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The Hanging Gardens Of The Future
Green Futures, 1 May 09

By Peter Madden

By 2020, two-thirds of the world will live in cities, often sprawling megalopolises. Growing populations will put further pressure on land already degraded by over-farming and desertification. If things take a turn for the worse, how will we feed these cities?

There is a strong possibility that – two and a half centuries after the start of the industrial revolution – we will all become farmers again.

Every one of us will own a ‘farm in a box’, which will sit on our balcony, roof or next to a window. Advances in aeroponics – growing in a mist of nutrients, rather like in a rainforest – will give us emissions-neutral food at the heart of our cities.

These boxes would be supplemented by neighborhood vertical farms housed in the redundant high-rise office blocks we no longer commute to, and the multi-story carparks we no longer need. They will employ closed-loop systems, generating their own energy and harvesting and recycling rainwater. Front gardens, flat roofs and patches of wasteland will also become mini-market gardens, helping to green, cool and feed the city.

The seeds of this are already being sown. Urbanites want to grow their own – some 100,000 people are now on waiting lists for allotments in the UK, while in France, urban vineyards are fast taking root. The technology is also developing apace. Here in the UK the police recently announced that they are raiding at least three indoor cannabis farms a day, while in the US, NASA is experimenting with aeroponics for space travel. Imagine a few food riots and rocketing food prices in the decade to come, and a new ‘dig for victory’ approach to feeding ourselves starts to seem very likely.

Will this urban farming be a positive trend for sustainability? Many will find the idea of a high-tech world of computer-controlled indoor mini-farms scary. Yet, such urban agriculture could bring climate benefits, put people back in touch with growing food, and provide part of the answer to feeding the world.

This piece originally appeared in Green Futures. Green Futures is published by Forum for the Future and is one of the leading magazines on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.

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