When Cities Become Edible
Garden beds in the middle of the city or lettuce crops on the roof are not new ideas. But urban gardening has not had its big break yet. Scientist Ina Säumel and her interdisciplinary team are investigating how the concept of urban agriculture can grow and prosper even more. Certainly, the production of foodstuffs in the city has all sorts of advantages. It is climate friendly, creates new habitats and strengthens social cohesion in neighbourhoods.
The 'edible city' has many faces: vegetable beds on roofs, fruit vines on facades, or mushroom farms in basements. Sometimes its state-of-the-art – when aquaponics combines fish and vegetable farming in a resource-efficient way, for example, or when space-saving vertical farms are used to produce lettuce and other vegetables. More traditional, however, is the allotment garden, where unusual vegetable varieties are planted enthusiastically on small parcels of land. Community gardens offer something similar, only there the garden beds are tilled together.
As diverse as these concepts are, they all have the same goal: the production of food in the city. For scientist Ina Säumel, the 'edible city' is an exciting field of research - for several reasons.
Good for the Air – and the Community
"The 'edible city' can solves all sorts of problems," says geographer and biologist Ina Säumel. Wherever people weed and harvest together, the neighbourhood grows together. At the same time, children and adults get out in the fresh air and learn more about food. In urban gardens there are habitats for animals and plants, and, for the middle of the city, biodiversity can be surprisingly high here. More greenery also buffers against heatwaves, and ensures cleaner air. The fruit and vegetables are either eaten by residents, or sold locally. This eliminates long transport routes and reduces exhaust and greenhouse gas emissions. 'Multifunctional' is how Ina Säumel describes this urban landscape, with its social, ecological and even economic advantages.
Everyone Can Have Their Say
For the EdiCitNet research project, Ina Säumel and her team at the Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys), and in a network of 33 cities, are investigating which 'edible city' concepts are particularly successful and how the individual initiatives can be better connected and supported. The goal is to establish 'edible cities' all over the globe to improve quality of life, particularly for disadvantaged urban residents, and to increase sustainability in cities in general.
To achieve this, the researchers are looking at some 'edible cities' that are already working, but they are also asking why other schemes fail. "We're observers," says Ina Säumel, "and we are learning on the job too." Cities like Heidelberg, Andernach and Rotterdam are already taking urban agricultural projects into account in their urban planning. But their development is often hindered by legal regulations. To better facilitate integration into city planning in the future, Säumel and her team propose a multi-stakeholder approach (research article), in which all stakeholders – administrators, initiatives, property managers, businesses and property owners – contribute to the execution of urban agricultural schemes. They call this kind of collaboration 'co-creation', and it is implemented by so-called 'city teams'. "It's a new form of democratic participation," explains Säumel, in which the knowledge of the participants is treated equally, whether it is expert knowledge or the experience of the residents.
Havana and Oslo Show the Way
The scientists are preparing their findings in such a way as to make them easy to access. This should facilitate their transfer into practice. Ultimately, there should be a sort of toolbox that contains concrete help and suggestions for city councils. Urban farming initiatives and small businesses will be supported with workshops or consultations. The question of whether a metropolitan area like Berlin can, in fact, produce a significant portion of its foodstuffs itself is one the researchers will have to keep investigating.
Ina Säumel recommends following the examples of pioneering cities like Havana or Oslo. The Cuban capital adopted a self-sufficiency strategy in 1994 and by now produces half the food required by residents itself, organically and locally. Though originally the result of economic adversity, it is now impossible to imagine the cityscape without its countless gardens and farms. Oslo has also committed to the idea of urban agriculture, so much so that there is even a designated development plan. In attractive inner city suburbs, the city has created space for community gardens. Here residents can apply to plant vegetables in their very own garden bed. "The urban gardening initiatives were in good shape right from the beginning and were also supported financially. Everyone at the city council is on the same page," explains Ina Säumel about the foundations of this success. "Berlin could do it too," the researcher is convinced. She is using the Gutsgarten Hellersdorf as a field laboratory for the project to find out exactly how.
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