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Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

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Vista Hermosa Park (met AB 1881 and LID requirements) / Mia Lehrer + Associates

For the past century, much of California has relied on an inherently fragile and unreliable imported water infrastructure. While the current crisis attracts the attention of the media and public, the environmental community and government have been actively pursuing solutions for decades. These efforts have resulted in long-term water conservation. For example, Los Angeles has seen a dramatic increase in population since the 1970’s, but water use has actually declined, with the largest drops in use during periods of drought and recession. Efforts are now focused on decreasing demand for imported water by increasing local supplies. A few weeks ago, we wrote about ways each of us as individuals can conserve water in our landscapes by copying nature and making choices appropriate to our local micro-climates and water availability. In addition to the smaller-scale decisions we make in our own landscapes, progressive state and local policies are helping California to better conserve its limited water resources.

Here are a few across the state:

Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881)
This Assembly Bill spurred the creation of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which established maximum allowed landscape water budgets and mandated low water-use plants and efficient irrigation strategies. AB 1881 encourages us to capture and retain on site stormwater and use recycled water. The ordinance also requires soil assessments, soil management plans, and landscape maintenance plans to accompany landscape plans submitted through municipal permit processes.

Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551, in progress)
If passed, Assembly Bill 551 will incentivize the use of currently-vacant private land for urban agriculture. Private landowners could have their property assessed at a lower property tax rate — based on agricultural use rather than its market value — in exchange for ensuring its use for urban agriculture for 10 years. Increasing local agricultural production where recycled water is readily available can reduce water and energy use in food production and increase our cities’ self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of potential natural disasters.

In Southern California:

Recycled Water
The Los Angeles County Bureau of Sanitation and Orange County Water District (OCWD) began recycling water in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, for groundwater recharge and non-potable uses — or uses other than for drinking, such as irrigation or industry. In 2008, the OCWD district began recharging its groundwater supplies with water treated to levels above drinking water standards for reuse as potable water. A big push to educate the public about the process and its benefits smoothed the transition. The district is now expanding production from 70 to 100 million gallons per day, or enough to supply nearly one-third of Orange County’s 3.1 million people. Los Angeles, which delayed their water recycling efforts for drinking water after negative PR alarmed the public, is now planning to expand their recycled water program, including groundwater recharge, by 2035.

In Los Angeles:

Proposition O (2004)
Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly passed Prop O to use $500 million to fund projects to:
•    Protect rivers, lakes, beaches, and the ocean;
•    Conserve and protect drinking water and other water sources;
•    Reduce flooding and use neighborhood parks to decrease polluted runoff;
•    Capture, clean up, and reuse stormwater.

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Peck Canyon Park, San Pedro, funded with Prop 0 funds / Mia Lehrer + Associates

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Los Angeles Zoo Parking Lot bio-infiltration, funded by Prop 0 / Mia Lehrer + Associates

Low Impact Development Ordinance (2012)
Los Angeles’ LID Ordinance ensures that new and redevelopment projects recharge groundwater aquifers to increase future water supply; protect water quality downstream; reduce flood risk by keeping rainwater on site; remove nutrients, bacteria, and metals from stormwater runoff; and reduce and slow water that runs off of properties during storms.

But there is still much more we can do. Caroline Mini, who wrote her PhD dissertation at the University of California last year, shows how urban residential water use in Los Angeles is largely determined by income. Wealthier neighborhoods on average use three times more water than poorer neighborhoods. This is despite the fact that most wealthier neighborhoods inhabit tree-covered hillsides with ample available soil moisture, while less fortunate residents occupy dryer, flatter, and less shaded areas. Better-off communities have the opportunity to use their wealth to establish well-designed, resource-efficient, and beautiful landscapes that will become models in water conservation. And cities and counties have the opportunity to create green infrastructure projects that add tree canopy and increase permeability to regain the sponge quality of soil in those low-land neighborhoods that will benefit most.

Agriculture accounts for 80 percent water of the used by people in our state. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pacific Institute published an issue brief last year illustrating the massive water conservation potential that could come from more efficient agricultural practices. Just using the most up-to-date irrigation technologies and applying only the amount of water crops need could reduce agricultural water use by 17-22 percent. In 1975, Masanobu Fukuoka wrote The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming, describing dry rice farming techniques that matched or out-produced his most productive neighbors. This poetic story about working with nature instead of against it to grow successive crops with little effort is more relevant than ever today.

