Friday, March 19, 2010

Urban Agriculture

jonathanvlarocca, Flickr Creative Commons

 By 2020 the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will serve as home for 75 % of all urban dwellers, and to eight of the anticipated nine mega-cities with populations in excess of 20 million. It is expected that by 2020, 85 % of the poor in Latin America, and about 40-45 % of the poor in Africa and Asia will be concentrated in towns and cities.

All these people will need food and energy and in this blog I will look into innovative ideas of (re)using the urban landscape for producing food and energy.

In one of USA's most famous industrial cities, Detroit also known as Motor City, one man with a plan and a lot of money, has made headlines recently. The millionaire John Hantz wants to invest $30M in a series of city farms. This will create new jobs, fresh produce, more tourists and most important - stimulate economic growth in the hard proven city. Earlier here at Sustainable Cities, we have looked at Cuba where Havana excells in producing vegetables and biofertilizers in urban environments. The cubans claims it is the way to total sustainability. The people at City Farmer in Vancouver, Canada has "encouraged urban dwellers to pull up a patch of lawn and plant some vegetables, kitchen herbs and fruit" for over 30 years. A website well worth visiting for inspiration on urban farming.

Green energy grown on the subway tracks

Production of food is one thing but the fast paced development in renewable energy calls for re-thinking the use of abandoned urban infrastructure. Architectural offices Gensler and 4240 from Chicago has cooperated on the project HYDROGENerator that turns 4.5 km abandoned subway track into a greenhouse and a hydrogen producing energy station and new city landmark. A fine example on re-vitalizing the post-industrial city and a clever use of abandoned infrastructure. The hydrogen is supposedly stored in fuel cells, used to supply energy for a local school, and to charge electrical cars. The city of Chicago has been featured in Sustainable Cities before with their progressive Green Roof policy.

At the Shenzen & Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture the project Landgrab City was presented to to help the city’s residents visualize where their food comes from. The plot of land is the same scale as the map and represents the area needed to support the 4.5 million people that inhabits Shenzen.

Architecture student Jack O'Reilly has designed an interesting project The Urban Farming and Media Interactive Networks that ,most peculiar, mixes an indoor vertical farm with a TV broadcasting station. Maybe a new way to gain more attention on radical sustainable thinking. At the American website Inhabitat you can find more examples on vertical farms, some more utopian than others. But there are more low tech solutions that are being developed right now for example The Farmery in Raleigh, North Carolina that are working on a vertical farm prototype, made of used shipping containers.

The most striking feature of urban agriculture, which distinguishes it from rural agriculture, is that it is integrated into the urban economic and ecological system: urban agriculture is embedded in -and interacting with- the urban ecosystem. Such linkages include the use of urban residents as labourers, use of typical urban resources like organic waste as compost and urban wastewater for irrigation. It takes a large amount of ingenuity to develop methods in which you get results that correspond with the labour that you put into it.