Urban farming: exploring the options

What is meant by nature in the city or elsewhere can be endlessly debated, but there is  increasing evidence put forward by for example UNESCO that improving urban biodiversity (spaces for plants, insects, birds etc.) is essential for successful and healthy cities. At the same time the role for urban agriculture is being recognised in many cities across the world. In 2010 the United Nations Universities Institute for Advanced Studies made the following observation:

“As the rule of interdependent adjacencies in urban ecology has it: the more diversity, and the more collaboration “between unlikely partners”, the better the chances for biodiversity, sustainability, and resilience (Hester, 2006). Linked to this idea is the concept of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs), which represent a powerful urban design instrument for achieving local sustainability while reducing cities’ ecological footprints (Viljoen, 2005).”

From United Nations University Institute for Advanced Studies. 2010. Cities, Biodiversity and Governance: Perspectives and Challenges of the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity at the City Level: Policy Report. UNUIAS: Yokohama. Pp 31-32.

This statement has two connections to Peckham, firstly the notion of diversity and collaboration between unlikely partners describes what makes Peckham the vibrant and dynamic place that it is. And secondly the concept for Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs), which proposes the coherent integration of urban agriculture into cities, was developed in Peckham by Katrin Bohn and Andre Viljoen. Working with Peckham’s social and potential ecological diversity provides an opportunity for building a distinct and attractive place.

Just as looking with fresh eyes at Rye Lane reveals thriving micro enterprises and a rich treasure of buildings, so too looking at the ground reveals a large number of open spaces, of various sizes that could be transformed into a bio diverse and multifunctional open urban space network, that includes coherently placed urban agriculture.

A number of crops could be cultivated, some in solar greenhouses heated by the sun, producing indigenous crops and some of those currently imported from the Caribbean and Africa. Organic household and restaurant waste rather than being moved out of Peckham could be used directly to produce compost and so begin to create closed loop systems of “no waste” production. Urban agriculture on its own will not feed Peckham, but it has the potential to make a meaningful contribution to our food system while enhancing the urban environment. The potential networks of open space created by connecting existing parcels of unbuilt land, shared public spaces, certain facades and rooftops can offer walking and cycling routes as well as spaces for play and production. The educational benefits for local schools, physical and mental health benefits of being within a “natural” environment would add to an enhanced urban ecosystem.

The station square provides a natural focus for a network of continuous productive urban landscapes and it could include conveniently located markets run by existing stall holders selling crops from the area and beyond. Also CPUL costs are low compared to the cost of erecting buildings, imagine for example redesigning Choumert Grove Car Park into an urban farm, connected via All Saints Church to the Station Square, then to Moncrieff Place (where the mobile orchard is), and up onto the abandoned railway viaduct siding and into and alongside Frank’s Roof Top Bar above the Multiplex Cinema / multi story Car Park. Similar primary networks are possible running from Warwick Gardens into Holly Grove Shrubbery, connecting to the Station Square (whether this is multilevel or flat), then along the old shooting range, via the Bussey Yard towards Bournemouth Close.

London has pioneered a “Green Grid” of open spaces, primarily in the East. Peckham could take these ideas forward in an urban area, in doing so it would be part of an international move to re-green cities, for example Berlin’s new open space plan encourages the development of productive landscapes, New York and Rotterdam have recently benefited from new extremely popular rooftop and ground based urban agriculture.  Working with existing urban food growers from our Capital Growth projects, allotment holders, educationalists, health professionals and ideally new commercial growers, a new essential infrastructure could be created, one that provides more experience for less unsustainable consumption!

Andre Viljoen