More thoughtful planning for both rural agricultural and urban water use is needed. We can determine which crops and farming methods best serve our regional and exported food needs while further conserving water. We can advance urban water efficiency plans, which could generate savings that can negate the current deficit, while creating greener, more resilient and self-reliant cities.

This guest post is by Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder of Mia Lehrer + Associates, and Claire Latané, ASLA, senior associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates.

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A park visitor is dwarfed by the 30-foot-tall Garden Mount, a focal point of the McGovern Centennial Gardens in Hermann Park – Gary Coronado / The Houston Chronicle

Yoko Ono and Project 120 Collaborate to Reimagine Chicago’s Jackson ParkArch Daily, 1/16/15
“Chicago’s Jackson Park is expected to see some big changes in the coming years. Nonprofit organization Project 120 is working to revitalize the park, restoring many of the design aspects implemented by its landscape architect, the famous Frederick Law Olmsted.”

McGovern Centennial Gardens a Sensory Experience – The Houston Chronicle, 1/16/14
“During a sneak preview last year, I was struck by the views in Hermann Park’s McGovern Centennial Gardens. As the designers intended, I immediately focused on the strong axis that surges from the parking lot path through the shimmering gateway along the expansive Centennial Green to an unexpected sight – the 30-foot Garden Mount.”

Emanuel to Unveil Ordinance Transferring Parkland for Obama LibraryThe Chicago Tribune, 1/21/14
“The mayor plans to assemble a group of community leaders and open space advocates to identify potential land in the city to be converted to green space, as well as look for opportunities to reinvest in and restore the parks designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.”

Palo Alto Seeking Best Bridge Brainpower With Design ContestThe San Francisco Gate, 1/21/15
“So it’s no surprise that a proposed span for bicyclists and pedestrians in Palo Alto — the self-styled ‘heart of Silicon Valley’ — is the subject of a design competition with guidelines that emphasize ecological restoration and ‘the city’s commitment to innovation’ as well as the prosaic need to get from point A to point B.”

Revamped Minneapolis Sculpture Park Adds Some InformalityThe Star Tribune, 1/27/14
“A citizen group that’s advising the $10 million revamping of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is opting toward crossing its 16th-century formality with 21st-century sustainability. Reinforcing the formality of the garden’s south end while leaving the garden’s signature Spoonbridge and Cherry where it is.”

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Gardens by the Bay: Singapore / Livia Comandini, Getty Images

Gardens by the Bay: Singapore / Livia Comandini, Getty Images

The Slow Rebirth of Dumbarton Oaks Park The Washington Post, 12/17/14
“Given the magnitude of its slide and the limits of public and private funding, restoring the park has at times seemed like an impossible dream, but in 2010 a particularly determined group named the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy formed to take up the challenge.”

Planting for an Edible City – Metropolis POV, 12/22/14
“While these edible efforts are fairly new to New York City, the MillionTreesNYC’s fruit tree giveaway is an event to celebrate. Somewhere out there, across the five boroughs, the city has a new orchard that would comprise nearly 30 acres if planted collectively, approximating two Central Park Sheep Meadows.”

8 Incredible Green Spaces That Are Thriving In The Biggest Urban JunglesThe Huffington Post, 12/24/14
“Living and working within a system of architectural behemoths and concrete streets can be taxing, to say the least. And for many city-dwellers, a few patches of green can be a celebrated refuge from the urban landscape.”

The Biggest Arts Stories of 2014The Houston Chronicle, 12/26/14
“In October, the Hermann Park Conservancy unveiled the last major project of its long-term master plan – the spectacular $31 million John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Centennial Gardens. Along with landscape architect Doug Hoerr’s eight acres of theme gardens, dramatic 30-foot mount and nearly seven-acre, environmentally friendly parking lot, the project features a sensitively designed pavilion of glass, stone and stainless steel designed by Peter Bohlin.”

Architecture Future: How Buildings Will Begin to Make Our Lives Better The Denver Post, 12/28/14
“This holistic attitude is architecture’s greatest promise and seems to be steering trends. More and more, landscape architects are emerging as project leaders, devising how sites will be organized, used and maintained. These days, they might be the ones to hire building architects to complete their vision.”

