The Argument for urban Agriculture:

Viljoen (2005) states 4 main goals, in no particular order of importance these are: [1]

1. Mitigation of ‘food miles’ through increased local production and reduction of imports.

Co2, deadlines for carbon reduction

2. Reduction of Domination of food supply by a small number of large organisations.  intensive methods outside the city and reduced loss of biodiversity, organic food grown locally.

3. Food sovereignty reduced global dependence- Increased protection against rising food prices fuel/food stress. By 2050 80% of the world will live in cities and we will need  we will need

4. Increased disconnection between the urban dweller and the process of food production.  Social benefits and education, Brings us closer to our food

There is huge debate regarding the most appropriate method to mitigate global food shortages facing increasing global urban populations, a wider argument around the role of urban agriculture as a viable solution, also regarding the role of design within the debate, all out-with the limited scope of this study[2]. However chapter 3 investigates if larger scale debate has influenced current architectural theories.

For the purposes of this study ‘Urban Agriculture within Architecture’ will be taken to mean design based proposals incorporating and amalgamating food production as a fundamental part of the design to increase food security or independence for the individual or aim to reconnect the user or city to food production. [3]

Contradictory Motivations and theories within the architectural movement

In parallel to increased segregation and centralisation of the food system, Urban Agriculture in the UK has existed primarily as a grass roots movement since the state led ‘Dig for Britain’ campaign during the Second World War. Analysis 1 indicates a rapid decrease in the number of allotments since. Steel (2009) argues as a result of massive shifts in agriculture and how the food system operates, one key driver involving new transport infrastructure dominated by the car and models of shopping[4]. Approaches in the developed North and the South vary greatly[5], a comparison worthy of further reasearch. However within the North there is also a wide variation of how Urban Agriculture is applied as a result of cultural, political and environmental differences. Urban agriculture exists in the form of allotments, community gardens and city farms. Many are a reaction to the separation of food production from the City and the individual, with the concept of urban food promoted by informal  ‘bottom-up’ movements such as the ‘City Farmers Network’[6] but also global ‘top-down’ organisations such as the FAO, UNDP advocating that cities evolve from their current dependent position in the global world involving ‘linear’[7] centralised systems reliant on imports to localised and decentralised ‘closed loop’[8] or ‘circular production’ systems within the city.

As well as energy conservation, urban agriculture is motivated by increased urban social sustainability and awareness of food. This study aims to investigate which of these ambitions motivates current architectural approaches. Steel (2009) argues that urban consumers deserve alternatives to ‘the big 4’,[9] referring to the dominant private companies currently possessing a stranglehold over food supply to UK cities, also operating highly centralised and linear supply systems. [10] DEFRA indicates the dramatic changes in food supply in terms of transport and globalisation as a result.[11]

Bottom-up urban farming activities in the UK are coordinated by motivated groups of individuals or by Charitable organisations such as NSALG or The Federation of City Farms and Gardens. Recently the UK government has attempted to structure and fund schemes such as the London Capital Growth campaign motivated by community[12] benefits.[13]

In terms of land use, currently urban agriculture locates on the periphery on allocated land or residual spaces/urban voids less favourable to other types of Urban development. In contrast literature review identified that many Architectural Models propose locating Urban Agriculture more centrally, with agriculture actually giving form to the city.  Literature review also identified divergences in the wider urban agricultural movement. Maas (2010)[14] and Viljoen (2005) argue that as a model for self- sufficiency urban agriculture is pre-occupied with the scale of the individual requiring a shift toward addressing global scale. The focus of the Urban Agriculturein the developed north [15] involves the methods adopted for cultivation or animal husbandry, focusing on the ‘socially cohesive’ and education benefits of the activity with aesthetic concerns secondary.[16] This contrasts with planned design based approaches which integrate with primary elements such as housing or public spaces.[17] Although urban agriculture is integrated, the ‘productive’ element is arguably secondary to urban aesthetic objectives (discussed in chapter 3). Analysis 3 indicates the characteristics of architecturally led proposals in the North,

literature review identified that many urban agricultural approaches within architectural discourse seek to address all of the goals indicated in figure 8, however arguably only address one or two of the above.

The existing practice of urban architecture in the ‘north’ is generally a bottom up and localised activity occurring on allocated or adapted land, often brown-field sites or redundant urban voids. Only recently top-down frameworks (including recognition in land use policy), and designers have begun to engage within the wider practice of urban agriculture.[18]

Advocates of grass-roots urban agricultural approaches such as the ‘Locovore’[19] and slow food movement argue toward a new localism and a move back to subsistence farming. Arguably however although justified through increased proximity of the urban dweller to food, the current practice does not directly address the larger issues of Co2 reductions, in contrast literature review identified that many designed examples of urban agriculture focus on carbon reductions as the key motivation.

