No offence to all the city planners and urban designers out there, but there is a lot we could learn from the little creatures of the world when it comes to planning an efficient settlement, says sustainable professional Celeste Morgan.

She states that nature has had the time to try out the different things and find out what works best. Moreover biomimicry, which is the practice of matching strategies and patterns seen in nature to solve problems and challenges humans face, has recently helped great in understanding how we can plan cities. Morgan looks at a few examples:


1. Size your city to match your means

Ants have their own community where they work and live in, just like us humans. But they are experts in housing large populations and keeping a balance between density, land use and resources. They know how big a ant nest should be by taking into account of size, available resources and distance to neighbouring settlements.

Of course we also try plan this. For instance, on a sunny day in a park we carefully choose a spot to sit which is a polite distance from others. And as it becomes more crowded we still do the same action even until we have to sit right next to someone (searching for the optimal space). However ants do this as a means for building settlements. Additionally, they are self-sufficient while we get resources from all over the world.


2. Interweave and connect landscapes amongst the city

As bees need a healthy network of vegetation to pollinate, we humans need green infrastructure for our health. But bees,  which could create pollinator habitats in cities that would benefit both bees and urban landscapes, are declining. They would ensure well-distribution across the urban environment. An example of this is being put into action in Portland city in Maine whom recently made a Pollinator Vision Plan to re-plan green corridors and open spaces. The social and ecological benefits are said to be of equal measure, which would contribute to creating a well-scaled mix of large parks and community gardens.


3. Develop the next suburb creating active links with existing suburbs

When ants establish a new nest they trail from the new nest to the existing settlement, and they have a food source available to provide support for the new settlement to blossom. In doing so the new nest has access to the existing resources in the area and infrastructure to the neighbouring settlement.

If we draw parallels to city planning the ants approach to new development ensures well-planned infrastructure which can accommodate growing settlements. This principle applies to social infrastructure, transport and utilities: “connect new communities to existing infrastructure until capacity is exceeded, before building new infrastructure when the new population grows to support it in its own right.”


Of course this doesn’t mean we don’t have any need for city planners. The article gives some attention to how we can learn about city planning from nature which is our greatest resource. By studying nature we have found some core principles of urban planning. However, unfortunately we do not always follow these principles. City planners often lost sight of the masterplan in the work, and compromises are made. Looking from a bug’s perspective might just be the best way to ensure our sustainable future.