Over recent years the debate concerning urban agriculture has been growing on both sides of the Atlantic with some common trends, however, deep differences exist among the approaches and philosophies that sustain those projects. There is a common background in relation to the realization that food security is not so universally granted as we might like to imagine in western countries. The growing population on a global scale, plus the effects of climate change and the new world economic dynamics generate new levels of uncertainty. Specifically, as it relates to food, we have seen varying opinions of the United States and Europe when it comes to the presence of Genetic Modified Organisms in the food chain and these differences leads to further uncertainties.
The creation of productive green spaces in our cities can be a way to reduce pollution, regulate temperature, and provide locally produced products. These are clear benefits that can easily be translated to the economics of production of food, reduction of health problems related with pollution, the associated cost for insurance companies and so forth. But these possibilities are usually overshadowed by challenges such as the actual surface available for the creation of productive green spaces, and the direct cost of the exploitation of those relatively small areas. A debate that now seems overcome thanks to the development of new technologies deeply associated with the Smart City phenomena and the Internet of Things.
Recent studies, as the elaborated by Leading Cities’ “Smart Agriculture in Boston,” demonstrates the possibilities to transform a city like Boston into an urban agricultural center—a vision that can be an example for so many other cities to follow. But we should not forget that the benefits generated by these areas are much bigger when we also consider the social value-add that urban farms can produce for our communities.
It is this social value dimension that some projects in Europe and cities like Barcelona have begun to explore and test. The core vision and rationale of such urban farming projects certainly include the economic and sustainable impacts as key reasons for investing in the establishment of these farming spaces. However, the European approach seems to focus more directly on the realization that some of the values that have allowed us to achieve unprecedented levels of comfort and prosperity, like the sense of community and solidarity among neighbors are beginning to suffer from deep erosion. Some of the organizations and institutions that were key actors in the maintenance of those values are slowly disappearing as part of the normal process of social evolution. The problem is that there are no replacements and citizens have started a process of individualization that could easily devolve to solitude and loneliness. Some northern European countries are facing new realities such as the death of citizens alone in their homes without family or any other kind of strong relationships are usually found several days after their passing. Showing us the necessity to stablish new spaces for human interaction, where urban farms can be a key pillar for new forms of social involvement
The digitalization of our lives is leading us to isolation where the acknowledgment of friends, family, colleagues and others is achieved more virtually. Behavior models are more often produced by mass media, and not through a process of social interaction or even with interaction with nature. As, some examples of urban agriculture in cities like Barcelona where projects like “Fosar de la vergonya” or the “Agora Juan Andrés” in downtown has shown: the generation of productive green areas can be just an excuse for creating new spaces of dialogue, especially in neighborhoods with high levels of immigration, and strong dynamics of Social exclusion. In the case of the “Agora Juan Andrés” we are talking about an abandoned space downtown. This space is now occupied by neighbors and social associations generating a new symbolic space that explores new forms of urban life. Green spaces are and urban agriculture are not just good for food production and pollution reduction, but can be designed to also create a free space for self-expression. A space that explores gender, civil disobedience, but among everything, a new paradigm of community building.