More space with less space: An urban design strategy

Katrin Bohn, André Viljoen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


Overlaying the sustainable concept of Productive Urban Landscapes with the spatial concept of Continuous Landscapes proposes a new urban design strategy which would change the appearance of contemporary cities towards an unprecedented naturalism. Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs) will be open landscapes productive in economical and sociological and environmental terms. They will be placed within an urban-scale landscape concept offering the host city a variety of lifestyle advantages and few, if any, unsustainable drawbacks. CPULs will be city-traversing open spaces running continuously through the built urban environment, thereby connecting all kinds of existing inner-city open spaces and relating, finally, to the surrounding rural area. Vegetation, air, the horizon, as well as people, will be able to flow into the city and out of it. Partially, the city will become open and wild. CPULs will be green, natural and topographical (except when they happen on buildings), low, slow and socially active, tactile, seasonal and healthy. They will be well-connected walking landscapes. Depending on their individual settings and the urban fragment used, CPULs will read as parks or urban forests, green lungs or wilderness, axes of movement and journey, or places for reflection, cultural gathering and social play. They will be containers for an assembly of various activities that do not happen in buildings. CPULs will not be about knocking cities down or erasing urban tissue; they do not seek a tabula rasa from which to grow. Instead, they will build on and over characteristics inherent to the city by overlaying and interweaving a multiuser landscape strategy to present and newly reclaimed open space. Very importantly, they will exist alongside a wide range of open urban space types, complimenting their designation and design and adding a new sustainable component to the city (see Chapter 14). CPULs will adapt to the various ways in which individual cities develop by tailoring their type and layout to specific urban conditions and fulfilling their own requirements in a loose and inventive manner. Every CPUL and every fragment within it will build up their own individual, constantly changing character. CPULs will be productive in various ways, offering space for leisure and recreational activities, access routes, urban green lungs, etc. But most uniquely, they will be productive by providing open space for urban agriculture, for the inner-urban and peri-urban growing of food. The urban land itself, as well as the activity happening on it, will become productive: occupants will act and produce on the ground and with the ground.Vegetation will appear ever new and exciting: it will get harvested, grow back, get harvested again, grow again, grow differently, grow less or more, grow earlier, later, it will seasonally change size, colour, texture and smell . . . Whilst there are various examples in contemporary urban design of establishing green links or open space similar to continuous landscapes, the aspect of agricultural production, of the rural, will add not only an important new spatial quality to the city, but also socio-economic and environmental qualities (see Chapter 3). CPULs will be designed primarily for pedestrians, bicycles, engine-less and emergency vehicles, so as to allow healthy vegetation and varied occupation. The resulting near absence of noise, air and ground pollution, and of the dangers from traffic, i.e. accidents, would make CPULs not only most appropriate for agricultural production, but also a perfect leisure destination for the local population. Distances and dimensions within the city will change dramatically. With regard to the present condition of European cities, to their congestion, commuter lifestyles and environmental damage, CPULs will be as revolutionary for any of them as the introduction of the underground was for London. CPULs do not exist yet. However, several types of urban agriculture do already, and will always, exist: city farms, market gardens, allotments, back gardens, community gardens, etc., play already established roles in urban life all over Europe (see Chapter 11). Such structures would form individual components of the new CPULs, with the advantage of open islands now being connected to a widely accessible regional landscape, making them urbanistically more meaningful. Apart from this connectivity, the main design implication of CPULs will be the introduction of agricultural fields into the contemporary city. As the ground – the earth – air and vegetation become vitally important for the productive success of CPULs, the effort to maintain their well-being ensures that natural conditions will be most significant features within the new urban landscape. Other characteristics of CPULs will evolve in accordance with the landscape’s ecological aims. This is a feature of the rural land. Depending on their size and location, the spatial types of productive urban landscapes will range from small uni-crop to large multi-crop fields being placed within (and occasionally outside) a CPUL (see Chapter 24). Generally, any open urban space, communal or private, inner-city or sub-urban, small or big, would benefit from integration into a CPUL. Even fully laid out open urban spaces, i.e. parks, could allocate parts of their land for productive use, gaining in return access and connection to a continuous landscape design, thereby becoming wider, wilder and healthier. The new design strategy will allow high diversity, as it will benefit from difference and a new identity to enrich the occupation and appearance of its various productive and connective landscape elements. Whilst existing quality open spaces might want to keep their identities and be largely used as before, recycled open spaces will adopt individual design strategies with reference to the planned co-existence of food production, current uses and history of the place.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContinuous Productive Urban Landscapes
Subtitle of host publicationDesigning Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9780080454528
ISBN (Print)9781138135949, 9780750655439
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2005


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