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Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

Public Produce: Cultivating Our Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities / Island Press

We are increasingly concerned about the provenance of our food. Movements supporting local food production, urban agriculture, and more socially-equitable food systems have gained increasing traction over the last decade. Meanwhile, our industrial food systems are increasingly vulnerable due to over-centralized facilities and ownership, reliance on fossil fuels for production and transportation, and crop monocultures, which are made only more vulnerable by climate change.

Urban agriculture is frequently cited as a response to these challenges. Cities, though, still face question of where to grow food, how to maintain farms, create access, and educate citizens about agricultural production. In Public Produce: Cultivating Parks, Plazas, and Streets for Healthier Cities, urban designer and author Darrin Nordahl proposes local governments bolster local ecosystems of public food production.

Alice Waters praised the original 2009 edition as showing “how growing food on public land can transform our civic landscape.” Marion Nestle said the book gave “all the reasons why growing food in cities would be good for alleviating poverty, for building communities, and for public policy.”

A newly revised and expanded edition does these things and fills in key details by offering numerous examples of people, organizations, communities, and governments implementing all sorts of models of food production on public lands as well as partnerships between local governments and community organizations.

The first few chapters will be highly useful for those looking for a succinct and easily-readable introduction to the arguments behind local and urban food production: food (in)security, over-reliance on fossil fuels, social equity, and resilience to climate change, to name a few. But those already well versed in the works of Michael Pollan and other sustainable agriculture advocates can skim through.

Nordahl hits his stride in the third chapter as he goes beyond the general tenets of urban agriculture and makes his case for a triad between public space, public officials, and public policy. Growing vegetables in public spaces sends a powerful message. Nordahl defines public spaces as places freely accessible to the public, “whether they are truly public or merely perceived to be . . . In essence, any space where the public can enter throughout the day without being charged and admission fee . . . and is suitable for growing food, is worthy of inclusion in a network of public produce.”

Social justice advocates will appreciate the chapter on gleaning as a public produce model, and Nordahl gives many examples of places that have developed strong access networks. Fallen Fruit in Los Angeles, for example, develops freely accessible maps showing where fruit can be publicly gleaned. He also offers an interesting take on gleaning as economic opportunity – foraging for fruit rather than, say, recyclables, and trading in one’s daily harvest for money or other essentials.

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Publically accessible fruit trees in Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Los Angeles / Fallen Fruit

Nordahl’s strongest arguments come in chapter five, in which he addresses the perennial maintenance question: “who is going to take care of it?” Indeed, this was one of my first questions – and many others may well wonder how well-received the idea will be of rotting fruit all over public spaces, which are expensive to clean up and unappealing to the aesthetic eye. But Nordahl reminds the reader that “the fantastic aesthetics of our most prized landscape plants makes it easy for us to forget that they produce an abundance of leaf litter, drip with sticky nectar, and drop unpalatable fruit by the bunches.” Planting edibles prioritizes the value of food production, while often offering an aesthetic value as well.

“There is no doubt that food-producing plants can be messy and need some upkeep,” Nordahl admits. “But the pervasive assumption that edibles require considerably more management than ornamental plants, or are not as pretty, is bogus. . . [that said], sound design principles are not thrown out the window simply because the plant palette uses fruit-bearing trees instead of sterile cultivars. As in any landscape design, the architect needs to take into account how many people will use or pass by the space; what types of activities will take place in the space; the microclimate, solar access, and water availability of the space; and a host of other variables.”

Again, Nordahl gives several examples where communities developed multi-beneficial models for maintenance, harvesting, and clean-up of edible plants. Communities who balance an appropriate “carrying capacity,” where the availability of edibles does not exceed the demand for them, help ensure that fruit is harvested and eaten, rather than left to drop and rot on the ground.

Landscape architects and designers will appreciate the examples where aesthetic and place-making qualities were woven into designs for food production. The Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Garden in Queens, NY, designed by Walter Hood, ASLA, for example, integrates huge, eye-catching rainwater-collection sculptures amid the edibles planted in French-style parterres. And designers for Disneyland’s “Tomorrowland” area planted edible fruit trees, herbs, and leafy greens in lieu of solely ornamental plantings, perhaps to suggest what urban design of the future will look like.

