed under this point of view.

With Courtesy to ‚Österreichisches Wirtschaftsblatt