Eve de Silva (2010) argues that in the last 5 years the urban agricultural movement in the north has almost achieved a fashion status[20], due to increased media attention on current food production and fuelled by the organic and slow food movements which look at more land/traditional orientated methods. Analysis indicated that such movements have arguably influenced corresponding architectural theories, aiming both to functionally achieve the same objectives but also embodying the same ideals.

However contrastingly others Theorist and Ecologist Despommier (2010) advocates a move toward technology and science as a solution to the question of food stress facing the modern city. The objectives of both contrasting approaches arguably runin parallel whilst methods vary greatly. In terms of global agribusiness, reduction of Carbon emissions embodied within the supply chain,[21] and in some cases increased food sovereignty is seen as a key objective also relating to economic advantages.[22]

De Vries[23] (2010) summarises diverging debates currently existing in design in relation to resources and the wider environment “since we consume so much we have to decide if we reduce consumption or use the earths surface more efficiently[24].” Mostafavi (2010) argues currently ‘ecological urbanisms’ are of the former approach “a transformative style which aims to transcend environmental constraints obviating the need for further societal change.”[25] However Steel (2009) in line with the thinking of the UK government “food futures”[26] report suggests that it is the consumer who should be educated, by bringing city inhabitants closer to the process and presence of food production. This suggests two contrasting design approaches;

1. Urban agriculture as catalyst

2. Urban agriculture as solution.

The characteristics of current theories/models in architecture will be analysed in chapter 3 in relation to this debate. ‘Food Futures’ indicates there is not one universal solution[27] but many co-ordinated moves from legislation and education through to design.[28]


[1] Viljoen A.  CPULs P21 PP3

[2] Aims instead to contribute to this larger discussion by identifying the physical implications and opportunities for the city in relation to land use[2]

[3] Other parallel movements overlap with this classification in terms of the intention and approach such as the Landscape Urbanism movement, [3] the ‘Ecological Urbanism movement.’[3]

[4] Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009, P137

[5] Approaches in the south have been ‘designed’ through regulatory and participative frameworks led by volunteers, NGOs and governments and realised. However arguably there has not been the same architectural interest in urban agriculture proposed in the south. In the developing ‘South’[5] planners, and governments have been more involved in implementing large scale urban agriculture, state led initiatives have been in seen in Cuba, Calcutta and Bangkok.

[6] http://www.cityfarmer.org/ – last accessed 03/05/2011

[7] Tomkins 2005, The edible city , MSC architectural and environmental studies and energy systems, July 2006, University of East London., P2

[8]Tomkins 2005, The edible city , MSC architectural and environmental studies and energy systems, July 2006, University of East London P28, PP2

[9] Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009 P14, PP3

[10] Tomkins 2005, The edible city , MSC architectural and environmental studies and energy systems, July 2006, University of East London, P33

[11] Ibid

[12] The Health and community benefits, which have been highlighted in studies by UK government “a lot to loose”.

[13] a funded attempt to create a network of 2012 urban agriculture projects across London in time for the Olympic games.

[14]Maas, Green Dream, P50

[15] (which, over the last 20 years has organised itself around key publications and 2 major websites)

[17] Vijoen, Campbell UA aesthetics – bottom up

[18] These range from social/community benefits to increased food security and carbon reductions. This study will revert to the studies of others in relation to the above but will aim to add to the debate when mapping this against contemporary land use and through speculating about the potential benefits /resultant activities/benefits could emerge when incorporating it.  should be but will speculate about these benefits when applying models to the city.

[19] Locavores – facts/reference

[21] Tesco pledge to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2020 – http://cr2010.tescoplc.com/environment.aspx – Last accessed 08/05/11

[23] De Vries, Brackett P57, PP2

[24] Efficiency through increased density of productivity per surface area.

[25] Ecological urbanism   – P208 PP1

[26] UK Governent report 2008 Food Futures –http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/publications/papers/view/-/id/695/ – Last accessed 05/05/11

[27] This larger debate is outwith the scope of this study, this introduction aims to briefly summarise the wider context of the debate regarding food and our cities, to analyse what implications food production can have for the physical form contemporary city.[27]

[28] Food futures – Ibid P..

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