From Agrihood to Suburb

the cannery

The Cannery-Tom Fox-1471.jpg

The Cannery, a new planned development in Davis, California, is located on the site of a 1961 Hunt-Wesson factory, which canned its last tomatoes in 1999. Today, the Cannery’s only link with its industrial past is the name. The new 547-unit development is an ode to the locavore lifestyle.

Developed by the conventional (high-end) homebuilder the New Home Company, it has a community clubhouse designed to look like a traditional white farmhouse, and its own five-acre organic farm, which will sell some of the produce to residents. “It’s an interesting model for how you might introduce agriculture in places that might not have had it before,” says Joe Runco, principal at SWA, the firm that did the master planning and landscape design. “The farm is small enough to be part of the neighborhood, but it’s also more than a community garden.”

Planned developments that incorporate a farm are known as “agrihoods” and are catching on across the country. “They’re becoming the new golf-course community,” says Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, who estimates there are about 200 such neighborhoods around the country. “They represent the values of Millennials—a convergence of food, health, local ties, and the sharing economy.”

The Cannery shows how all the pieces can fit together within a project that checks off many New Urbanist boxes. There’s a small retail/commercial center, and residents can walk or bike to downtown Davis, which is about a mile away. Only a third of the housing will be single-family homes; a range of townhouses, condominiums, and apartments should attract a multi-age community. The density of 5.5 units per acre (or 8.6, minus the farmland and parks) is higher than the 3 to 4 units per acre of traditional suburbs—although only slightly. The townhouses are selling for upwards of $400,000 and the single-family homes for $700,000 and up; agriburbia doesn’t come cheap. But with 60 units of affordable housing, the development will have some economic diversity.

For planners and land conservationists, agrihoods can be a useful tool for preserving existing farmland. Earlier communities, like Prairie Crossing in Illinois and South Village in Vermont, were established to ward off wholesale development. “Planned developments are a zoning tool that is well-suited to development-supported agriculture, since they allow for effective master planning and combinations of diverse land uses that are difficult to achieve with traditional, Euclidean-style zoning,” says Jennifer Henaghan, deputy research director at the American Planning Association. The Cannery was just named “master-planned community of the year” by the National Association of Home Builders.

The Cannery had open fields along its eastern border, so was required to have a buffer. The developer could have put in landscaping, but opted to create a narrow farm instead. Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the farm is an important part of the puzzle. Some agrihoods have long-term leases with commercial farmers. Another model is to set up “incubator” farms that allow new farmers to launch their careers on a small scale. The Cannery’s farm is under the stewardship of the Center for Land-Based Learning, a local nonprofit that trains farmers. It will lease the land to its recent graduates.

The idea of being vicarious farmers is deeply appealing to future residents like Mylon and Samrina Marshall, doctors who have lived in Davis for 20 years. “We don’t have a green thumb,” says Samrina, “but we love going to the farmers market and eating locally and what is in season.” After moving in this summer, they hope to get one of their staples, organic heirloom tomatoes, from their own neighborhood farm. It’s a vision of the good life that is primed to reshape many American suburbs.

The Cannery-Tom Fox-1445.jpg


Source: CityLab

China is Building the World’s first Forest City


China is notorious for having trouble with air pollution, but now they are trying to come out with an innovative solution.

Italian architect Stefano Boeri’s colossal ‘forest city’ scheme – a newly built metropolis that will ‘eat’ its own toxic smog with one million plants and 40,000 trees. The idea is to challenge preconceptions that urban density intensifies air pollution, by creating a new blueprint for city design that integrates plants into its construction.
100 different species of plants are planned to grow on balconies and roofs of the city’s skyscrapers, lining 175 hectares along the Liujiang River in Southern China. Once completed, the shrubs will breathe in fine dust from the air, catching and soaking up pollutants from the toxic environment. When the city is fully grown, it will be able to absorb almost 10,000 tons of CO2, 57 tons of pollutants per year and produce approximately 900 tons of oxygen annually.

