The buried treasure: Arable land under our cities

Will we see science-fiction urbanism? Will we become urban gardeners?

As the population increases, so does the need for food. In the press, you can read statements like “we will need four Earths by 2050 to feed the world”, although some predict only three.
Fact is that we will not have extra planets to grow our food, and we will either find ways of increasing food production or the world population will regulate itself, be it through famine or wars.
The buried treasure underneath the asphaltInevitably, there will come a time when all apparent arable land will be in use for agricultural production, and there will be a need for more. Already today, we have a vast area of good agricultural land, which is inaccessible, because it is located under cities and roads. This is even more important as the prediction is that the world population will increasingly live in urban areas.
Since the beginning or urbanization, human settlements have developed around the bare necessities, which are water and fertile ground. Today’s major urban centers have been growing from their original core, and they cover a lot of such fertile land. One of the dilemmas for the future will be to accommodate this increasing concentration of population in cities and to keep arable land available. In a later stage, we might have to find ways of recovering this land in some way or another.
In order to conserve arable land from further housing and infrastructure development, we need to think “vertical”. This could mean the end of the individual house, and the further development of higher housing building as the unique model. It is not unthinkable that we will restart agricultural activities in the cities themselves, by allocating some area for gardens both at ground level and suspended on top of buildings, and even the return of farms in the cities. So far, infrastructure had chosen the easy, cheapest and most obvious solution, which was to lay cities and transport on the ground as much as possible. Maybe, we will see an increased redevelopment of roads and transport lines on elevated structures, such as the bridges and the monorail lines that we know today. This could free a huge amount of land for food production. Of course, this sounds like a very costly solution, but food scarcity will make its price skyrocket even more. Another solution, although it seems to go against the trend generally accepted today would be to redistribute the population more evenly between urban centers and agricultural areas.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.


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