Urban Agriculture and Urban Planning & Design

Urban agriculture has become a popular topic among many progressive city planners, landscape architects and other urban designers. These professionals are beginning to consider urban agriculture as an important component of the urban system; located at the nexus of urban environmental sustainability, public health and economic opportunity.

Cultivate Kansas City has been working to connect with the local planning and urban design community to assist in developing a broad urban agricultural literacy though presentations, workshops, a college course and through working with professionals and academics on various urban agriculture projects. We have advised or worked with Patty Banks Associates; AIA-Kansas City; BNIM, Dominique Davison Associates, the University of Missouri, Kansas City; Kansas State University; and other regional planners and design professionals. And we continue to welcome opportunities to engage with local planning departments, policy makers, legislators and urban design and engineering firms to encourage and develop urban agriculture in Kansas City.

Productive Urban Landscapes

Cities around the country and the world are experimenting with ways to support and implement urban agriculture projects. In North America this means primarily community gardening and, to a lesser extent, small farm businesses. Recognizing the benefits that come from greater numbers of residents engaged in some kind of urban food production, cities may wish to (1) adopt land use and zoning ordinances supportive of urban agriculture, (2) facilitate access to vacant parcels, water and production infrastructure, (3) implement organic waste composting and distribution programs, (4) convert public lands to edible landscapes, (5) help coordinate urban agriculture activities through a central municipal agency or department, (6) assist with urban agriculture training and capacity building.

An exciting design concept called “Continuous Productive Urban Landscape” (C-PUL) was introduced in 2005 by Andre Viljoen (ed.) in the book by the same title.

“CPULs will be city-traversing open spaces running continuously through the built 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… [CPULs] 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.” (11).

CPULs, whether they, in fact, take the shape of a contiguous greenspace stretching through the whole city or – as is more likely – are more fragmentary and limited in extent, introduce the concept of a “fertile edge” to the city, a boundary between the rural and the urban systems. Boundaries like this, the places where two systems rub up against each other (you can think of the soil as a boundary between the earth’s terrestrial and atmospheric systems) have been shown to be highly productive and fertile both physically and culturally. Here the resources of both systems combine and form a third system, more dynamic and diverse than either of the parent systems. CPULs, therefore, have the potential to be highly productive agriculturally and highly adaptive culturally.

Among the urban agriculture site elements to be integrated into CPULs are community gardens, small commercial and nonprofit farms, food forests, orchards and perennial edible landscapes, training and equipment sharing centers, composting sites, farmers markets and community food processing facilities. CPULs are woven from the fabric of vacant and abandoned land, underutilized roadways, public parks, public right-of-ways, and privately owned land. CPULs help cities recognize and cultivate a range of ecosystem services previously undervalued and untapped.

In his 2006 book “Design for Ecological Democracy” Randolph Hester of UC Berkeley’s Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning writes “Everything we need to know about designing intelligent cities can be learned from farming.” Urban agriculture, because it necessitates cautious and respectful engagement with nature, functions as a design teacher for city planners and city residents seeking more sustainable urban settlements. Urban agriculture therefore belongs to a category of “eco-revelatory designs,” with its mere presence educating us about the workings of nature.

Urban planners and designers interested in promoting and implementing urban agriculture are encouraged to develop a basic “urban agriculture literacy,” i.e., a fundamental understanding of the technologies and requirements of successful urban agriculture. This is helpful because dealing with highly complex, diverse, and location-specific agricultural production systems requires a somewhat more flexible attitude on the part of these professionals than dealing with those urban design elements that are easier to control and standardize, such as buildings, roadways or zoning and nuisance codes. Secondly, we encouraged those interested in designing an urban agriculture project to consider themselves at least part-time community organizers. Farms and gardens need people that work in them and maintain them. To make urban agriculture successful we need to involve ourselves in the neighborhoods, the streets and communities of our cities.


North American cities that have gained attention for implementing strong urban agriculture programs include Vancouver, BC; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Detroit, MI; Toronto, ON and a growing number of others. Check the official city websites for links to urban agriculture programs, planning departments, sustainability offices, etc.


Cultivate Kansas City
300 E. 39th Street
Kansas City, MO 64111
Phone (913) 831-2444
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