As we now stand on the threshold of the future, we are forced to reflect on the overarching question of how we want to spend our lives in the days ahead. This is not just about our individual lives, but about the whole human experience as a whole. This includes our home, our food, our work, our education and our family life, as well as the myriad factors that contribute to our contentment, prosperity and overall well-being. As we look more closely at this issue, we need to keep in mind the burgeoning trends in both our personal and professional environments, as well as the ways in which developments in science, technology and social consciousness may influence the course of our future.
The development of smart cities
A much-ballyhooed utopia in books and films years ago, the idea of smart cities controlled by technology and data now holds the very real potential to completely transform the places we would want to live. These utopian cities with their networked systems did not yet strive to improve the quality of urban life by increasing efficiency, promoting a sustainable environment and providing better services to their residents. These representations often overlook the human aspect of life in the city and focus more on technological progress than on the quality of life of the inhabitants.
In contrast, real projects such as the 15-minute city concept aim to create more liveable, sustainable and human-centred urban environments. This approach prioritises accessibility, community life and environmental sustainability over high-tech solutions. This approach encourages residents to live and work within a closer radius, which in turn helps avoid long commutes and fosters relationships within the community. However, the potential disadvantages must also be taken into account, such as the risk of isolation, the formation of urban enclaves and the difficulty of guaranteeing everyone equal access to the services they need.
Living Spaces, Smart Cities and the 15-minute city concept
Every day we discover more fascinating examples of trailblazers and creative initiatives that have set their sights on the future of urban living. First, however, let's take a closer look here at the concept of smart cities and the 15-minute city model. The movement began under the name "ville de quart d'heure" in Paris. The city is now considered a "pioneer" for this approach thanks to Carlos Moreno. The academic director of the Sorbonne Business School, had manifested the idea of the 15-minute city for Paris. The locavore movement, which promotes the consumption of locally sourced food, or the concept of the Kiezfarm fit perfectly with Moreno's approach. By combining such approaches, not only are local agricultural projects supported and transport-related carbon emissions reduced, but also a sense of community and connection to the ecosystem is fostered.
Moreno's dream of developing "people-friendly" commercial areas and "park-like urban walkways with trees" were the impetus for a fundamental change in the whole concept of urban planning. The provision of services in Paris was decentralised, leading to the creation of more bicycle lanes and the formulation of plans to expand open spaces in the city. A key aspect of this change has been the development of mixed-use facilities, such as sports centres that can support crafts or manufactures, and educational buildings that could become community spaces in the evenings or that could facilitate a Kiezfarm. The diverse use of urban spaces for diverse purposes also ensures that public spaces remain efficient and relevant to residents at all times of the day and night, during the week and even at weekends.
Europe is fertile ground for the development of new approaches in cities. As a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, Europe has quite involuntarily become a hub for new '15-minute cities', with Rome, Dublin and Utrecht as landmark examples. At the heart of this are four dimensions: Proximity, diversity of land use and people, density, and ubiquity. This approach offers an alternative to car-only urban and mobility planning techniques, thus also promoting a more sustainable and inclusive urban environment. Currently, a total of 16 cities around the world have either officially adopted or are in the process of adopting a "15-minute city" plan.
These examples show that the concept of the smart and intelligent (15-minute) city has the potential to improve the quality of life by transforming our urban environment, increasing the sustainability of all components and reducing our environmental impact. However, to successfully implement this paradigm, thorough planning, active participation of the population and efficient application of technologies are required. It will be fascinating to see how more cities around the world adapt this idea and what impact it will have on the living spaces of the future. As we redesign our urban landscapes and living spaces, another important aspect of our lives comes into focus - our food systems. The choices we make about what we eat and how and where it is produced have far-reaching impacts - not only on our health, but also on our planet. This brings us to our next topic:
It seems conceivable that in the future our food systems will place more emphasis on health and sustainability. With the increasing popularity of plant-based diets, lab-grown meats and precision agriculture, we are on our way to a more environmentally friendly and ethical food system. The evolution of our living spaces into smart cities and the introduction of the 15-minute city concept have profound implications for our food systems. As we reshape our urban landscapes, we must also rethink the way we produce, distribute and consume our food. Integrating local food production and community-supported agriculture into our urban planning strategies is not just a matter of convenience or sustainability, but a fundamental shift in the way we understand and interact with our food systems.