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis "50-Cent" Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Sculptural rainwater collection towers amidst planting beds at the Curtis “50-Cent” Jackson Community Gardens in Queens, NY / New York Restoration Project

Citrus trees in "Tomorrowland," Disneyland / FlashBulb

Citrus trees in “Tomorrowland,” Disneyland / FlashBulb

But this book is not a design manual or a how-to guide for would-be urban farmers. A good number of photos intersperse with the text, but readers will not find design schematics, planting calendars, or detailed plant lists for every climate. Examples are woven into the narrative, not broken out as researched case studies. Nordahl lays out an alluring vision, however, and his arguments are persuasive. Peas at City Hall, persimmons along public avenues, and pawpaws in city parks? Maybe not such a crazy idea after all.

Read the book.

Yoshi Silverstein, Associate ASLA, is founder and lead designer-educator at Mitsui Design, focusing on landscape experience and connection to place. He was the ASLA summer 2014 communications intern.

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ASLA 2011 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Making a Wild Place in Milwaukee’s Urban Menomonee Valley, Milwaukee by Landscapes of Place / Nancy Aten

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an international organization committed to strengthening the role of science in public decision-making on biodiversity and ecosystem services, seeks expert landscape architects, ecologists, and others with policy experience to assess its latest research. The call for more engagement was made at a recent presentation at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Washington, D.C.

IPBES explains the reason for its existence on its web site: “Biodiversity from terrestrial, marine, coastal, and inland water ecosystems provides the basis for ecosystems and the services they provide that underpin human well-being. However, biodiversity and ecosystem services are declining at an unprecedented rate, and in order to address this challenge, adequate local, national and international policies need to be adopted and implemented. To achieve this, decision makers need scientifically credible and independent information that takes into account the complex relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and people. They also need effective methods to interpret this scientific information in order to make informed decisions. The scientific community also needs to understand the needs of decision makers better in order to provide them with the relevant information. In essence, the dialogue between the scientific community, governments, and other stakeholders on biodiversity and ecosystem services needs to be strengthened.”

To reiterate, Douglas Beard Jr., National Climate Change and Wildlife Center, U.S. Geological Survey, and a co-lead for the science component of IPBES for the U.S. Delegation, said: “It’s always better to hear from a diverse group of people.”

Established in 2012, IPBES has convened multi-disciplinary groups of experts to conduct public assessments around the globe. With 114 member countries, IPBES is dedicated to becoming the leading international organization on ecosystem services.

Assessors will help make progress on the status of pollinators, pollination, and food production; scoping for a set of global and regional assessments of the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services; and scoping for a thematic assessment of land degradation and restoration.

If you are interested in nominating someone or being nominated for an upcoming call, please contact Clifford Duke at ESA, which coordinates the U.S. stakeholders.

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Five Borough Farm II – Growing the Benefits of Urban Agriculture in New York City / Trust for Public Space

Urban agriculture grows both food and communities – its direct and indirect benefits range from improved public health and strengthened ecosystems, to social cohesion and economic growth. The Design Trust for Public Space wants to fully scale up these benefits across New York City. And in doing so, they hope to integrate agriculture into the broader urban fabric.

In September 2012, we reviewed Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture (FBF 1) from the Design Trust and partner organization Added Value. Three years in the making, this first report sought to create a comprehensive roadmap for New York City to help stakeholders “understand and weigh the benefits” of urban agriculture in an effort to significantly increase local government support. FBF 1 thoroughly examined the policy aspects of urban farming, with the goal of connecting government policy with “the bottom-up grassroots movement led by farmers, gardeners, and landscape architects.” The report realized a need for better metrics and data. Now, the Design Trust has released its follow-up, Five Borough Farm II – Growing the Benefits of Urban Agriculture in New York City (FBF II) in partnership with NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.

The first section of FBF II shows us their new methodology for measuring benefits and details how they developed this with farmers and gardeners. Motivated by the high number of studies that only suggest there are benefits to urban agriculture but don’t actually back them up with data, the toolkit uses twelve measurements, ranging from food production and composting to skills developed on the farm and healthy eating impacts. This toolkit was field-tested throughout the 2013 growing season. Simultaneously, Design Trust collaborated with Farming Concrete to further develop their existing online data platform for interpreting and sharing farm data. (Free for download, the toolkit is available at Farming Concrete’s website, where users can also register for access to their online data platform).