The new green city in Liuzhou will reportedly host 30,000 people, with hospitals, schools and fast electic rail services all part of the construction.The project was commissioned by the Liuzhou Municipality Urban Planning and will be constructed in the north of Liuzhou along the Liujiang river. The construction of the green-city-in-the-making is currently underway and will be finished by 2020. Occupying 432 acres, the Liuzhou Forest City will be roughly half of the size of the Central Park in New York. There are also plans to fit geothermal and solar energy resources, so the city runs on a green and self-sustainable power source.

Italian architect Boeri, who has previously designed two vertical skyscraper ‘forests’ in Milan, said: “The diffusion of plants, not only in the parks and gardens or along the streets, but also over building facades, will allow the energy self-sufficient city to contribute to improve the air quality (absorbing both CO2 and fine dust of 57 tons per year), to decrease the average air temperature, to create noise barriers and to improve the biodiversity of living species, generating the habitat for birds, insects and small animals that inhabit the Liuzhou territory.”

If successful, the forest city could be a blueprint for other countries where air pollution is an issue.

Source: Standard UK

Food is a Human Right, Not a Product


Article by Emmanuel Faber

Food is not a business like others. Food is not a commodity; it is not a consumer good – It is far more important. It is a human right, so defined by the United Nations.

We know the global industrial food system did miracles to broaden food access and reduce hunger. But it is reaching its limits. We are the first generation that consciously lives with them: obesity and malnutrition. Waste of food and water. Soil depletion. Climate change. Forced labor. Lack of women’s empowerment. The solitude of farmers. The crowds of migrants. They are all interconnected issues and related to the fact that the food system has disconnected people from their food. Many kids and even adults don’t even know the link between meat and animals, between fruits and trees. And this is a problem.

Emmanuel Faber believes that the founding vision set for his company by Antoine Riboud, inspired by discussions with the young generation of the May ‘68 French revolts, is the right one for our company: a dual project of both economic value creation and social progress. Antoine had a lifetime commitment to this vision, followed by his son Franck, who, in two decades as CEO of Danone, revived the Carasso family’s vision of yogurt as a health product and led us to create a unique portfolio of health-focused food and water brands.

Starting with taking care of the people: Since a decade, Faber has designed a unique global health insurance program, benefiting 70,000 employees in 25 developing countries. He aims for Dan’Cares to cover our 100,000+ people, and possibly more. He also launched a unique, gender-neutral Parental Policy earlier this year.
We are wholeheartedly convinced of how critical the first 1,000 days of life are. We have therefore pledged to fully empower all women in their choice of nutrition and to support breastfeeding. That has changed the way Faber and company operates Aptamil, Nutrilon and all of his local brands. They have pledged to make their breastmilk substitutes available to low-income families in a not-for-profit model.

We know such models can exist because a decade ago, we invented social innovation platforms to make “One planet. One health” a reality, starting with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Danone Communities’ “social business” to bring access to water and nutrition. Our Danone Ecosystem Fund builds skills, social and economic opportunities for people in our food and water ecosystems, from farmers to street vendors and landfill scavengers in 70 countries. Livelihoods, a CO2 credits-powered investment platform, supports farmers to plant trees, helping them to create a sustainable living and connecting them on global supply chains. We already work with partners on these platforms, but they could be grown much further at scale.

Because in many countries consumers are shifting away from conventional food and retail and are exploring alternatives. This is putting pressure on the short-term performance reported by the large food and retail companies. Short-termism is a risk higher than ever, whilst what is at stake is the balance of efficiency and sustainability across time horizons. Should we surrender on the transformation to address the revolution and just focus on extracting capital out of our businesses, making a few even richer and a darker future for many?

Last week in Berlin, the Consumer Goods Forum Summit gathered around “global learnings from local successes.” Rightly so, as local food brands keep gaining share against global brands every year. People believe local is a way to reclaim their right to food: This is the lesson to be learned. In France, Faber’s government is bringing together, next month, a critical nationwide, multiparty conference on Alimentation, a word Danone uses to describe food sovereignty, and which encompasses cultural relevance, transparency and fairness.

So, now is the time when those who dare to believe that food sovereignty should be the goal of this industry — like Danone and many others — should start to more broadly support and be catalysts of change for people to reconnect with their food. Because food is a human right.

Faber and his companies are trying to have an entire generation change and be known as the Food Generation.

