Community Design Center Leads Interdisciplinary UA Campus Team for ‘Food City Scenario’
Posted on March 5, 2014
The University of Arkansas Community Design Center led an interdisciplinary team which included the School of Law whose project, Fayetteville 2030: Food City Scenario, speculates on what Fayetteville would look like if its growth integrated local urban food production substantial enough to create self-sufficiency.
The project was one of 10 entries, out of more than 150 submitted, recognized in the 61st Progressive Architecture Awards program, a highly coveted industry program that honors trending work by North American architecture and urban design practices. It received an Honorable Mention award for its potential and holistic approach to design. The awards were announced Feb. 20 at a gala in New York, and will be featured in the March issue of Architect magazine, the official magazine of the American Institute of Architects.
Fayetteville currently has a population of 75,000, which is expected to double over the next 20 years. Although the region is the most prosperous in the state, it also has one of the state’s highest child hunger rates.
Food City Scenario is an urban agricultural project that aims to weave agricultural urbanism back into the city environment, with the prospect of helping Fayetteville achieve greater food security and resiliency, said Steve Luoni, director of the Community Design Center. Since most cities stock a three-day supply of food mostly from global supply chains, Luoni recalled the adage in planning and political circles that “we are only nine meals away from anarchy.”
This scenario devises a middle-scale urban food production model between the scale of the industrial farm and the individual garden. This “missing middle” foodshed functions as an ecological municipal utility, featuring green infrastructure; public growscapes, such as edible forest farms, orchard-lined streets, fruit and nut boulevards; food hubs; organic waste recycling districts; and various other agrarian initiatives.
Sustainable farming begins with energy flows. Food City Scenario configures agricultural production territories with niche growing strategies based on opportunities in local geography, ecosystems, and public infrastructure.
Food City Scenario devises a new planning tool that outlines an ecology of five urban growing guilds. Each guild is associated with a niche function like pollution remediation, through low-impact storm water management landscapes and carbon sinks that support safe growing, as well as waste-to-energy districts for recycling of waste streams toward effective nutrient management and rebuilding of healthy soils. Incorporating agriculture back into the city environment will benefit economic development, add value to food products, provide community-wide ecosystem enhancement, and promote healthy lifestyles by expanding access to nutritious foods, Luoni said.
“While there is much discussion about climate change and its impacts on water levels and weather, other looming sustainability challenges include food security and the ability to steward the natural resources and ecosystems on which healthy food production depends,” Luoni said. “Through almost complete reliance on industrial logics, we are systematically undermining our ability to sustain biological functioning in our landscapes as well as universal access to food. Since food policy and production is absent from American planning, Food City is an indispensible platform for asking how design and policy can affect the food system at the local scale of government.”
The interdisciplinary team at the University of Arkansas worked with local nonprofit groups dedicated to fighting hunger and poverty. This collaborative plan involved the Fay Jones School of Architecture, the department of biological and agricultural engineering, the Center for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability, the School of Law and its master of laws program in agricultural and food law, the department of food science, and the city of Fayetteville.
“Food City cannot be accomplished without the interdisciplinary collaboration shown by the Arkansas team,” Luoni said. “Besides food production, local foodsheds will require infrastructure for processing, distribution, water harvesting, and waste and nutrient management in a portfolio of water, soil, and conservation strategies. The positive multiplier benefits are huge in terms of economic development, ecosystem conservation, and the creation of healthy communities.”
Marty Matlock, professor of biological and agricultural engineering in the College of Engineering, and executive director for the University of Arkansas office for sustainability, led a class that worked with the Community Design Center’s team to evaluate soil, climate, and topography characteristics for this project.
“Sustainability begins with understanding our connection to and dependency on the land,” Matlock said. “This project created a template for cities to understand how they can design for the most essential ecosystem services such as provisioning food, recycling of nutrients, treatment of water, and creation of corridors for wildlife habitat. The genius of the approach the Community Design Center takes is that they design systems for people first. Luoni’s team focuses on human habitat ecological optimization, creating visions of a place where people want to live.”
“We were proud to contribute to Food City Scenario and impressed with the innovation and creativity that the Community Design Center brought to the task,” said Susan Schneider, director of the master of laws program in agricultural and food law and professor in the School of Law. “Interdisciplinary projects like this enhance our work and remind us of the need to work together as a community to solve urban and food system problems.” Schneider is also the co-author of a forthcoming book on urban agriculture that includes a section on Food City.
The Community Design Center was founded in 1995 as part of the Fay Jones School of Architecture. The center advances creative development in Arkansas through education, research and design solutions that enhance the physical environment. It has provided design and planning services to more than 45 communities and organizations across Arkansas, helping them to secure nearly $65 million in grant funding to enact suggested improvements. In addition to revitalizing historic downtowns, the center addresses new challenges in affordable housing, urban sprawl, environmental planning, and management of regional growth or decline. The center’s professional staff members are nationally recognized for their expertise in urban and public-interest design, and their work has received more than 90 design awards.