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Design professionals, planners, and government officials will especially want to read sections two and three of the report, which illustrate best practices for “maximizing the benefits” of urban agriculture, and “scaling the benefits” through innovative models of integration with public land.

The report calls for integrating urban agriculture with the physical infrastructure of the city — by introducing compost facilities to ease pressure on waste-management, or creating rainwater-catching food production systems for stormwater management.

All of that integration will require design work. There are examples of creative use of landscape features (bioswales, raingardens) and structural elements (rainwater holding tanks also designed as seating), as well as special considerations for senior citizens (wider paths, more seating and shade, elevated planters to accommodate wheelchairs).

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Farm to Table Assembly: Comfortable, easy-to-reach components for intergenerational community gardening / Alison Duncan, ASLA, with Metro Planters for the Central Harlem Senior Citizen’s Center

One innovative design proposal: Ecologically-healthy borders can be used to define the border between agricultural and non-agricultural public spaces. Using native plants in these spaces can increase forage opportunities for wildlife and attract beneficial pollinators. And permacultural models — such as those which use “guilds” of cooperative perennial plants at multiple levels (groundcover, canopy, understory, etc) to mimic natural ecosystems — could then increase diversity of both habitat and food and strengthen community through stewardship.

City greenways could also become the base infrastructure to achieve these strategies. Greenways already serve as important networks, so why not use them for agriculture as well? Most interestingly, the report suggests a model for greenways as “linear food hubs” that integrate cyclical food systems (growing, processing, distribution, compost . . . back to growing). In this model, farmers markets become hyper-local, served by growers within the greenway and serving consumers from the same. These networks can also build infrastructure for shared tools and equipment, resources, and knowledge.

FBF II also raises some questions without easy answers. For example, as agricultural public spaces throughout the city start accepting food waste, what are the best (low-cost) models for composting that also deter vermin? Rats and public space are not the best combination.

And how best to integrate community gardens into public green spaces? The report suggests putting community gardens in public parks. They identify the challenge of balancing a semi-private space within a fully public space and the associated pitfalls of potential theft and vandalism of garden plots. Recommendations include grouping public-use facilities associated with community gardens (toolsheds, compost) separately from private plots, designing adjacent spaces for complementary activities (nearby playgrounds for children, as parents or grandparents tend gardens), and “programming the fence” by growing vines or building bird-feeders into structures to increase their functional and aesthetic appeal.

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Illustrative diagram of community garden in a park integrating native plant infrastructure and permacultures / Martin Barry & Barbara Wilks

These are a good start but don’t fully solve the issue of how to integrate urban agriculture into a dense city. Perhaps this is where landscape architects and other designers can more fully flesh out best practice designs to solve these issues.

With some 900 urban agriculture spaces, NYC is ripe for deeper city-community collaboration to further scale up urban agriculture. But designers, farmers and city officials elsewhere will also find some inspiration from this report.

Keep an eye out for the expansion of farmingconcrete.org and the release of instructional videos and technical support networks as Five Borough Farm phase III gets under way in the coming months.

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Edible Estates Regional Prototype #6 / Fritz Haeg

“Urban agriculture is a phenomenon today,” said Farham Karim, an architectural historian at the University of Kansas, at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) conference in New Orleans. Upwards of 70 million people are now involved around the globe — on Farmville, at least, the popular game app, he laughed. But, in reality, there are many tens of millions farming on the ground, too. With all the growing interest, Karim played devil’s advocate, wondering: is urban agriculture scalable? And who is going to be doing all this urban farming? And if we know it’s not a cost-effective solution for solving the world’s food problems, why the persistent interest?

Food and urban life have been deeply intertwined ever since humans moved into settlements. In the modern era, there have been new conceptions of the relationship. Frank Lloyd Wright came up with his Broad Acre concept, with a “vast suburban landscape” that would be farmed. During World War II, urban agriculture actually took off, as “food production contributed to the wartime food supply.”

