In 2009 we reached a significant milestone: as of this point the majority of the world’s population now live in cities according to researchers such as Stuart Cunningham. This means that we increasingly need to navigate a whole host of urban issues and problems as our cities become more population-dense. A big challenge for those living in cities involves having access to fresh food, and so some clever ideas are evolving about ways to make our urban spaces better in terms of food productivity. Here are three inspiring projects focused on increasing the food production potential of cities.

As of this point the majority of the world’s population now live in cities.

Rooftop farms in the city

Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm

Having the space to grow food is usually one of the biggest barriers to food production in cities. The rooftop garden idea is often used as a response to this challenge. In the United States, Brooklyn Grange is one company leading the way with this approach. Their initial efforts centred on growing food on the rooftops and unused spaces of New York City, but has since expanded beyond this to include other features. Their mission is to create a fiscally sustainable model for urban agriculture and to produce healthy, delicious vegetables for the local community with the ecosystem in mind.

Brooklyn Grange has had extraordinary success since their humble beginnings in 2010. As well as rooftop gardening design services, they now grow vegetables for sale, keep egg-laying hens, and have launched a commercial apiary. In addition to all this activity they offer tours and education workshops as a way to bring people into the spaces they design, and educate them about possibilities that exist in making our cities more food productive.

For a time lapse two-month taste of a garden from the pre-planting stage to full production through the seasons, check out this amazing video.

Revitalising vacated urban spaces

Back in 2010 three researchers identified the potential for growing food in the vacated city of Detroit. Fast forward to 2017 and Detroit is being hailed as an example of the future of urban planning. The announcement of urban design initiatives such as America’s first sustainable urban agrihood by The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) is a great case study in how design can be used to evolve cities into being more productive places. MUFI is an all-volunteer not-for-profit generating agricultural concepts that transform decaying and abandoned properties and vacant land into useful community assets.

“Our primary focus is the redevelopment of a three-acre area in Detroit’s North End, which is being positioned as an epicenter of urban agriculture” – MUFI

MUFI is about three acres in size and located among vacant land, and occupied and abandoned houses in the lower North End neighbourhood. The project features a two-acre urban garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. MUFI describes it like this: ‘More than 300 vegetable varieties are grown, providing about 20,000-lbs. of produce annually, or more than 50,000-lbs of produce grown since 2012. The food is free to the more than 2,000 households, food pantries, churches, and businesses within two-square-miles of the farm.’

Future MUFI projects include a healthy food café, student internship housing, a water harvesting cistern, and an alternative housing model using a sea shipping container.

Creating a city orchard in Lisbon

Born out of tough economic times following the global financial crisis, Muita Fruta (Portuguese for Much Fruit) is a Popular Kitchen project that maps the fruit trees of Lisbon as a way of redistributing garden produce across the city. It’s based in the multicultural suburb of Mouraria where there has been a concerted effort to rejuvenate the neighbourhood from the recent past characterised by economic stress and social and physical isolation in the city.

Muita Fruta (Portuguese for Much Fruit) maps the fruit trees of Lisbon.

Muita Fruta is as much about minimising wasted produce as it as concerned with caring for the city’s public and private fruit trees. The project started out with a focus on helping those with fruit trees to get the best out of their produce through harvesting the fruit and making jam. Mapping the city’s fruit trees is linked to the project goal of transforming Lisbon into a big farm.

The project creates skills and promotes employability for younger people in Lisbon, and is a way to involve older residents in volunteer activity. Muita Fruta is an example of a project that mixes economic gains and social inclusion, and has been deliberately designed as such.

Resourceful projects like these show the way cities can become productive places to grow and distribute food to its residents.

Popular Kitchen, where Muita Fruta originated, runs projects to ‘exchange ideas, spread culture, cook, experiment, share, reunite with family, travel the world and more.’ There are plans to expand the Muita Fruta project by planting new fruit trees wherever space can be found, and this includes turning wasteland into public food gardens.

Resourceful projects like these show the way cities can become productive places to grow and distribute food to its residents. Reducing our dependency on external food supply sources and creating communities that are proactive about food production is one exciting direction in contemporary urban design and planning.

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