Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

The Week in Sustainable Design (10/16/05)

Today marks the close of another tremendously inspiring Bioneers conference. If there's one subject that has been consistently touched upon by nearly every speaker, it's the state of our urban environment. Our cities, in large part, are an indication of the health of our communities and our culture. Hence, the decay of inner cities and the environmental injustices that plague low-income neighborhoods in particular, are an indication of an urban society that is in disrepair.

Many of the individuals and organizations who are presenting solutions to this problem, while they all may have different reasons, propose the same approach: greenery. Trees, plants, flowers, vegetables, parks: these things quickly and dramatically improve physical and mental health, air quality, and the vitality of a city. Representing the urban greenery frontier this year were Andy Lipkis of TreePeople, Omar Freilla of Sustainable South Bronx, Will Bullock of The Food Project, and The People's Grocery, just to name a few. Below we've rounded up a few of our own highlights on the subject from the past few months, which give a taste of recent agricultural and horticultural innovations from around the globe.


If you've ever been to Tokyo, you know that beneath the crowded streets, unexpected worlds exist. Subway exits lead to vast underground food courts where fancy French pastries are sold next to ancient vats of miso. In one particular subterranean section of the city, a new edible phenomenon has emerged. In February, Pasona, Inc. opened Pasona O2 an indoor urban farm where vegetables, rice, flowers and herbs flourish under fluorescent lights and LEDs in an environment that is almost entirely chemical-free. In a former bank-vault two stories below street-level, plants are cultivated and nourished hydroponically - using nutrient-enhanced water instead of natural soil. Temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels are all controlled by computers. This kind of tank-farming makes it possible to grow plants rapidly, all year round, by maintaining an optimal balance of nutrients.

The mission of the experimental farm "showroom" is to demonstrate to visitors that farming isn't the exclusive domain of old-school rural families. Pasona wants to change the face of farming, and cultivate a fanbase for new, high-tech urban agriculture, introducing technological advancements that will allow productive plots in the midst of the city and encourage a new generation of farmers.


"By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today." This excerpt comes from an essay by Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia's Environmental Health Science department. Dr. Despommier developed the Vertical Farm Project , which proposes multi-story indoor farms, which can be cheaply and safely constructed in cities to accommodate the needs of increasing urban populations. Read the entire essay for an explanation of the principles and design behind the project.


At the University of Guelph, near Toronto, green design is a literal term. The new Humber building, designed by Toronto firm Diamond Schmitt Architects, Inc., uses a wall of plants as a living air purifier for the 170,000-sq.ft. building.

The four-story biofilter is a thick jungle of ferns, ivy and other plants, working together to emit microbes that break down harmful airborne contaminants into water and CO2. The wall is self-cleaning, since pollutants are not absorbed into the plants, but actually broken down.
The biofilter was developed by biological researchers at the University of Guelph, including Alan Darlington, who now heads his own company, Air Quality Solutions, Ltd., to sell the living walls commercially.

Because the wall naturally generates fresh air, and because the need for ventilation, heating and cooling systems is significantly reduced, the biofilter promises to be a big money saver for the university. Engineers estimate that up to 3.5 kilowatts per person can be saved during peak seasons.

In addition to all of these benefits, the wall adds tremendous aesthetic value to the area. The lush biofilter is a towering work of living art in the Humber building's atrium. Scientists are also attempting to quantify the psychological benefits of the biofilter, predicting that the presence of so much greenery improves attendance.

In the future, Air Quality Solutions, Ltd. hopes increase sales to other commercial and educational settings, and to the home market. The initial cost is not cheap- currently $1,200 per square meter-but the longterm savings and intrinstic benefit of the biofilter far outweigh the startup. For those of us accustomed to regurgitated oxygen from ventilation ducts, this kind of innovation is a breath of fresh air.


Bringing it down to the small-scale, here's a way you can incorporate greenery into your own urban corner. Many people don't keep foliage in their own homes because they don't think their thumbs are green enough. But the pleasures of fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes or simple houseplants aren't reserved for the skilled indoor gardener. The Swedish company Green Fortune has created the Streamgarden as a fail-safe means of sustaining plants.

The Streamgarden utilizes hydroponics to cultivate a resilient and low-maintenance mini-garden. Hydroponic techniques are often utilized in extreme climates and non-conducive growing conditions (like NASA space stations). Taking them into your office or apartment, you no longer need to worry about having someone water when you are away. Instead of soil, the plants grow in tanks, where you only need to check the water level and refill approximately once a week. Every three months, all water needs to be changed out and nutrients added. More like a fish bowl than a flower pot.

Bookmark and Share


Watch for Edens Lost & Found airing on PBS.
I had the opportunity to interview Lipkis
during the filming of the documentary.

Posted by: ennrique on 16 Oct 05

Please look into aerobic compost and aerobic compost teas in reestablishing soil foodwebs in pounded and dead city soils where toxins predominate, for lessening imports. The tools for these are available, not expensive and work wonderfully in the city.

I am one-note on this because it is so important and is so overlooked in all the happy tech talk here. Thank you for allowing me to post sometimes.

Posted by: Kim McDodge on 18 Oct 05



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg