Urban Agriculture on the High Rise: How Vertical Farming will Influence the World’s Cities

By: Joseph Rinaldi    

Currently, about 4 billion people live in urban areas throughout the world, which roughly encompass’ 54% of the world’s population.[i] This percentage is projected to increase to over 58% by the year 2025.[ii] Tokyo, the largest megacity in the world, has reached a record breaking total of 37 million residents in its metro area, and the rest of the world’s top ten cities have all exceeded 18 million people each.[iii] With this steady population growth in the world’s urban areas, many countries face a food importation dilemma. With the rise of cities and the decline of rural development, growing and importing food and water into urban regions has become a challenge. In Singapore, more than 90% of its country’s food consumption comes from foreign countries.[iv] Food self-reliance seems like a fantasy for many countries with large urban populations, like Singapore; however, recent ventures in agriculture have discovered a solution. This major solution to urban food self-reliance is vertical farming.

Dr. Dickson Despommier, professor of public health at Columbia University, created the concept of “vertical farming” back in 1999.[v] Dr. Despommier and his students discovered that with a city, like New York, instead of looking towards flat land for food growth, the city should start looking up. Dr. Despommier and his class on medical ecology estimate that 30-story vertical farm towers could feed 50,000 people.[vi] Nevertheless, there has been much skepticism surrounding Dr. Despommier’s idea. Skyscrapers cost money, and so many other companies and businesses would make much higher bids to work in the building than agriculture firms and farmers.[vii] Many scientists and urban planners suggest that 30 stories is a bit of a stretch; however, smaller buildings, like 6 stories, may be just as effective and really help urban communities.[viii] Even though Dr. Despommier’s idea has attracted some criticism, other countries saw potential. Singapore’s EDITT (Ecological Design in the Tropics) Tower will be a 26 story high-rise in the center of Singapore.[ix] The skyscraper is pending construction, and it will consist of floors with organic vegetation, trees, local plants, trails, and shops.[x] It will satisfy both Singapore’s energy needs, as well as its hunger for local and organic foods.

Vertical farming is a unique way of adapting to society’s steady shift towards urbanization. Cities are getting bigger, and food is constantly imported. With vertical farming, urban communities will begin to experience the benefits of locally grown food and the importance of green energy/conservation. Food self-reliance for major metro areas via vertical farming should be at the forefront of global urban development, because it will lessen the stress on rural farm development and provide cities with the chance to feed their citizens on their own.

[i] Johan van der Heyden, Urban /rural Division of Countries for the Years 2015 and 2025, GeoHive (June 2, 2015), http://www.geohive.com/earth/pop_urban.aspx.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Johan van der Heyden, Global Population Statistics, GeoHive (June 2, 2015), http://www.geohive.com/.

[iv] Ravindra Krishnamurthy, Vertical Farming: Singapore’s Solution to Feed the Local Urban Population, The Permaculture Research Institute, (July 25, 2014).

[v] Bina Venkataraman, Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest, The New York Times (July 15, 2008), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/15/science/15farm.html.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Alexandra Kain, Singapore’s Ecological EDITT Tower, Inhabitat (October 15, 2008), http://inhabitat.com/editt-tower-by-trhamzah-and-yeang/.

[x] Id.