Source: Sustainable Brands

Valuing Rooftop Gardens

Article by Warwick Savvas and Sourceable

rooftop gardens

As our cities become increasingly denser, the available area for living outside, whether it be public or private open space, becomes more precious.

We are surrounded by more and more concrete, glass and steel. Ground level green space is also being lost as a consequence of medium and high density developments. Governments try to counter this through their planning regulations which often dictate that developments provide a required amount of ground level open space. However, overall the result is a nett reduction in green space in our cities.

The planning regulations also try to improve the quality of our urban spaces by mandating a stepping back of buildings from the street frontages. This can contribute to improved streetscapes, but results in a reduction of lettable floor area as the levels go up. People are intrinsically predisposed to surround themselves with living plants. Biophilia is a well-studied phenomenon that has been demonstrated to improve human well-being. When people move into a new development, they often express this desire by cramming in as many pot plants as they can to fill their outdoor terrace spaces. This is not only the case for many multi-storey residential developments. There is also a growing trend towards including greenery throughout new commercial workplaces and retail spaces.

Unfortunately, unless the building owner and/or tenants are committed to tending these sky gardens, the plants invariably die. Like some on-ground landscapes, greenery at height that is ad hoc and not integrated into the form and fabric of the urban environment, if it is reliant on manual irrigation, is unlikely to survive in the medium to long term, especially given the harsh California weather. All too often the living green is replaced with dead brown and the pots eventually get removed.

Rooftop Gardens

But what if the development was to integrate these features into the project from the beginning? Rather than being an afterthought, the terrace garden could be an integral part of the living space. Much like the best of all good architectural design, integration of indoor and outdoor space is possible at height. The roof terraces resulting from the planning scheme set back requirement, rather than being windblown, hot and hard paved spaces, could be lush garden rooms that increase the property value.

Rather than having a barren balcony terrace around the lunchroom-kitchen of an office development that no one ever visits, it could be a soft and comfortable space that gets used every day.

Creating these living green spaces need not be difficult or expensive and provided they are designed well and integrated into the overall project, they will be relatively low maintenance. As more and more of these projects are successfully realised, the technology and methods of establishing greenery at height improve to ensure success.
The greenery, as well as increasing property value, also provides many other benefits.

Some of these are tangible, such as the reduced temperatures caused by the shading and evapotranspiration effects of plants. Living systems also contribute to management of storm water by retaining water on site and removing contaminants.

Other advantages are less tangible, such as mental health benefits of being close to plants.


At Farm Urbana we help provide urban farming to rooftops, making these living green spaces valuable in keeping local grown food reachable to tenants and the community.

Most food is shipped from miles away across the country, and that creates transportation, storage, energy and pollution problems; by having communities grow their own food locally, they are consuming fresher more nutritious produce.

Farm Urbana is about providing the freshest fruits and vegetables while raising awareness for lifelong health and wellness, inspiring, and educating people to create economically sustainable neighborhoods.

Top 10 Smart Cities in North America

Today’s cities demand 21st century solutions to accommodate their growing populations in ways that not only maintain the quality of life, but also improve it. That’s where smart cities come in. Smart cities find ways to become more efficient, to deliver more services via mobile technology, to optimize existing infrastructure, and to leverage citizen participation to create better land-use decisions and to break down bureaucracy in order to stimulate a creative, entrepreneurial economy. Here are the top ten smart cities in North America:
smart city seattle
1. Seattle, WA
Seattle led the pack in Smart Economy and Smart Government rankings while coming in second behind Washington, D.C. in the Smart People category. Seattle is also home to lots of sustainability innovation and the home to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the world’s leading master’s program dedicated to sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship.

2. Boston, MA
Boston has an incredibly smart and innovative population, boasting more than 70 universities and leading North America in both patents per capita and venture capital investment per capita. Boston’s former mayor Thomas Menino was a big driver in the innovation agenda through the launch of the Innovation District, the creation of the Office of New Urban Mechanics, and support for acceleration programs, like the MassChallenge.

