Incredible, edible cities anyone?

Why environmentalist and author Jonathon Porritt believes our cities might soon really sustain us
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Detroit reimagined as an urban farm by 2050, from The World We Made
Detroit reimagined as an urban farm by 2050, from The World We Made

Farming in the city isn't as revolutionary as it might sound. As Jonathon Porritt (founder of Forum for the Future, a global sustainability non-profit) observes in our new book, The World We Made, 15 per cent of the world's food is already produced in city environments. Yet this sort of thing is mainly restricted to Asia, while any urban vegetable cultivation or animal husbandry in the West is largely restricted to allotment gardeners and food co-ops. However, large-scale farming has taken root in one of the world's most industrialised cities.

"There is a big debate going on in Detroit about how to use all the derelict land," Porritt explains to Phaidon.com. "A lot of people are nervous that if they went for such a radical move it would be like giving up on their industrial heritage, giving up on large scale manufacturing, the car industry."

Detroit has long been regarded as the archetypal industrial city, yet as its manufacturing base declines, so its landowners, local government, businesses and residents are all finding new uses for the city's land. Over the past few years, a combination of community groups, private industry and philanthropic organizations have all begun to cultivate arable crops within the city. Last summer General Motors turned 250 of its massive shipping crates into raised-bed planters, creating the Cadillac Urban Gardens.

 

A vertical greenhouse in 2038, as pictured in The World We Made
A vertical greenhouse in 2038, as pictured in The World We Made

Back in March Detroit changed its city ordinances, legalising this city agriculture In September, local city councilors even considered allowing sheep or goats onto vacant lots. It might seem counterintuitive for the authorities of an industrial hub to turn their urban areas into agricultural havens, yet Porritt believes this is a step forward.

"And others are saying, hey wait a minute," he explains. "This is what a city needs to do to recast itself. And this would generate tens of thousands of jobs and provide a way of bringing that completely derelict land and community back into gainful use. So it's a good lively debate right now."

Other cities, from Gaza to Zurich are trying similar initiatives, while agricultural technology has given small-scale farmers the opportunity to cultivate plants more or less anywhere. In The World We Made, Porritt goes on to posit a world where the Motor City turns green in the years to come. "Precision agriculture using nano-sensors, smart metering, GPS tracking and computer-assisted drip irrigation," Porritt writes, "achieve yields in Detroit that traditional US farmers are still very envious of." That's assuming there are still traditional US farmers in 2050. In all, it's a refreshingly optimistic view of the changes environmentalism might bring. To find out more go here.


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