London Yields: Urban Agriculture

[Image: The King’s Vineyard, London, by Soonil Kim, one of many projects featured in London Yields: Urban Agriculture].

One of the many benefits of being in London this week is that I get to stop by the Building Centre, one of my favorite urban galleries and architectural exhibition spaces, to check out their new show London Yields: Urban Agriculture.
While imagining what it might be like to eat extremely local food, grown right there in your city – a line of 96th Street Honey, for instance, or, in light of Times Square’s recent (but unfortunately temporary) pedestrianization, perhaps a Times Square Tomato (why not agriculturalize parts of Times Square?) – we also need to ask how we might make such a vision come true.
How can a city like London be at least partially turned over to food production – so that London Fields might produce southeast England’s newest yields of meat, fruit, and vegetables?
I have to admit that urban agri-utopianism is easily one of the most seductive visions of the 21st century city that I’ve yet seen – from farming new medicinal plants on the rooftops of schools to hybridizing sci-fi flowers on vast and heavily perfumed highway-farms stretching across one borough to another – and it’s hard not to get excited when thinking about such things.

[Images: From Ian Douglas-Jones’s awesome Towards New Capital project, also featured in London Yields. Douglas-Jones asks us to project ahead to London in 2070 A.D.: “Food imports dried up 20 years ago when oil peaked at $1000 a barrel. Our new self-reliance has necessitated the development of dense enclaves of self-subsistence, and self sustenance; each enclave provides the optimum population density with the exact amount of energy and food,” he writes].

Even better, tomorrow morning the Building Centre will be hosting a related event called London Yields: Getting Urban Agriculture off the Ground. Featuring Mark Brearley (Design for London), Jamie Dean (East London Green Grid), architect Carolyn Steel (author of Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives), architects Bohn & Andre Viljoen, Mikey Tomkins and Ruth Coulson (Croydon Council), and a representative from Sustain (“the alliance for better food and farming”), the whole thing will be hosted by none other than David Barrie.
Coincidentally, my wife and I picked up a copy of Steel’s book yesterday; it looks fantastic. From the food supply infrastructure of ancient Rome to today’s exurban British megamarkets, by way of a brief feminist history of cooking (the TV dinner as misguided step toward female liberation) and the carefully engineered landscapes of London waste processing (including a short tour through the city’s eastern marshes), it seems to have no shortage of general interest.
So the event tomorrow costs £35, unfortunately, but if you’re up for it, stop by; if not, consider checking out the exhibition before it comes down on May 30!

(Note: Check out the other work on Ian Douglas-Jones’s site, including his Aeronautica Sovereign State).

4 thoughts on “London Yields: Urban Agriculture”

  1. 'Hungry City' of Carolyn Steel is a truly inspiring historical trip, working from 'the stages of the food' in relation to the notion of utopia towards what she calls Sitopia.
    'Hungry City' has been one of the books that form the basis of the program 'Foodprint' by Stroom in The Hague. If you're too late to see 'London Yields' (which indeed is worth a visit), try to come and see the exhibition Foodprint and/or the symposium 'Food for the city' at June 26 in The Hague. Contributors a.o. Winy Maas, Atelier Van Lieshout, Carolyn Steel, Will Allen, John Thackara, Nils Norman, Bohn&Viljoen and many more. See

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