2011 saw the world’s population surpass 7 billion people. Since 2008, over half of us live in cities, and that percentage is growing, set to exceed 68.7% by 2050 (UNFPA 2011). As cities grow, agricultural production is driven further from urban consumers while claiming more and more of our forests and natural habitats. Increasingly, our food is produced in distant lands relying on cheap labor and imported using relatively cheap fossil fuels. The UN estimates that by 2050 the population of the world’s cities will double, requiring an additional land area the size of Brazil to feed the new urbanites.
The estrangement of urban populations from their food sources has had considerable social, environmental and economic ramifications which, until recent times, were overlooked as the economies of the global food system produced increasing convenience and lower prices. However, the effects of climate change, peak oil and the global population explosion threaten an impending collapse of this spatially dissociated system.
Current schemes for urban agriculture in western cities are limited in their potential performance by being reactive and discrete, working as interventions within a post-industrial urban organizational structure. This structure prioritized private development and presumed that urban growth was unlimited, and that food would be forever imported from an infinite countryside using mechanized transportation.
If urban agriculture is to effectively make an impact in feeding our future cities, urban organization must be reconsidered from a systemic perspective, considering the city as a closed loop of production, consumption and waste. This is not a new idea. There is a long history of agriculture benefitting from the ecology of the pre-industrial city (Steel 2009). However, the complexity of the contemporary city requires new design tools for meeting this challenge. Our research employs algorithms, mathematical modeling and simulation to explore emergent spatial organizations for the realization of such a system.