Urban Farming: Growing the smart city revolution

Our Business & Technology team look at the growing trend of urban farming; how Paris is preparing to open the world’s largest urban farm and what other cities can do to communicate their ‘urban farming’ credentials.

It’s estimated that by 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60% of people globally and that one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants. So, everything from housing, infrastructure, connectivity and transport will have to change to cope with this upsurge in inhabitants.

Upon recently visiting Paris for Viva Technology, I was pretty struck by how the city is preparing itself for a population boost, but perhaps in a way that might not immediately come to mind. By Spring 2020, Paris will be opening the world’s largest urban farm. A whopping 14,000m2 site of fresh produce will fill the roof of a brand-new building. Two firms – Agripolis and Vulture en Ville are responsible for the new initiative calling it a ‘global model for responsible production’ and one that is able to help feed the inhabitants of south Paris. Bringing the rural to the city seems to be the new normal as cities grow and sustainable living has to improve. Los Angeles, for example, is also pioneering this new trend in urban agriculture.

But we don’t need to wait until 2020 to see the wealth of agricultural and sustainable innovations coming out of Paris. ‘Urban farming’ is very much on the rise and has been for the last few years. I met a cool start up called Agricool – a member of the La French Tech (a Brands2life client) ecosystem –  which is growing strawberries with no pesticides, and no GMOs in old containers in the heart of the city. This is encouraging a new way of engaging the younger generation to grow and cultivate food, whilst also completely reimagining how we can use space. And 20 minutes away from the iconic Eiffel Tower sits La REcyclerie – a former train station and large urban farm which is famously known for its beehives. By engaging the urban public in bee keeping, this can hugely contribute to capping the worrying decline of honeybees across Europe.

So, this is all very well and good – but how can other cities truly create a buzz around urban farming?

  • Change has to be seamless and hassle free – as we have seen time and time again with the clean energy revolution, behavioural change has to be made as simple as possible. It has to seamlessly merge into our existing lifestyles. Many consumers wouldn’t switch energy suppliers because of a perceived inconvenience despite the strong evidence of cost savings! This just shows that behaviour change is famously difficult to achieve. Encouraging consumers to partake in a city’s green growth has to be easy. It’s as simple as that.
  • Creating a sustainable city needs a diverse range of skillsets – the rise of these sustainable pop ups is reliant on a whole variety of skills, not just those from an agricultural or science background. The key is to create a thriving online community where entrepreneurs, citizens, marketers and city planners can collaborate to share ideas and inspiration as the first step.
  • Give people something to talk about – today, we live in the experience economy where citizens are demanding more than ever before. It is no longer good enough for restaurants to just serve good food, the interiors have to be spectacular to feed people’s Instagram accounts. The same premise applies to urban farms and sustainable pops ups. Whilst their fundamental function is and should always be to create a cleaner city, they also need to offer more to keep the public engaged and incentivised in upkeep. In the case of Paris’s largest urban farm, the space will also house a new dining experience to get residents talking.

As urban life changes ‘bringing the rural’ to our cities is only going to grow in popularity, and indeed out of necessity. I’m excited to see how other cities follow Paris’s lead in the flourishing world of ‘urban farming’ and in how they communicate their message to get the right talent, skills and people in place to turn it into the new norm.

Written by Imogen Nation, Business & Technology

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