Urban Agriculture Part III: Towards an Urban “Agri-puncture”

A community in Treasure Hill, in Taiwan, originally slated for demolition, but then preserved as a site for Urban Agriculture (although at the cost of its original inhabitants). Photo © Stephen Wilde, via P2P Foundation.

Earlier this month, The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman tackled a common narrative in the architecture and community. It goes like this: once upon a time, in the 1990s, Medellín, Colombia, was the “murder of the capital of the world.” Then thoughtful architectural planning connected the slums to the city. Crime rates plummeted and, against the odds, the city was transformed.

Well, yes and no.

What happened in Medellín is often called “Urban Acupuncture,” a way of planning that pinpoints vulnerable sectors of a city and re-energizes them through design intervention. But Kimmelman reports that while the city has made considerable strides in its commitment to long-term, urban renewal, it has prioritized huge, infrastructural change over smaller solutions that could truly address community needs.

Urban Acupuncture needn’t be expensive, wieldy, or time-consuming. But it does require a detailed understanding of the city – its points of vulnerability, ‘deserts’ of services, potential connection points – and a keen sensitivity to the community it serves.

So what does this have to do with food? Our food system presents seemingly unsurmountable difficulties. In Part II, I suggested that design could, at the very least, better our alienated relationship with food. But what if we used the principles of Urban Acupuncture to bring Agriculture to the fore of urban planning? What if we used pinpointed, productive landscapes to revitalize abandoned communities and help them access healthy foods? What if we design our cities as points of Urban “Agripuncture”?

What would our cities look like with Urban Agripuncture? Read more after the break…

Missed Part I and Part II? You can find the whole series here.

Urban Agriculture Part II: Designing Out the Distance

A rooftop in San Francisco. © Peter Dasilva for the New York Times.

“The typical Urban Dweller today has no understanding of where or how food is produced/distributed. We have become dependent on huge, powerful, profit-minded corporations to bring huge quantities of food from industrial farms into our supermarkets – but the entire process is hidden, massively complex, and, ultimately, unsustainable.” [1]

In Part I of this Series, I made the case that Urban Agriculture has incredible potential; unfortunately, however, in America, it has a long way to go. Our economy, our government, our technology, even our perception of what “food” is relies upon the Food System we currently have in place. Urban Agriculture could very well be the answer, but, frankly, not yet. 

So where does that leave us today?

All over the world, citizens are taking the Food Revolution into their own hands, becoming urban bee-keepers, guerilla planters, rooftop gardeners, foodie activists. While community engagement and political lobbying are vital to these grassroots movements, so too could be design. 

By designing our cities – our public and civic spaces, our hospitals and – with food in mind, we can facilitate this Revolution by making food a visible part of urban life, thus allowing us to take that crucial first step: eliminating the physical/conceptual distance between us and our food.

What does it look like to design with food in mind? More after the break…

Urban Agriculture Part I: What Cuba Can Teach Us

Everyday, in the city of London, 30 million meals are served. That’s millions of trucks arriving to millions of stores and restaurants in a complex, tightly scheduled orchestration of production, transportation, and distribution.

We take it for granted that this system will never fail. But what would happen if these trucks were stopped? As unrealistic as it sounds, it’s happened – and not so long ago.

In 1989, over 57% of ’s caloric intake was imported from the Soviet Union. When it collapsed, became, virtually overnight, solely responsible for feeding its population – including the 2.2 million in the city of Havana. [1] What happened next is an incredible story of resilience and innovation.

As our world becomes increasingly urbanized, our farms increasingly endangered, and our reliance upon fossil fuels increasingly undesirable, the question of how we will feed billions of future city dwellers is no mere thought experiment – it’s an urgent reality.

The story of Cuba offers us an interesting question:  What would our cities look like if we began to place production/distribution as the primary focus of urban design? And what will it take to make this vision a reality?

More on how Food can shape our cities, after the break…