3. San Francisco, CA
The Bay Area entrepreneurial ecosystem is moving away from Silicon Valley and towards San Francisco itself. Much like Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, San Francisco has a mayor’s office dedicated to civic innovation. Of course, for years San Francisco has been a leader in embracing sustainability and smart urban development as evidenced by their regular spot in the top of North American green cities rankings. San Francisco reports having 302 LEED certified buildings, which would place them in the upper echelon of North American cities.

4. Washington D.C.
Experts in the smart cities seem to agree that smart mobility is critical to improving the quality of life for citizens while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from the transportation sector. D.C. came out in second behind only New York in the use of biking, walking, and public transit (54.6%) for daily commuting.

5. New York, NY
New York has pioneered the adoption of electric vehicles, embraced green and smart urban regeneration, and fostered a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem (Silicon Alley). New York has a significant number of universities and university-educated population and has been a leader, through outgoing Mayor Bloomberg’s commitment to initiatives like C40, in promoting the low-carbon economy.

smart cities

6. Toronto, CANADA
Toronto continues to be a leader in Canada across several fronts. Like other major cities on this list, Toronto has continued its commitment to smart densification with its ongoing transformation of its previously contaminated waterfront area.

7. Vancouver, CANADA
Vancouver recently developed an ambitious $30 million plan to become a major player in smart cities by focusing on nine key priorities ranging from more open data and increased digital services delivery to the launch of an ICT incubator.

8. Portland, OR
Portland has long been a leading player in the green cities arena, with innovations such as green roof standards, home an office of the paradigm shifting Living Building Institute, and also pioneering the development of eco-districts. On the mobility front, they have a fantastic set of clean, accessible public-transit options, particularly within the city.

9. Chicago, IL
Chicago is dedicated to being a green building leader, and with 405 certified LEED buildings, they are putting their money where their mouth is. Chicago also has an ambitious bike-sharing program, with 4,000 bikes and 400 solar-powered bike stations.


10. Montreal, CANADA
Citizen engagement is critical to smart cities. In 2010, Montreal passed a bylaw which allows anyone who obtains 15,000 signatures to trigger a public consultation process on any topic. The first group of citizen activists to leverage this process obtained 25,000 signatures to generate an open public debate about how to support the increasing use of urban agriculture.

Source: FastCoexist

UK’s Urban Mushroom Farm Uses Recycled Coffee Grounds

The UK has its first urban mushroom farm that grows oyster mushrooms using recycled coffee grounds.

Mushroom Farm

According to GroCycle, a project launched by Fungi Futures CIC, a social enterprise based in Devon, coffee grinds represent a huge waste stream and recycling them to grow protein-rich Oyster mushrooms is a showcase for how food can be grown sustainably.

GroCycle explained that approximately 80 million cups of coffee are drunk every day in the UK, yet less than 1% of the bean actually ends up in the cup. The vast majority of the remaining grounds are buried in landfill where they decompose to produce methane.

Pink Mushroom

“It’s crazy that most large cafes are throwing their coffee waste away,” said Adam Sayner, company director. “It is still packed full of nutrients which can be turned into delicious Oyster mushrooms. We are making it possible to grow gourmet food from it instead!”

The GroCycle Urban Mushroom Farm in Exeter is based in disused office space, the farm takes coffee grounds from local cafés and uses them as a growing medium to produce Oyster mushrooms.

The project also noted the mounting evidence of the environmental impact of meat production, and said that the low impact method it has devised may also present a solution to produce protein-rich food more sustainably.

urban farm

“Growing mushrooms in this way is absolutely ideal for Urban Agriculture,” commented Eric Jong, company director. “It is where both the waste and demand for food are highest. We hope our farm will serve as a flagship model for more urban farms in the future.”

GroCycle also produced an online video course. The course is made up of 5 main modules and teaches the process of growing mushrooms on coffee grounds. It’s combined with a forum to connect members and features regular Q&A webinar sessions. The course has gone global as it has members from 23 countries around the world.


