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Landscape Architecture – Incorporating Urban Food in Post-Industrial Cities (Part 1 of 2)

Touch the Soil News #291 – By Beth Hagenbuch

In the past, urban food and farming has often been an afterthought. Yards are converted to food gardens and urban lots retro-fitted into market gardens. We were lucky to get Beth Hagenbuch, a professional landscape architect, to write about the emerging trend of urban food and farming being designed in from the start. This story on urban food-landscape architecture reveals a new occupational direction.

Beth Hagenbuch is a Partner at Hagenbuch Weikal Landscape Architecture (HWLA), recipient of the 2012 American Society of Landscape Architects National Honor Award for Lafayette Greens Urban Garden in Detroit, Michigan, and President of GrowTown, a non-profit landscape architecture studio dedicated to transforming neighborhoods and landscapes in post-industrial cities. GrowTown is a 2010 Buckminster Fuller International Challenge semi-finalist. GrowTown recently received a 2015 Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit grant to develop the Penrose Market Garden.

Beth Hagenbuch. President of GrowTown.

There is a growing trend of ‘agrihoods’ – housing developments that incorporate agriculture as an amenity. Architect and urbanist Andre Duany calls this Agrarian Urbanism. The Cannery in Davis, California (see video clip below) and Prairie Crossing in Illinois are two examples. The cost of including food production or a farm in a development is only 20% of the cost of a typical golf course, and the growing interest in sustainable lifestyles and local food makes this a low cost and attractive amenity. In most golf course communities only a few residents typically play golf, whereas fresh organic food, taste, health and agrarian landscapes have a broader appeal to all kinds of residents.


In our landscape architecture practice we have an approach we call City Green; integrating landscape, urbanism, productive landscapes, fair food systems, great public spaces and healthy green space into dynamic places to live and work. In suburbs and more urban environments, we believe that food production can be incorporated into the urban form and social fabric of our daily lives in positive and meaningful ways. The kinds of landscapes and social amenities that local food production can bring to our cities and neighborhoods will depend on the economic sustainability of food production operations. Small farms, markets gardens and associated cottage industries are small local businesses in the community. If the farmer/ businessperson cannot sustain him or herself, these kinds of landscapes and amenities will be difficult to sustain.


Beth Hagenbuch, a Partner at Hagenbuch Weikal Landscape Architecture which designed the Lafayette Greens Urban Garden in Detroit

In low-income neighborhoods food production assets and landscapes can begin to address real needs on several levels. Access to fresh food, nutrition, social cohesion, and income for area residents are the most obvious. When these kinds of landscapes are planned and designed into the structure of neighborhoods there are further benefits. Neighborhoods that lack public spaces, green space, and those that have lost legibility and connectedness due to abandonment can reorganize in cost effective ways around well-designed, successful food production. People working outdoors growing food bring a kind of ‘eyes on the street’ security to communities struggling to maintain stability. An often overlooked potential of urban foodscapes is the aesthetics of place – spaces that function well and feel good to inhabit are fundamental to our overall health and well-being as human beings. Beautiful places draw us in, encourage us to participate, and bring people together. Thoughtful design is a key element that will support sustainable urban food systems.


Sometimes people think of design as a form of decoration and view it as frivolous or a luxury. I would argue that design is really a fundamental tool to make productive landscapes all that we imagine they can be. Design is thoughtful, deliberate problem solving. The skilled use of good design principles is a cost effective way to add civic and economic value to food producing landscapes in the built environment by making them efficient, multi-functional and visually satisfying. Beauty nourishes the human spirit and is as important to our communities as the food growing function of these landscapes if the facilities are going to be viable, long-term, and welcome additions to city life.


Our current industrial food system is very susceptible to changes in climate and fossil fuel use and is increasingly under stress due to soil loss, drought and other environmental pressures. Producing food— especially the kinds of fresh produce that are most nutritious and delicious when just picked and consumed locally—in the places we live and work is going to be increasingly important. I think we will see food-producing assets more and more in our suburbs and cities. Finding ways to make these economically viable is going to be an important challenge to integrating food producing landscapes into our urban lives.

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