Nearly a decade ago, the History Channel asked architects to imagine urban life in 100 years. As a part of the competition, firms were given eight days to reimagine San Francisco’s landscape. With a world population that will top 10 billion people, how will we address the strain on our resources? As cities grow larger and farms grow smaller, how does the agricultural model have to shift?
Our project thought vertically–literally. We united existing structures with what we deemed agricultural settings, we created a vision of agricultural co-habitation.
A decade later, vertical farms are a very real thing.
In areas of the world struck by political, social and environmental turmoil, the new agricultural world is certainly much closer than anyone had anticipated. Around 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas. Per the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban farms already supply food to about 700 million residents of cities, representing about a quarter of the world’s urban population. Urban agriculture offers a partial solution to the world of hunger. This is something to applaud.
For example, in Gaza, a man is perfecting hydroponic gardening on his roof, using his own custom mix of natural ingredients to provide extra nutrients and fertilizers. As fertile land shrinks and water crisis deepens, Palestinians are searching for different ways to feed their families.
Fish farms are moving indoors and becoming healthier for the fish (and us). Many cities are moving towards interweaving agriculture within neighborhoods. Even on a smaller scale, companies like Sur la Table are offering affordable hydroponic machines. Industrialization allowed us access to any produce from around the world but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is always convenient or efficient. Having the opportunity to create your own food and foster your own plant-life offers some freedom.
Surprisingly, the return to smaller-scale agriculture in a modern world is addressing inequalities. In parts of Africa, women have long struggled in the agricultural fight. The best available vacant land is typically given to men, while women’s plots are of lower quality and located further away from their homes. The greater the scarcity of land, the more discrimination women see in the agricultural world. Urban farming in these regions provides opportunities for women’s empowerment that rural agriculture never has. Women are more likely to pitch in to physical labor in urban farms because plots are smaller, and they are gaining more bargaining position within their households as dependency on female income increases.
Urban agriculture can play a huge role in feeding the poor and increasing food security across the continent. It also can provide much-needed resources and a sense of personal independence in politically unstable climates.
New urban farming is in some sense, what farming once was: a more intimate and small-scale operation.