Land planning and architecture have spent the past two centuries divorcing urban society from their food supply. The zoned separation of uses is quite possibly the biggest planning blunder in the history of the field. Quite understandably, people of the nineteenth century did not want to live around belching smokestacks and other heavy industry – I think we would be hard pressed to find 21st century people that would enjoy it either. The zoning designations that still exist today were a response to the Ebenezer Howard crowd that detested cities of the era. At that time, and even today, we are trying to buffer ourselves from the zoning districts which produce the widgets we demand or the unsavory characters we would rather ignore. That makes me wonder, if we dislike the manufacturing of the widget – so much to move far away from the process – why should we desire the widget? A far better idea would be to produce things for our lives that we enjoy cohabiting with. A welcome living companion is our food.
This food companion would not be the crops of Illinois’ vast corn and soybean fields. Both of which are planted as an inedible raw material. They grow in a monoculture which depletes topsoil, a growing medium that took millennia to create, pollutes waterways with petroleum based fertilizers, and has been linked to high mortaility rates in the Monarch Butterfly. A monoculture in any form is not built for survival and is always doomed for long term failure. For example, the ‘Corn’ cultivar, Yellow Dent #2 which is abundantly planted in the Midwest is done so in a monoculture. Unable to defend itself from ever mutating pests the crop is doused with fertilizer. All this for a raw material which is used to make High Fructose Corn Syrup, ethanol, or to feed livestock. Arguably, all products that decrease our connection to food and increase our risk of health realated problems.
Architecture is a perfect vehicle for resurrecting the connection we must have with our food supply. This can be achieved by allowing the wildness that is currently relegated to the urban fringe, to be reintroduced into our urban centers. This will provide an adequate food supply while allowing an eco-system to redevelop in a place that had been wiped clean of one. The edible architecture movement is also based on the design of polycultures that are able to defend themselves against harmful elements. This will be accomplished by design features with multiple outputs and companions. Just like the three sisters planting guild (corn, beans, and squash) in native Mexican agriculture, our food based architecture will incorporate food as a design element instead of a simple green roof or backyard garden. This is necessary so that we evolve past the victory garden and let our food lay claim to more important, visible public and private spaces. Similar to the train commute, our food will now be part of our daily lives, then becoming a part of us.
Each building will have the capability to produce food and provide habitat for creatures that will help that food bloom. No longer will we build places void of life, as they do not allow humans to embrace Nature. The edible architecture will be designed as fully functioning components of our buildings and public space. For instance, every glazed southern facade has the capability to foster the growth of bananas inside the living space. The bananas can be fertilized with composting toilet waste (which now becomes plant food), will naturally increase winter-time humidity, provide shade in the summer, and produce nutritious food for the occupants. In public spaces, the concrete sidewalk, curb, and gutter – all impervious materials that simply funnel rainwater to the stormsewer – will be replaced with an edible, planted swale and walking path that will recharge groundwater and provide food for the passerby.
There is tremendous opportunity to remake our current food deserts into productive, edible places. In doing so, human, animal, and plant habitat will be melded. And when this occurs we can be permanently attached to our food system since we will be personally responsible for its propagation, care, and harvest. We will finally close a vital loop in the food delivery system and vastly improve our urban spaces.