Productive Urban Landscapes

Research and practice around the CPUL design concept

Architect and food thinker Carolyn Steel refers to CPUL concept in her new article

“Food is the tissue of civilization, weaving cities and countries together. In her essay, architect and food thinker Carolyn Steel provides a powerful prompt for us to reconsider the geographic and societal interdependency of urban centers and food-providing ecosystems and to find a way to move beyond the perils of the modern industrial food complex.”

Technoshere Magazine, Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, 2019

This week saw the publication of Carolyn Steel’s article Sitopia: The Power of Thinking Through Food in Technosphere Magazine of Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin, Germany. The Magazine is part of HKW’s exploratory research project Technosphere (2015-19) and part of HKW’s programs 100 Years of Now and The New Alphabet, supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag.

In her article, Steel is laying out some of the complex history of urban food provision in order to show how society achieved the “miracle” of ‘us in the industrialized world get(ting) to eat three meals a day with very little effort on our own parts’. She states that the “miracle,” it turns out, is nothing of the sort. Rather, it is the result of the systematic externalization of the true costs of food production and the obscuring of the effort that it really takes to feed us’.

Describing how food growing formed and was formed by the urban-agrarian societies in the Fertile Crescent thousands of years Before Christ, Steel looked at food trading in Ancient Rome and the way the layout of European cities was determined by food markets and processing. She then describes that the one lesson learnt from history during the early 20th century is that cities ‘should be limited in size and surrounded by countryside, not just to limit urban growth but to provide for our human needs for the benefit of both society and nature’. Steel argues that ‘future cities should be planned with farming in mind, while existing ones could be retrofitted, as André Viljoen and Katrin Bohn have proposed with their Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs)’.

Carolyn Steel concludes: ‘We live in a world shaped by food: a place I have called sitopia (from the Greek sitos, meaning food, and topos, place). Yet by failing to value food—expecting it to be cheap—we have created a “bad” sitopia: one so bad that it threatens our very future’.


Article published in the journal: Technosphere Magazine, Online at: <>, see here.

For more information on Carolyn Steel see the author’s own website.

Image: Ogilby Map of London in 1676, shaded to show food markets and supply routes. (source: John Ogilby, A Large and Accurate Map of the City of London (1676). Facsimile published by the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society (1894) and annotated by the author.)


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* food systems* urban designInternationalLondon

Katrin Bohn • 31st May 2019

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