Floating Bamboo Domes Provide Growing Space For Urban Farms

bamboo dome concept in Jamaica

Jamaica’s agriculture sector suffers from many woes, including natural disasters that caused $14.4 billion in losses between 1994 and 2010, according to Dinesh Ram, the designer of this innovative floating bamboo dome concept. A noteworthy entrant in Inhabitat‘s recent Biodesign Competition, the Hope Waters Dome is designed to combat the twin dangers of rising sea levels and food scarcity in the water locked nation, and it could be built using locally available materials such as bamboo and plastic.  This is a unique way of bringing urban farms to a well-populated area.


The bamboo geodesic dome is designed to provide multiple functions, including growing space and meeting space. The bamboo frame would rest on a platform made with recycled plastic bottles for buoyancy, addressing Jamaica’s burgeoning problem of overstuffed landfills. The upper floors are designed to operate as an “urban agriculture learning center” where food can be grown without risk of inundation from rising seas.  The use of bamboo is also a great way to replace wood, concrete, and steel, as a building material resource for construction.  Entire stalks of bamboo are used to create latticed edifices, or woven in strips to form wall-sized screens. The effect can be stunning, and also practical in parts of the world like Jamaica, where bamboo thrives.

bamboo dome concept

“This icon of sustainable development is pre-fabricated, towed to a site, and can return the location back to its original state,” according to Ram. “Cost to build is roughly half compared to a traditional building of similar dimensions.”


Albeit just a concept at this point, the design recognizes that over the next few decades, we are expecting to see a one to two meter rise in sea levels. Given how much Jamaica, in particular, depends on its coastline for its economic well-being, now is the time to begin devising thoughtful solutions to build the country’s resilience.

Source: Inhabitat

Architects in Vietnam design “Verdant” University.

Architects in Vietnam have designed a “verdant” university campus in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vo Trong Nghia Architects specialize in green architecture and were brought in to design a campus for FTP University. The people of Vietnam have been under environmental stress as they have witnessed energy shortages, a rise in temperatures, an increase in pollution, and problems with vegetation and greenery. The architects decided to make a contemporary design that is very sustainable and blends very well with the Asian culture.

The university campus is a 242,000 square-foot site that explodes with plant life. The centerpiece is a unique building stretching over several city blocks, with staggered floors climbing higher in the corners, and framing a giant courtyard.

Balconies and rooftops will be lined with plants, giving the building the appearance of “an undulating forested mountain growing out of the city.”

Trees and gardens are planted in every turn on campus. All of this, according to the architects, “will provide shade and improve air quality, reducing the universities’ reliance on air conditioning.” And to save water, ground level gardens will seep into circulation wells that feed plants throughout the building.

Rapid urbanization has turned Ho Chi Minh City into a heat island, which is when cities grow warmer than their rural surroundings because land, plants, and forests replace heat-trapping concrete, brick, steel, and asphalt. The architects believe only 0.25% of the Ho Chi Minh City is covered with plant life.

Green University

They believe that while urbanization may be inevitable, turning our cities into ovens doesn’t have to be. The Vo Trong Nghia architects are thrilled in designing educational facilities. To them, it’s a chance to “aid the recovery of greenery that once flourished” and “foster a new generation of thinkers.” They believe that future enrollees of FPT University’s new campus, can be exposed to and learn to truly appreciate nature and bring hope to the future of Vietnam cities and planet.

Edible Gardens Help Fight HIV in South Africa

edible gardens

keyhole gardens are a representation of typical permaculture forms.

The country of Lesotho in South Africa is using edible gardens to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Lesotho is known to have a huge problem with HIV/AIDS infections. It is rated the third highest HIV prevalent country globally. The nation’s population is around two million, and almost a quarter of working-age adults are infected with  HIV. Non-governmental organizations and international agencies have helped out Lesotho’s government fight the epidemic by providing resources to stop poverty, food insecurities, and medical emergencies such as Tuberculosis, which has one of the highest infection rates in the world. Lesotho is the first in the region to implement the World Health Organization’s 2015 guidelines on the provision of antiretroviral therapy.

