Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Edible Landscape Project Turns Slums into Gardens

With The World's Population Shifting Toward City Living, Urban Farming is Gaining Support

By Sarah Staples
CanWest News Service
October 25, 2004

By 2050, more than half of the world's population will live in cities, and the slums that house over a billion people today will have more than doubled in size. Relentless urbanization could condemn much of humanity to the worst kind of misery. But an international research team led by a Canadian is preparing to offer a different vision of their future.

Vikram Bhatt, director of the Minimum Cost Housing Group at McGill University School of Architecture in Montreal, will oversee a new United Nations and Canadian government-sponsored project to plant gardens in the slums of Rosario, Argentina, Kampala, Uganda, and Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Rooftops of discarded tin will be covered with dirt, and seeded with fruit trees and vegetables.

Balconies will be transformed into poultry pens, and crumbling tenements will fall so that new 'garden neighbourhoods' can be built in their place.

'Making the Edible Landscape,' a three-year, $1-million effort, this month begins re-engineering cities that are the traditional centres of food consumption into organized hubs for food production. It's based on an uncommon philosophy: that trees and greenery in a city should serve to keep people alive.

'Urban planners have tended to create landscapes for beauty, not utility,' said Bhatt in an interview before heading to Colombo to oversee the first stage of work. 'We need to be envisioning something much richer and deeper than that.'

Although food has been grown in cities for centuries and the trend continues, it's seen as either a fringe activity of the poor and disenfranchised, or in North America, as a hobby, he said.

Edible's objective is to change the attitudes of key decision-makers - architects and designers, municipal politicians and managers - by demonstrating ways that agriculture may be legitimized and integrated into urban planning and housing design.

It's the ideological foundation of an emerging, multi-disciplinary field known as 'urban agriculture,' whose recognized gurus are Bhatt and Luc Mougeot, an academic and urban philosopher with the federally funded International Development Research Centre. Canadian experts in architecture, health and sustainable development will help officials from the three cities decide how to transform a total of roughly 25 hectares of land that will affect 500 families.

In Kampala, 17 hectares on the city's outskirts will likely be set aside for a new subdivision combining homes and gardens in a novel way - either dwellings will be clustered around a communal garden tended by all, or families will have their own plots.

Colombo may either plant a large community garden, or fund a network of co-op gardens growing medicinal herbs. Rosario plans to upgrade squatter settlements with new utilities and infrastructure and dedicate a portion of land to communal growing.

The results will be showcased before 200 city officials from around the world at the 2006 World Urban Forum in Vancouver.

Earlier work by Bhatt and the IDRC led to the passage of ordinances in Rosario and Kampala that grant legal protection to urban farmers. In legitimizing their efforts, it will be easier for urban farmers to obtain the kind of financing and subsidies available to rural ones, said Mark Redwood, an IDRC program officer in charge of the agency's contribution to the Edible Landscape.

'It's security for the farmer when they know the land is theirs and their community's, and they're more willing to invest in sweat equity, and in making real improvements to the land,' said Redwood.

And there is mounting scientific evidence of the benefits of urban growing. The UN has estimated that up to a quarter of the wo rld's population will be engaged in some form of urban agriculture by next year.

Hanoi, Vietnam, gets at least 80 per cent of fresh vegetables, 50 per cent of pork, poultry and fresh water fish, and 40 per cent of eggs from urban farming.

In Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, urban farmers make 1.6 times the average minimum wage, and account for fully 20 per cent of the employment.

Rosario, meanwhile, is due to release a study showing that agriculture has helped to lower crime rates, particularly among youth.

It's confirmation to Bhatt that Canadians should take a different view of how cities grow.

Montreal, which boasts Canada's most extensive network of community gardens, says its 7,000 parking-space-sized plots yield an average of 100 kilos of fruit and vegetables each.

The single pear tree on Bhatt's Montreal property bore some 200 pieces of fruit this season. 'I hope that in future, we'll look at our front lawns and see beautiful herb gardens instead,' he said.

Mcgill and IDRC Announce Global Three-City Project: "Making The Edible Landscape"

IDRC anouncement page - also Backgrounder.doc

OTTAWA - Canada's McGill University and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) today announced the launch of a new international research initiative that may have a major impact on how planners, architects, and municipal leaders map the city of the future. The announcement took place today at the World Urban Forum in Barcelona, Spain.

Making the Edible Landscape (see attached backgrounder), a three-year collaborative project, will demonstrate the value of including urban agriculture as a permanent feature in city planning and housing design. With support from IDRC, the Minimum Cost Housing Group of McGill University, and the Urban Management Program of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), coordinated research will be undertaken in three cities: Colombo, Sri Lanka; Kampala, Uganda; and Rosario, Argentina.

"Modern cities are seen as centres of food consumption and rural areas as places of production," says Professor Vikram Bhatt, director of the Minimum Cost Housing Group at McGill. "Designers and planners tend to create city landscapes for beauty, not utility. But many kinds of urban agriculture already exist around the world-from balcony gardens to poultry farms. What we learn from these three test sites will enrich city-scapes of the future, both North and South."

In each of the sites, city officials, architects, and urban planners will form a collaborative team, working closely with local communities. Researchers will test housing designs that include food-producing gardens to demonstrate the potential of urban agriculture. Sites were chosen by a competitive process to reflect global biodiversity as well as different ways of combining living, working, and growing food within the city.

As the world's population becomes increasingly urban, cities everywhere-but especially in developing countries--face a mounting challenge of ensuring clean water, sanitation, and food security for their people. This project will contribute to meeting the United Nations Millennium Development goals by improving housing, income, and food security for the poor.

The results of Making the Edible Landscape will be showcased at the 2006 UN-HABITAT World Urban Forum in Vancouver, Canada.

For more information, contact:
International Development Research Centre
In Ottawa, contact Jennifer Pepall, Senior Communications Strategist, at (613) 236-6163 x 2157. Email:
On-site in Barcelona until September 17, contact Pauline Dole, Corporate Communications Officer, at 011 34 6 90607548
McGill University
Professor Vikram Bhatt, Project Leader, at (514) 398-6700

IDRC at the World Urban Forum

Marielle Dubbeling adds the following information about the project (October 28, 2004, private correspondence):

The project was initially conceived and supported by IPES/UMP-LAC-UNHABITAT alongside McGill. Presently the CIGU-International Centre for Urban Management is collaborating with McGill on this project. Through CIGU, ETC-RUAF and IPES support the multi-stakeholder processes in the 3 partner cities. I just came back for the first field visits to each of the sites on which I will inform the RUAF partners shortly. RUAF will also support future dissemination on project process and locally provide technical assistance to the cities through its regional focal points where necessary.

The inclusion of urban agriculture into the normative and legal framework of Rosario was the result of a long-term collaboration between IPES/UMP-LAC, the local NGO CEPAR and the Rosario Municipality. Programme activities in Rosario were co-funded by IDRC. Similar processes in Kampala were the result of intervention led by Urban Harvest -CIP in collaboration with local governmental and non-governmental actors. Again activities were co-funded by IDRC.

Search Our Site[new]

pointer Return to Contents' Page pointer

Revised Thursday, October 28, 2004

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture