Despite cities having strengthened their economy, efficiency, and liveability over the last decades, they are still facing major issues such as contamination, rising inequities, and unemployment, among others. These already harmful conditions for the environment and society are furthermore aggravated by crisis events such as the current pandemic. New planning paradigms that recognize the importance of ecology to respond to these challenges are being developed, by integrating living systems in urban environments aimed at improving cities’ socio-economic and environmental conditions.
Living systems integrated in cities are also known as Nature-Based Solutions (NBS), defined as “living solutions inspired by, continuously supported by, and using nature, which are designed to address various societal challenges in a resource efficient and adaptable manner and to provide simultaneously economic, social, and environmental benefits” (European Commission, 2015). NBS can help address several challenges through the provision of multiple ecosystem services such as life support (soil formation and oxygen production); procurement (production of food, drinking water, raw materials or fuel); regulation (climate control and tidal waves, water purification, pollination); and cultural values, including the aesthetic, educational, and recreational values. Intelligent design strategies can help reintegrate nature in cities by transforming urban spaces into liveable, productive, and biodiverse systems.
Advances in digital technologies open new opportunities to facilitate the integration of NBS in the urban environment and to increase the number and the quality of the ecosystem services provided. Digital technologies, for instance, such as simulation tools, open the possibility to test in a virtual environment how the system performs, while digital fabrication allows for the production of non-standardized elements (like green facades, floor tiles, public space furnitures, etc) for a tailored integration of nature in cities. The convergence among biology, ecological sciences and information technology applied to landscape and urban design can create powerful synergies to address the current socio-economic-environmental challenges.