The Growth of Urban Ag Design | Civil Eats

The Growth of Urban Ag Design

Urban Agriculture has become one of the hottest movements in the sustainable design world. During a recent Re:Vision Salon conversation, Josiah Raisin Cain—Chief Design Officer with Design Ecology and Urban Re:Vision—presented some interesting models proving that urban agriculture design “is close to exploding” given recent media, products, planning, and focus.

Urban edible gardens solve many design problems simultaneously. They help reduce gas, cost, water (depending on which system is used), while increasing food access and security and community connection. During the discussion, Josiah noted that challenges for designers typically include space and scale, but that there are alternative ways of imagining and planning our cities. Josiah showed projects with successful green roofs with edible gardens like this one at Trent University:


The green roofs reduce storm water runoff, act as increased insulation, increase oxygen, reduce cooling loads, and provide local food. They can be on the top roof of the building, or be on intermediate roof gardens, like this project by Daniel Libeskind:


And of course, you could do on your decks and walls of decks as well:


There are alternatives to the deep soil-based gardens such as hydroponic and aquaponic systems that use much less water by providing their own nutrients. Companies like InkaWall offer systems like this “BioCloth” that is one-inch thick and can be hung outside or inside and produces food that hangs off of the cloth, using much less water than would be required if they were planted in the ground. With proper lighting and ventilation, these can even be planted inside of a building as well.


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My architecture firm has incorporated green roofs and used hydroponic boxes for planting food at the Smart Home exhibit (the mkSolaire) in Chicago:



Josiah noted how “slick” our current city buildings are. Water slides right off of them, creating many expensive problems for the city with storm water run-off. By integrating green walls and green roofs, it has the added benefit of making the buildings more “sticky” and reducing storm-water run-off issues for cities, and reducing the costs required to solve those problems.

It all is so delicious visually, socially and physically. It also seems accessible and feasible. As Paul from Inka Wall noted, “Urban gardens can create prosperity where there is currently zero.”

Today’s food system is complex.

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Michelle Kaufmann is an architect, designer and advocate for smarter ways to design, build, and live. With her firm, Michelle Kaufmann Studio, she specializes in sustainable lifestyle design including single family homes, eco-luxury resorts, and multi-family communities. She is the founder of Michelle Kaufmann Designs, a design/build company that led the movement of prefabricated green homes and was named “2009 Green Advocate of the Year” by the National Association of Home Builders. Read more >

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  1. There's an article about Tracey Williams's vertical garden for the Green Building in Louisville, Kentucky at Human Flower Project - Can’t Keep an Artist-Gardener Down
  2. Regarding Josiah's mention of green roofs/walls making the landscape more "sticky." Many pollutants carried in stormwater will attach themselves to any organic matter they encounter and eventually degrade, so these systems make act as urban natural treatment systems (similar to planted ditches and wetlands on farmland) for improved stormwater quality as well.

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