Washington, DC

Biophilic Cities Member since May 23, 2015
  • Population in 2014: 658,893 (100% urban, 0% rural)
  • Change since 2000: +15.2%

Washington DC is known for its many parks and trees, as well as its monuments. Two great rivers traverse its quadrants to join and flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Over the last decade, the City has become known for its progressive environmental policies, especially in the areas of energy and the built environment. DC has one of the largest numbers of ENERGY STAR-rated and LEED-certified buildings in the country. In December 2015, Washington DC received a global leadership award for its extensive investment in wind energy.

Yet the City faces a number of significant challenges in human health and environmental quality. Nature access is not equitably spread across neighborhoods, and asthma and obesity are chronic problems in many parts of the city. Public health problems tend to coincide with poverty and poor connections with (or lack of) green space, and poor access to fresh, healthy foods. A vibrant community of nonprofits and DC’s local government have begun to address these issues. Urban gardens are springing up across the City, and just last year, Mayor Bowser launched the FitDC program to encourage physical activity.

With DC’s membership in the Biophilic Cities Network, Biophilic DC plans to work closely with City agencies and nonprofit partners to make their City ever more natureful, where people and other species thrive. “We’re especially interested in supporting nature-based public health efforts, and opportunities to promote citizen science. And of course, the creative possibilities of social media,” says Stella Tarnay.  “I’d love for children to be tweeting about what amazing plant or lizard they just saw, and making nature experience part of the everyday conversation of our grown up, overworked federal workers—it would be good for everyone!”

  • “Washington DC is arguably one of the greenest cities in the US, but we still have a lot of work to do make nature a part of people’s lives, especially for children in our poorest neighborhoods, and to build a culture of stewardship and friendship with the natural world.” - Stella Tarnay, Cofounder
  • “The District of Columbia is honored to be among the first North American cities in the Biophilic Cities Network. Creating meaningful ways to connect residents to our natural urban habitat is vitally important, and is embedded in both our Sustainable DC Plan and our Wildlife Action Plan. As our population continues to grow, the District will benefit greatly from fellow Biophilic cities around the world and we look forward to sharing our own successes." - Tommy Wells, Director of DOEE


Washington, DC, Green Area Ratio

Environmental sustainability zoning regulation that sets standards for landscape and site design to help reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and keep the city cooler.

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  • The City’s Sustainable DC Plan, released in 2013, has the goal to make DC the “healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States” within one generation. Among other measures, the Plan calls for the restoration of the City’s tree canopy to 40 percent, and access to parkland or natural space within a 10-minute walk for all residents. Although “Nature” is one of 11 action areas identified in the plan, Tarnay notes that early implementation of the Sustainable DC Plan focused largely on energy and stormwater management. “More recently,” she says, “agencies have started to pay attention to the experience of nature, and the animal and plant species that we share our city with.” In early 2016, DC finalized an update to its Wildlife Action Plan, which outlines a strategy for conserving critical wildlife habitat, and DOEE now has an active pollinator program.
  • DC has adopted a Green Area Ratio requirement for several areas of the city, which sets forth landscape and site design standards for new development “to help reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and keep the city cooler.”
  • Further, through DOEE, the City has also instituted a Stormwater Retention Credit Trading Program to create financial incentives for private green infrastructure development within the City.


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