In different eras, there have also been “communal self-sufficiency movements.” Karim traced those all the way to contemporary artist and activist Fritz Haeg and his Edible Estate project, which aims to “attack the front lawn,” turning it from a useless, decorative object into a productive, agricultural space. Karim said new activists like Haeg “want us all to come together to toil the land.” They seeing gardening in urban areas as a way to “empower social groups and create a strong sense of community” in an age when nature and culture seem in opposition. But Karim also argued Haeg and others promoting urban gardens for social benefits are really just like the 20th century avante-garde, creating “idealized prototypes.”

The central plank of Karim’s critique of Haeg’s version of urban agriculture is that, in its promotion, it “mystifies human labor.” Urban agriculture in reality is “sweaty, painful labor.” Engaging people in cities to farm over the long-term is not easy, practical, or cost-effective. “Who is going to maintain these farms — a marginalized population? The working poor doesn’t have time.” Karim concluded that urban agriculture, at least in the West, is for the middle class who volunteer because they have time. It’s a luxury many can’t afford.

Many of Karim’s arguments are contradicted in a new book, Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture from the Ground Up by Carey Clouse. She argues that Cuba’s unique model of urban agriculture may provide lessons for the rest of us. “Alternative models for self-sufficiency demand our attention,” given that the end of “the era of cheap oil threatens global food security” and current industrial food practices.

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Farming Cuba / Princeton Architectural Press

After the U.S. began its embargo against Cuba and the Soviet bloc fell apart in the late 1980s, leaving Cuba without any trading partners, the country initiated a massive campaign to turn cities into places for not only living and working but also producing food. “In the face of resource scarcity, Cubans responded by rethinking land use, implementing organic farming practices, and developing low-input agricultural systems, and honing techniques for independence on an island without oil.” By 2002, some 86,450 acres of urban land was farmed, creating 3.2 million tons of food. In Havana alone, some 12 percent of the city was being cultivated, with 22,000 urban and suburban producers at work.

All that local food production has not only created calories but also boosted resilience, largely because the system is so decentralized. “This is a ground-up movement in which growers have the power to choose the food they produce, the seeds they save, and the land they cultivate, and consumers gain increased control over the quantity and quality of food access.” And all that local control has also increased “social and civic engagement.”

The system of socialist self-sufficiency extends into all aspects of Cuban urban food production. Farmers are using animal traction, organic soil amendments, and “biofertilizers” or “biopesticides,” which are microbial formulations nontoxic to humans.

Clouse does a great job of explaining to the reader all the different farming types, bringing the diversity of the system to life through clever diagrams. For each type of farm, we learn the spanish and english names, the average size of these places, their prevalence, the products they create, the materials they are made of, and the kinds of people who farm them.

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And then photographer Andrew Cook shows us scenes from this agricultural infrastructure.

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Clouse explains that “Cubans hail urban agriculture as a boon for community, occasionally in all too-idealistic terms.” And in some pages of her book, she seems to apply an equally rosy lens. The reality on the ground, all that “sweaty, painful labor” Karim spoke about, doesn’t come through in this book at all.

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Meditation labyrinth by Beth Henson. Louisville Lots of Possibility competition. / The Architect’s Newspaper

For more LA in the News, check out LAND, ASLA’s newsletter. If you see others you’d like included, please email us at info@asla.org.

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Imagines a Pedestrian-friendly SeattleThe Architect’s Newspaper, 4/16/14
“The streets of downtown Seattle are set for a major overhaul, thanks to a new master plan by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol. As AN reported in our recent West Coast edition, the Seattle-based firm has made recommendations to improve the pedestrian realm ‘centers on uniting the fragmented parts of the Pike-Pine corridor, two major thoroughfares at the heart of the retail core running east-west from Interstate 5 to the waterfront.’”

Green Roofs Keep Pollutants out of Urban WaterwaysAmerican University News, 4/17/14
“Rooftop gardens, or green roofs, are known to reduce energy use in buildings and catch stormwater runoff, but new research from American University shows that green roofs also absorb pollutants. The research, which takes on an area that previously has not been explored widely by scientists, has implications for how cities can improve the health of their rivers, streams and estuaries.”

