In a transformative shift, cities are reconnecting with their agricultural roots, fostering a resurgence of local food production within urban landscapes. For centuries, the agricultural sector intricately wove into the fabric of communities, shaping regional economies and land-use patterns. However, with the industrialization of the food system and urbanization, a significant migration from rural to urban areas occurred. In 2008, a pivotal moment unfolded as the world’s population reached an equilibrium, evenly split between urban and rural dwellers.
Driven by concerns over carbon emissions from food transportation and the crucial link between public health and access to affordable, nutritious food, cities are now investing in cultivating untapped, fertile ground within their boundaries. Propelled by innovative policies, progressive cities are witnessing the emergence of fresh, innovative businesses focusing on local food production.
Beyond Green Roofs: A Paradigm Shift in Urban Agriculture
The proliferation of green roofs, spurred in part by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system, has showcased the potential of utilizing underutilized spaces for agricultural purposes. While green roofs offer benefits such as stormwater runoff reduction and enhanced energy efficiency, pioneers in the green building industry are expanding their focus beyond rooftops. The Living Building Challenge 2.0 (LBC 2.0), a sustainability certification program, introduces the Urban Food Imperative, guiding designers and developers to integrate food production seamlessly into urban and semi-urban areas.
The Urban Food Imperative encompasses innovative approaches, including edible landscaping on green walls, planting strips, and vertical indoor farming operations. This visionary shift is pushing designers to explore new technologies and tools to maximize food production in and around buildings.
James Kalin, CEO of Virtually Green, a San Francisco startup launching a Sustainable Commercial Urban Farm Incubator, acknowledges the challenge of scaling these green building projects. While the potential is immense, synergy between architects, engineers, and farmers is essential to develop economically viable urban farming projects.
Pioneering Architectural Solutions: Transforming Vision into Reality
In response to the Living Building Challenge, architecture and design firms are taking up the mantle to bridge the gap between concept and execution. Seattle-based firm Weber Thompson, a trailblazer in this space, designed the Eco-Laboratory—a mixed-use development integrating vertical farming and a community garden into a financially sustainable community. Recognized with first place in the 2008 national Natural Talent Competition, the Eco-Laboratory illustrates how energy outputs from one use can support complementary uses.
Weber Thompson, in collaboration with vertical farm expert Dr. Dickson Despommier, has also designed a vertical farm for Newark, NJ. These prototypes, conceived as responses to the Living Building Challenge, aim for self-sufficiency in water and energy use, presenting a promising future for urban agriculture.
Innovative Technologies: Valcent’s VertiCrop Revolution
Valcent, a groundbreaking company dedicated to fostering innovation in vertical farming, introduces “VertiCrop,” a technology designed to demonstrate that vertical farms can surpass traditional, land-based farms in yield. In test trials, VertiCrop increased crop yields by up to 20 times the normal production volume, using only 5 percent of the average water used in conventional growing conditions.
Despite the economic challenges of the current climate, the growing market demand for vertical agriculture is undeniable. Interest spans globally, and the concept is transitioning from theory to implementation. Dan Albert, a landscape architect with Weber Thompson, underscores the inevitability of prototypes materializing as the world realizes the practical problem-solving rooted in the vertical agriculture concept.
As the urban agriculture movement gains momentum, explore the intersection of sustainability, innovation, and community development at CommonShare. Join the journey toward resilient and sustainable urban landscapes.