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Cities of Future: The rise of Agritechture

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Delhi was the Greenest Capital in the World until 2013 and now in 2019, it has been termed as one of the most polluted Capital city in the world. So what has gone wrong? Where did we mess up? According to a media report, more than 80 people in New Delhi die because of Air Pollution.

All the world’s 10 fastest-growing cities are in India! The Economist in me says it’s a great thing! We would be the powerhouse of the world, but the Environmentalist in me is rather sceptical! Would these cities be able to sustain themselves for the next 20-30 years or would they land up also like Delhi which is the Pollution Capital or like Chennai and Bengaluru which almost ran out of Water this year?

In Kampala, Uganda, over 35% of the city’s population is engaged in agriculture, and this has improved the nutritional status of children there

In this series titled “Cities of Future”, I would like to not go on writing how nothing is going to change but propose ideas and solutions to how we could make our city livable. When I had started writing this series, I started off with the initial idea of what the Future of Cities could look like? I have travelled to more than two hundred and fifty cities across 45 countries in the past ten years to gain insights into what the Future of Cities look like. I could say with conviction that the Future of Cities looks rather gloomy. It’s only after coming back to my home city, I realized that in New Delhi is my place of mission, it is a city where I was born and where my grandparents came after the partition in 1947. And now it is up to my generation who had the opportunity to get the best of education thanks to the sacrifices by my parents that I want to contribute back to the City.

So the first topic that seems Obvious to me but we are rather Oblivious to is the fact we can’t survive without food. It was agriculture that had encouraged hunter-gatherers to abandon nomadic lifestyles. And to settle near others who lived by agricultural production. Agriculture yielded more food, which made denser human populations possible, thereby supporting city development.

It’s sad to see that the same farming practice is marginalized and has shifted away from the cities. I often ask, why can’t our cities take lead in declaring that all public buildings including the Universities and Schools in establishing urban farms where students could also learn and participate in the activities? Well, why don’t we design buildings already where we could grow our own food? Could we not feed our cities from within? I recently came across the word “Agritecture” which essentially means that growing your own food is the new gold!

Let’s take an example from Singapore. In 2010 after the city was covered by a massive haze cloud for almost three weeks, just like New Delhi. The haze had drifted from Malaysia which was a result of the burning of tropical forests for creating new palm plantations.

The only difference between Singapore and New Delhi is that in Singapore, the authorities decided to actively approach the question of sustainability. One of the byproducts of this active thinking was the city state’s effort to convert vacant public land like parking lots, commercial rooftops and land meant for future constructions into urban farms. And now in just eight years, close to 60 per cent of the greens available in the city come from these community-owned local farms.

In Kampala, Uganda, over 35% of the city’s population is engaged in agriculture, and this has improved the nutritional status of children there. In Yaounde, Cameroon, almost all the leafy vegetables consumed by poor urban residents are grown in the valleys surrounding the city.

Thinking from the Circular Economy perspective, a city is an urban bio-economy where nutrients should be returned to the soil in an appropriate manner while generating value and minimising food waste. Nutrients could be captured within the organic fraction of municipal solid waste and wastewater streams and processed to be returned to the soil in forms such as organic fertiliser – used for both urban and rural agriculture.

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