Designing Cities and Factories with Urban Agriculture in MindThe Guardian, 4/23/14
“Urban farms are transforming inner city spaces – rooftops, infrastructure, streetscapes, building skin – into generative ecologies that support the lives of people, and pollinators too. They are bringing into cities, and into plain view, the natural systems that sustain urban life.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, Poet of the Urban LandscapeThe Boston Globe, 4/25/14
“If leaving the world in better condition than you found it is a measure of greatness, Olmsted deserves to rank high on our list of great Americans. Working in the second half of the 19th century, a time of disorientingly rapid industrialization and urbanization, he did more than anyone else to make our cities livable, humane, and inspiring.”

Louisville Names Winners in Competition to Creatively Reuse Abandoned Lots Across the CityThe Architect’s Newspaper, 4/28/14
“In January, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer implored local designers and developers to propose ideas for 250 of the city’s several thousand vacant lots. Last week they announced four winners, which included gardens of dye plants for local textile production; a Habitat for Humanity–style homeownership program; environmental remediation via lavender fields; and meditation gardens made of recycled materials.”

These articles were compiled by Phil Stamper-Halpin, ASLA Public Relations and Communications Coordinator.

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Landscape architect April Philips, FASLA, prefaces her new book, Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Management of Edible Landscapes, by writing, “because the food system in America is broken, the health of our cities and communities are at risk.” Indeed, access to healthy food is severely limited in many urban neighborhoods, while industrial agriculture is itself a massively-polluting enterprise. By situating food systems as “part of a city’s urban systems network,” Philips frames food as a design issue instead of simply a horticultural concern. With Designing Urban Agriculture, Philips sets out to explain not only how to design urban-scale agricultural landscapes, but also how designers can collaborate with communities to change urban food systems.

Designing Urban Agriculture is an exhaustive textbook on food and urban design. Topics such as food justice, systems thinking, public health, ecological agriculture, public policy, and construction methods are supported by numerous illustrated case studies. For instance, the Lafayette Greens project in Detroit, Michigan, which recently won an ASLA professional award, shows how edible landscapes can be agents of transformation. Designed by Kenneth Weikal Landscape Architecture, this three-quarter-acre landscape replaces a recently demolished building, beautifying what would otherwise be a vacant lot. Over 200 species of edible plants are grown on the site, which functions not only as a farm, but also as a recreational space for office workers and downtown residents. In this way, Lafayette Greens serves as a catalyst for the continuing transformation of downtown Detroit. The site’s design makes extensive use of repurposed and salvaged materials, continuing this theme of regeneration.

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While urban agriculture has been successful at a local scale, it has yet to economically challenge existing industrial food systems. However, efforts to increase the scale and economic viability of urban farming are underway. Big City Farms in Baltimore is a for-profit agricultural operation that aims to establish a network of farms on vacant land across the city. Big City Farms’ pilot project entails six 3,000 square-foot plastic hoop greenhouses built on top of a contaminated brownfield site. Because of this contamination, all plants are grown on top of the preexisting site using imported soil. In addition to profitability, Big City Farms’ goals include the generation of green jobs and the distribution of organic food to local consumers.

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Philips stresses that the success of urban farming depends on integrating ecological, economic, and cultural systems. She writes, “with urban agricultural landscapes, the ultimate sustainability goal is to design systems that allow for accommodating a dynamic of interdependence.” For example, Our School at Blair Grocery, an urban farm and educational facility in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, responds to the neighborhood’s nutritional, economic, and social needs stemming from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The operation educates neighborhood youth in both agricultural and business practices – students not only grow food on the site, but also sell it to markets across the city, gaining valuable skills in the process.

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The above examples barely scratch the surface of Designing Urban Agriculture. This is a textbook filled with tons of details. It could be the foundational text of a semester-long course in a landscape architecture school. Certainly, it should be required reading for any landscape architecture student interested in urban farming.

Read the book.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Master’s of Landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) Wiley, (2) ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Award Winner. Lafayette Greens. Keith Weikal Landscape Architecture / image credit: Beth Hagenbuch, (3) Big City Farm / The Baltimore Sun, (4) School at Blair Grocery / School at Blair Grocery blog

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Late this summer, I embarked on a journey with several classmates from Washington University in St. Louis along with landscape architecture professor Jesse Vogler. Our field-based seminar took me across the Midwest, investigating our industrial food production system. As a group of landscape architects, we wanted to see and understand this productive landscape as it is, and learn to read and identify the visible and less-visible elements that relate to food. We met with organizations and companies in the field, hoping to understand their points of view.

