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Through Bankruptcy and Boom: What's Really Happening in Detroit?

After exiting bankruptcy at the end of last year, Detroit has suddenly become something of a boomtown in the eyes of the media. Discourse now talks about Detroit Rising, the "Post-Post-Apocalyptic Detroit". Rents are rising, private investment is flowing into the city, and institutions that left the city for the affluent suburbs are now relocating back into Detroit proper. Too long used only as a cautionary tale, the new focus on the reality of Detroit and free flowing money opens the door for architects and urban planners, not to mention the wider community, to begin thinking about how they want to rebuild Detroit, and who they want to rebuild it for.

It’s the perfect opportunity to formulate plans that will genuinely aid Detroit, involve the community and create a revival that really achieves something. But as it stands, the "revival" forming in Detroit, aided and abetted by media coverage, will not improve conditions for the vast majority of Detroiters and will not create a sustainable platform for future growth, instead benefiting only the private investors and those rich enough to benefit from what is currently classic, by-the-book gentrification.

Renaissance Centre, a previous attempt to revitalise Detroit. Image © Flickr user paul bica An abandoned Detroit house. Image © Wikimedia user Notorious4life Detroit's Brush Park neighbourhood in Midtown. Image ©  Flickr user Stephen Harlan Detroit's ExpressTram. Image © Wikimedia user Danleo

Bartlett Professor CJ Lim to Launch "Food City" Book at Ravensbourne

As part of the launch of his latest book, Food City, Professor CJ Lim of the Bartlett School of Architecture will present a lecture at Ravensbourne in Greenwich, London. Food City follows on from professor Lim's previous book, Smartcities and Eco-Warriors, exploring the role that food production and distribution has historically played in day-to-day life, and how we might once again reinstate it as an integral part of our cities through essays on 25 cities around the globe.

Tree-Like Skyscraper Takes Urban Farming to Next Level

Urban farming is nothing new, but Aprilli Design Studio's proposal for a completely open-air skyscraper does put a novel spin on the sustainable ideal. Instead of tacking greenery onto roofs and balconies, they incorporate agriculture into cities by dedicating entire buildings to the cause. To learn more about the tree-like design, check out Fast Company's article here.

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York

"In an era of incompetent nation states and predatory transnationals, we must ratchet up local self-reliance, and the most logical increment of organisation (and resistance) is the city." This is how Michael Sorkin, writing in Aeon Magazine, explains his hypothetical plan to radically change the landscape of New York City, bringing a green landscape and urban farming into the former concrete jungle.

The plan, called "New York City (Steady) State", produced over six years by Sorkin's Terreform Research Group, is not designed simply for aesthetic pleasure; it's not even an attempt to make the city more sustainable (although sustainability is the key motivation behind the project). The project is in fact a "thought-experiment" to design a version of New York that is completely self reliant, creating its own food, energy and everything else within its own borders.

Read on after the break to find out how New York could achieve self-reliance

Exterior rendering of a vertical tower designed specifically for meat production. Image Courtesy of Terreform Aerial view of the South Bronx and Manhattan, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform Bird’s-eye view of Midtown Manhattan’s neighborhood food hubs in New York City (Steady) State. Image Courtesy of Terreform New York City (Steady) State, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform

Milwaukee Urban Farm Movement Grows

After the foreclosure crisis, hundreds of cities despaired at the downturn - but in Milwaukee, the HomeGr/own Initiative saw opportunity. The organization converts empty lots into urban farms, calling upon citizens to assist in this growing local food movement. But while other cities have tried similar projects (and failed), Fast.Co reports that the HomeGr/own Initiative seems suited to last. Learn why here

In Tokyo, A Vertical Farm Inside and Out

As young people migrate to cities in ever growing numbers, so grows the concern for the future of agriculture. Prototypes for urban/vertical farms have been developed and, considering projected urban growth, seem a likely forecast for our future.

In the offices of Pasona, the future has already arrived. The Tokyo based recruitment agency has dedicated 20% of their 215,000 square foot office to growing fresh vegetables, making it the largest urban farm in Japan.

Whole Foods Set to Build First Commercial-Scale Greenhouse on Brooklyn Rooftop

Whole Foods has teamed up with New York’s local organic grower, Gotham Greens, to build the first commercial-scale greenhouse attached to a supermarket in Brooklyn. The 20,000-square-foot greenhouse, expected to open this Fall, will provide locally grown produce year-round to nine Whole Foods stores in New York City area. 

Chicago's Mayor Launches Transformative Urban Farming Plan

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Growing Power, a Chicago-based urban agriculture organization, announced recently the formation of Farmers for Chicago, a program that will transform vacant south-side Chicago lots into productive urban farms. The program will make available up to five acres of city-owned vacant lots for urban farming activity and "help expand the supply chain for local neighborhood-level food production and wholesale," "improve community access to healthy food, help participants to supplement their incomes, and to foster workforce training."

Read more about Farmers for Chicago after the break.

The Grow Dat Youth Farm & SEEDocs: Mini-Documentaries on the Power of Public-Interest Design

If you read our infographic, then you know that Public-Interest Design is one of the few growing sectors of the architecture industry. From the prevalence of Design-Build curriculums in Architecture Schools to the rise of the 1% program and non-profits like Architecture for Humanity, Public-Interest Design (PID) is hitting its stride.

Which is why we’re so excited that two of PID’s biggest players, Design Corps and SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design), have teamed up to create SEEDocs, a monthly series of mini-documentaries that highlight the inspirational stories of six award-winning public interest design projects.

The latest SEEDoc follows the story of the Grow Dat Youth Farm - a brilliant example of what we call “Urban Agri-puncture” (a strategy that uses design & Urban Agriculture to target a city’s most deprived, unhealthy neighborhoods) that is changing the lives of New Orleans youth.

More on this inspiring story, after the break…

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. Photo via e-architect.
A community in Treasure Hill, in Taiwan, originally slated for demolition, but then preserved as a site for Urban Agriculture. Photo via e-architect.

Earlier this month, The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman tackled a common narrative in the architecture and urban planning 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 I: What Cuba Can Teach Us

Havana Cuba. CC Flickr User weaver.
Havana Cuba. CC Flickr User weaver.

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 Cuba’s caloric intake was imported from the Soviet Union. When it collapsed, Cuba 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 food 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…

picNYC Transforms Urban Dining

© Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

Haiko Cornelissen Architecten recently unveiled their picNYC table with a live grass table top.  Inspired by wave of urban farming initiatives, the picNYC takes this concept into the house at a micro level. A folded lightweight aluminum table top and legs provide the necessary structure to support the stone drainage bed, soil and grass. With the grass option, spilling water while dining no longer becomes an issue, but rather a necessity. However, should one require a finely groomed lawn on top, the grass will need to be cut by hand. Other options suitable for the picNYC include an endless opportunity for planting with a wide range of greenery ranging from flowers, to fruits and vegetables.

Urban Farming in numbers

Interesting study by MVRDV, The Why Factory and Stroom Den Haag.