For antiretroviral therapy to work, patients need to have good nutrition. International agencies and organizations have helped out Lesotho in promoting crop diversity in subsistence farming and recycling household waste. This has helped Lesotho create keyhole gardens. These gardens are made by pouring organic waste, ash, and greywater into central composting bins, from which it filters into the surrounding soil.A cutaway provides easy access to the bin and gives the gardens the distinctive shape from which they take their name.  The result is a small plot of extremely fertile soil in which owners grow vitamin-rich vegetables such as spinach, beetroot, and carrots to complement a diet that is heavily based on corn and wheat. The edible gardens usually generate two harvests each year. According to Ian McKay, program director at Send a Cow, the organization has witnessed major improvements in the quality of diets in communities where it has worked over the past decade. The crops that are planted from the keyhole gardens have also been used for trade in meats and other vegetables such as corn. These gardens have aided in fighting off the HIV/AIDS epidemic and have found ways to help fight off poverty and food scarcity for this country. Source: MUNCHIES

From Architecture to Urban Farming

A Brief Story of a Vision of Urban Farming


“While doing research on solutions for sustainable mixed-use urban corridors, I came to foresee the value of incorporating urban farming into the common space of  habitats.”

In a brief story of her vision, Ruth brings us the case of urban farming as a growing movement to tackle problems that the world faces in the 21st century. Her story is personal.

She tells us how her vision evolved from childhood experiences in the Romanian countryside to her life in Rome. She had the mentorships of Professors, Zevi and Pellegrin, who introduced to her, Wright’s thinking and works. Later in her practice as an architect, her discovery of Permaculture, became a new passion for urban farming and local edible gardens.
She posed to herself some critical questions:

  • How can urban farming contribute to making the world a better place?
  • What is the connection between architecture, planning and urban farming?
  • What can each of us do to become self-reliable on the food we put on our table?
  • How can edible gardens become a design component integrated to urban development?
  • How can urban farming provide a stage for social interaction?


Some facts may help to put a global problem into perspective:

  1. The First Agriculture Revolution started about 10,000 years ago. As nomads settled, cities were born. The cities were surrounded by farms, which supplied its population with fresh food.

    San Gimignano, Photo: Pablo Charin, Rick Meghiddo, urban farming

    San Gimigniano surrounded by farms – Photo: Pablo Charin / Minube

  2. As the world’s population grew from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7.5 billion today, the agriculture  transformed radically. Industrialized farming brought us ecological degradation.  Aggravated by the massive use of toxic chemicals, the path of food from the farm to the city became dependent on carbon-based fuel for transportation.
  3. Climate change is likely to expand the areas of drought, hurricanes and floods, diminishing the existing cultivable areas.
    Nwesweek 10/30/2015

    Newsweek 10/30/2015

    Milano EXPO 2015: Feeding the World, Rick Meghiddo

    Milano EXPO 2015: Feeding the World

  4. Today’s global population growth is about 75 million a year. We are likely to reach ten billion around by 2050. Too far away? Not really! That is just “around the corner.” By 2050, children born today will be in their thirties.

    World Population-1800-2050

    World Population-1800-2050

  5. One acre of land is needed to feed one person for one year. By 2050 we will need additional not-yet-existing cultivable land of about 10 million km2, equal to the size of the United States.

How shall we continue to feed the planet?

How shall we invent the future while we free cultivable land from the voracious appetite of urban sprawl?  If we want to create a decent living environment, the action is needed NOW. Here are some possibilities:

  • Increase mixed-use urban density along urban corridors.
  • Create cultivable areas within residential multi-family buildings, office buildings, schools, factories, hotels, etc.
  • Design common edible gardens as places for social interaction.
  • Design workspaces that provide edible gardens to its tenants.
  • Plan neighborhoods that include common cultivable areas.
  • Build multi-story farms.
  • Vertical Farming - Rendering: Blake Kurasek

    Vertical Farming – Rendering: Blake Kurasek

    Vertical Farming

    Vertical Farming


No single solution can fit all needs. The use of eco-friendly lightweight hydroponic systems that consume 90% less water than traditional farming can be incorporated into the built environment.

On the other hand, permaculture, first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, brings a holistic approach that combines agricultural and social design principles. By increasing our awareness of “thinking globally and acting locally,” each of us can contribute to making the world a better place to inhabit.


Jean Phillipe Pargade Technical and Scientific School, Paris. Photo: Sergio Grazia

Jean Phillipe Pargade Technical and Scientific School, Paris. Photo: Sergio Grazia