Confronting the Machine

The design of the Midwestern landscape is a marvel, the accumulation of historical and technological infrastructure that has transformed a vast expanse of earth into a machine of production. What was so powerful about my experience was seeing this so broadly.

Among the people and institutions we met along our journey I observed a relentless ambition to solve problems with this machine related to land and water use, pollution, and a loss of biodiversity. There was a humane impulse to temper the momentum towards further development.

Innovation has been central to the expansion of agriculture in the United States. But moving forward, innovation can’t just be about increasing crop yield, it also has to be about promoting the goals of social and ecological sustainability. In confronting the Midwestern agricultural machine, we must ask: is there a way to create an engine of innovation productive on a large scale but also informed by a deep sense of ethics?

The Innovation Spectrum

The field of “social innovation,” which has been explored by Stanford Social Innovation Review, offers thinking that may help, explaining how productive landscapes can be sources of positive change if “social entrepreneurs” are able to act. The language of social entrepreneurs is also increasingly useful in speaking to leaders across non-profit, business, and government sectors about environmental, social, and economic justice issues.

Many social entrepreneurs believe that true sustainability comes from investment in both financial returns and positive social and environmental impact. As such, we must explore both for-profit and philanthropic efforts in industrial agriculture:

Innovation for social good often comes about because the market has failed to provide a solution. Many non-profit institutions we visited focused on what the local agricultural markets won’t deal with because they can’t make any money doing it. For example, The Nature Conservancy is an organization that manages prairie restoration on the Great River grasslands and buys easements on surrounding properties in order to conserve them. The Land Institute is research center developing a perennial agriculture system that will take decades to market its first profitable crops. Harvest Public Media is a radio production that fills a critical information void, covering issues of food, fuel, and field from the Midwest. Each of these institutions commit to a mission that the market doesn’t support.

nature conservancy
On the other side of the spectrum, we also visited companies and organizations like Monsanto, John Deere, and the Chicago Board of Trade, which have been major players in shaping the productive landscape. These firms create market innovations that offer new opportunities in emerging markets. These institutions have the power of scale. They are effective at riding the market wave over the long term. Even within the profit-centered framework of a traditional corporation, companies like Monsanto and John Deere have the opportunity to do good through sustainability initiatives. They can drive profits by identifying new business opportunities that also happen to address shared value or responsible corporate citizenship.

Social entrepreneurship is really about creating institutions that bridge the gap between purely social or environmental and the market-oriented. Of the institutions we visited, there were several that blur the lines by combining a positive mission with a creative business model that reduces dependence on inconsistent funding sources like donations and grants. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is a public institution housed within Iowa State University, but it’s funded entirely by appropriated fees on nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides. Another example is the Seed Savers Exchange, which is partially funded by the production and sale of seeds through widely available catalogs. Institutions like these offer the possibility that what is now excluded from the market system may one day become included, making the system as a whole more sustainable.

seed savers
Achieving a Sustainable Agricultural System

Industrial agriculture, as a for-profit system food production system, is the force stocking our grocery stores, satisfying the increasingly high-protein diet of the developing world, meeting the demands of population growth. But it’s also spurring rural-to-urban migration, using much of our fresh water, and creating pollution.

A more sustainable agriculture system must understand anew the relationship between cities and the productive landscapes in their region. The spread of urban gardens in landscape architecture design work has inspired the public to imagine how small scale, bottom-up interventions can advance sustainability, but without integration into a larger system, these gardens will not be effective in challenging the industrial food system. Furthermore, the urban farming model has largely fallen short because it doesn’t acknowledge our diet is based primarily on grains rather than vegetables.

We must acknowledge the successes of the industrial system, but then also make room for social entrepreneurs that seek more environmentally and socially-sensitive solutions. These actors can set new standards and truly change the way that companies, organizations, and even governments operate. Market, social, and environmental innovation must be viewed as symbiotic.

This guest post is by Ylan Vo, Master’s of Landscape Architecture and Architecture candidate, Washington University in St. Louis.

Image credits: (1) Jesse Vogler, (2-3) Ylan Vo

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