Thoughts on Covid-19, food and urban design
One month into the Covid19 lockdown
It is now a month since the UK went into lockdown as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Germany started a short while earlier and is now experimenting with a targeted relaxation of some measures. Nevertheless, we are all still socially isolating and no longer travelling, working patterns have changed or work has stopped, uncertainty is the prevailing constant. What do all of these huge changes we have witnessed mean for food systems, cities and landscape?
At first, especially in the UK, we witnessed real food shortages in supermarkets. Although brought about by panic buying, they highlighted the reliance we have on just-in-time logistics and remote food supplies. While a more localised and circular food system would reduce our reliance on transportation and enable a more equitable distribution of food to local growers, it would not have resolved the panic buying that led to shortages. But for other material needs, f.e. medical, the vulnerability of relying on distant suppliers is leading to a new conversation about reshoring, or localising, production in general. This is not only to be seen in relation to pandemics but as a means of preparing for future predictable shocks due to climate change, whereby especially food production may be affected. A resilient food system will be distributed and evenly spread globally, so that, if shocks occur, small amounts of food from many producers can be sent to places in need. In other words, food in a networked productive landscape.
The other important lesson that we can draw from the pandemic is how, if a desire is there, we can effect real change in managing our affairs. We can apply similar change to the sustainable design of our cities right now. From a productive urban landscape perspective, two important questions are raised: firstly, to what extent is density a desirable feature of cities, and secondly, how can shared landscape be reincorporated into our cities?
Density has rightly been promoted as one way of reducing the need for day-to-day transport in cities. But it has also been misused as an argument for ever taller, densely packed buildings, often with no external balconies and poorly day lit. This does not advance an overall improvement in quality of life or reduced energy consumption, and now, with lockdown and social distancing, the limits of occupying such small isolated spaces are being exacerbated.
Similarly, the value of open space, networked and accessible for exercise, with birdsong and wildlife, is becoming obvious. Once again, we can see that networked productive landscapes – multifunctional, including food growing spaces – with adjacent buildings designed to allow for natural daylighting and ventilation, biodiversity and sun that reaches the ground would make much sense. And when we are not in lockdown, the social value of food hubs that are associated with urban agriculture demonstrate the true convening power of food and, environmentally, the parallel benefits of moving to a model of a shared circular economy. In the end, for a good life, we rely on access and on movement. Full stop.
Andre Viljoen and Katrin Bohn
Image: A resilient food system will be distributed and evenly spread, so that, if shocks occur, small amounts of food from many producers can be sent to places in need. Kato Farm in Nerima City, Tokyo, is an example of how this resilient urban landscape may look and how it can be used. (image: Bohn&Viljoen 2019)