Urban rooftop farming in Brooklyn, New York

Urban Agriculture is a new concept to which I have recently been introduced. The idea behind urban agriculture is relatively simple; yet it could help address issues cities are facing in terms of population growth and sustainability.

This post seeks to provide a holistic approach to looking at urban agriculture; firstly on a global scale in terms of how it can be defined, how this fits into the current perception of a ‘city’ and how it is becoming to be more accepted as a policy initiative worldwide. The post then looks at a small case study of how urban agriculture could be incorporated at a large and small scale within the UK.

Mougeot’s comprehensive definition of urban agriculture is defined as:

“an industry located within (intra urban) or on the fringe (peri-urban) of a town, a city or a metropolis, which grows or raises, processes and distributes a diversity of food and non-food products, (re-) using largely human and material resources, products and services found in and around that urban area, and in turn supplying human and material resources, products and services largely to that urban area” (Mougeot, 2000 as cited by Boschiyo et al 2006, pg. 7).

This definition therefore raises the idea that urban agriculture is a diverse process that can be implemented at smaller or larger scales within many urban scenarios. However, whilst this definition appears to highlight urban agriculture can be transferable to cities, there exists the current perception that “the city is perceived as the place where exclusively non-agricultural activities are carried out” (Cissé et al, 2005, pg. 147).

There still exists the preconception that the city is for buses, cars, shops and large buildings and that the countryside and green belt should be used for growing food. However, cities are continually growing, and the world population of those living in cities is expected to be 66% by 2050 (WHO, 2014). Due to the pressure of resources most cities import the majority of their food, and are ever increasing their food miles to feed the population.

This however leaves cities vulnerable to circumstances such as “the relentless rise in oil price [which] affect both primary and secondary food production everywhere” (Herman and Smith, 2012, pg. 2). Therefore, in order to survive fluctuations in the world food market cities should strive to become self-sufficient and resilient.

Castillo states that “a growing number of international development agencies, research institutions, and civil society organizations would like to see urban agriculture incorporated into urban policy and development programmes” (2003 pg. 349), which therefore highlights these issues are being acknowledged internationally. The incorporation of urban agriculture into core planning policy attaches weight which cannot be ignored, and forces key actors in the planning and design process to acknowledge its existence and use it as an integral tool when designing places.

Garnett states that within the UK policy makers are increasingly interesting in the role of UA in improving and promoting health (2005). It is therefore being acknowledged that urban agriculture can have positive effects on health, both physically and mentally. In the UK, allotments are a particularly popular way for residents to engage in UA. However, as these can be quite large scale and there can be issues of land ownership these could only be delivered by the Local Authority and through the planning process.

However, this does not prejudice smaller scale UA initiatives, and interestingly  Nichol notes that  “agricultural operations have always been exempt from the definition of ‘development’ provided in the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act” (2010, pg. 410). This therefore highlights that many forms of UA would not require planning permission are therefore much easier to implement. Therefore as discussed there is potential for UA to be adopted in many forms, both at large and small scales.

Garnett explains that growing food can occur in spaces which are considered too small for other land uses or areas that are considered green spaces but are not currently utilised (2005). These areas can constitute spaces between houses, blocks of flats or parks and are often overlooked when developing plans because of their minor nature or because they are already designated as ‘green space’. These spaces could however incorporate UA to utilise the ‘empty’ or ‘dead’ space and use the land for productive purposes instead.

Therefore, in conclusion it is clear that in order for cities to remain resilient they must become more sustainable and self-sufficient. One way in which this can be achieved is by implementing UA initiatives, therefore making themselves less vulnerable to fluctuations in the world food market. There is an increasing awareness of UA and key policy makers across the world are acknowledging its usefulness in improving the quality of spaces within urban areas, which can be implemented at both a large and smaller scale.


United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2014, World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas. Available from: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects.html [Accessed 20th November 2015]

Boischio, A., Clegg, A.,Mwagore D. (2006) Health Risks and Benefits of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture and Livestock (UA) in Sub-Saharan Africa- Resource Papers and Workshop Proceedings, IDRC CRDI

Cissé, O., Fatou, N., Gueye, D. 2005, ‘Institutional and legal aspects of urban agriculture in French-speaking West Africa: from marginalization to legitimization’ Environment and Urbanization, Vol 17, pp. 143-154

Nichol, L.2003, ‘Local food production: some implications for planning’, Planning Theory & Practice, Vol 4, Number 4, pp. 409-427

Garnett T. 2000, ‘Urban agriculture in London: rethinking our food economy’. In Bakker et al (eds.), Growing Cities, Growing Food: Urban Agriculture on the Policy Agenda, DSE. Available from: http://www.ruaf.org/sites/default/files/London

[Accessed 21st November 2015]

Herman, G., and Smith, J. 2012. ‘The case for urban agriculture in the UK’. Urbanag CIC. Available from:

[Accessed: https://www.google.co.uk/?gws_rd=ssl#q=The+case+for+urban+agriculture+in+the+UK]

Castillo, E. 2003, Livelihoods and the city: an overview of the emergence of agriculture in urban spaces, Progress in Development Studies Vol 3, Ed 4, pp. 339–344

Photograph source: http://projekter.aau.dk/projekter/files/197850801/Thesis.pdf