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Let Them Eat Kale – Boston Society of Architects

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The growing interest in urban agriculture means we need to think about the city in a whole new way.

By Dorothée Imbert
Architecture Boston
Published by the Boston Society of Architects
Vol 13 No 3
August 4, 2010

Dorothée Imbert is the chair of the Master in Landscape Architecture program at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University. She is the author of Between Garden and City: Jean Canneel-Claes and Landscape Modernism (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010)

Excerpt:

The contemporary enthusiasm for urban agriculture presents a paradox: zoning regulation, olfactory and sound control, and moral opprobrium have erased almost all traces of food production within most Western cities. This contradiction reveals the difficulty of integrating agriculture into urban systems and the need for landscape architects, planners, and community activists to tackle policy. The perception of urban agriculture as a temporary land use for disenfranchised inner-city populations is also likely to hinder its potential to form a new type of open space.

It would be well worth reevaluating the mid-20th-century division between ornamental and productive landscapes, from an educational as well as an economic standpoint. As heirs to both agricultural and urbanism traditions, landscape architects are uniquely situated to bring the aesthetics of “third nature” (the garden) back into a new urban “second nature” (the farm). Productive open space will gain acceptance as an essential component of sustainable urbanism through highly visible pilot projects. The inclusion of an urban farm in Harvard University’s plan for a new campus across the Charles River would have performed such a role, had construction not been halted. The proposed Allston campus offered an ecological, spatial, and social laboratory to test ideas about urban agriculture. The interconnection of a productive and didactic landscape and urban spaces would have demonstrated Harvard’s commitment to sustainability and progressive development and taken landscape architecture and urbanism in a new direction.

But other opportunities are emerging. The 2009 proposal by Michel Desvigne and Jean Nouvel for “Grand Paris” carries implications for the redefinition of the suburban-rural interface. The periphery of Paris offers the opportunity to develop a new type of productive landscape, one performing simultaneously as an open-space system for the hyper-individualistic suburban tracts and as a test plot for the agricultural belt that lies beyond. Desvigne describes the 500-mile joint of varying width as a lisière — a term for a forest edge or a seam. Traces of a long-gone farming landscape — hedges, ditches, thickets, and paths — and an infrastructure of greenhouses, allotment gardens, recycling, energy production, composting, and sports fields organize this seam. Strictly codified, it is a terrain for exchange and experimentation, a means to make the landscape accessible to all users. In this scenario, planned indeterminacy hems the suburbanization of the countryside and allows agriculture to reenter the urban environment.

Read the complete article here.