In the context of smart cities, technology can play a critical role in optimising agronomic practices, reducing food waste and improving supply chain transparency. Urban farming technologies such as vertical crop production, hydroponics and aquaponics (incl. fish farming) can transform our urban landscapes into productive landscapes that contribute to local food security, reduce the environmental footprint of food transport and untangle logistics.
The 15-minute city concept explicitly highlights the importance of local food systems. By ensuring that key services, including fresh food markets, are within 15 minutes, we can create a closer connection between city dwellers and their food sources. Community supported agriculture, as with the neighbourhood farm concept, can thrive in this environment, encouraging seasonal consumption, reducing food transportation and strengthening local neighbourhood economies.
In addition, these localised food systems can build community cohesion and resilience. They can serve as a platform for education on sustainable food practices and instil a sense of environmental stewardship among city residents. They can also contribute to public health goals by increasing access to fresh, nutritious food.
In essence, transforming our living spaces provides an opportunity to reshape our food systems to be more sustainable, equitable and responsive to our local conditions. In our quest to create cities that are not only smart, but livable, integrating local food production and community-supported agriculture will be key to ensuring that our urban future is nourishing in every way.
As we look more closely at sustainable and healthy food, it is inspiring to see many innovative projects around the world that are making great strides in this area. Let's take a look at some of these initiatives from Europe, Africa and the MENA region that are not only addressing the challenges of food security and self-reliance, but also paving the way for a sustainable food future.
Developing Innovation in School and Society
DISC (Developing Innovations in School and Community Cultivation) is an initiative in Uganda. The initiative, in partnership with Slow Food International, teaches students about indigenous plant species in the hope of creating a closer connection between young people and food. Founders Edward Mukiibi and Roger Sserunjogi have contributed not only to improving nutrition and agribusiness practices, but also to reviving a thriving culinary culture and improving knowledge about local food. This project is a compelling example of how education and community engagement can promote sustainable and healthy eating habits.
[Source:] Reporter, G. S. 10 innovative food projects reconnecting eaters and producers. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/10-innovative-projects-farming-food-producers (2014).
The SANAD Fund for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (Middle East and North Africa).
The SANAD Fund has supported the agricultural sector in the MENA region with more than US$156 million in loans and capacity building. Financing provided by the Fund has enabled local agribusinesses to invest in equipment and machinery and to receive key inputs for the production of locally grown food. In addition, SANAD's Technical Assistance Facility (TAF) has been responsible for the implementation of about 20 agribusiness-focused initiatives. These programmes have offered partners and sector support to facilitate further agricultural credit. One of these projects has been the development of an Accelerator Programme to support over 30 promising agribusiness entrepreneurs in Lebanon and Jordan to build their businesses through training, mentoring and other forms.
[Source:] The SANAD Fund addresses the rising urgency of food security in the MENA region. Customer https://sanad.lu/latest-updates/the-sanad-fund-addresses-the-rising-urgency-of-food-security-in-the-mena-region .
Centres for Green Innovation in the Agri-Food Sector (in Europe and worldwide)
This initiative, which is being implemented in 14 different countries in Africa as well as in India and Vietnam, was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The Green Innovation Centres provide primary support to small businesses in 21 different value chains in the form of advisory services, training and education. The aim is to enable them to use input-based, technological, knowledge-based and organisational innovations to increase their production, income and climate resilience in the long term. This not only leads to the creation of new jobs in the food industry, but also ensures that a higher share of the value added to agribusiness products remains in the countries themselves, especially in rural regions.
[Source] Giz. Green Innovation Centres for the agriculture and food sector. giz.de https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/32209.html (2023).
These programmes illustrate the power of novel techniques and collaborative efforts to improve local food production and food security. In doing so, they contribute to the long-term viability and resilience of our food systems. These efforts exemplify how pioneering techniques can revolutionise the way we produce and consume food, making our food systems more environmentally friendly and health-oriented. They also highlight the importance of collaboration and education to achieve these improvements.
The nexus of flexibility, lifelong learning and technological advances
The future of working and learning is inextricably linked to the intersection of technology, science and social consciousness. As we move towards a more flexible and continuous learning model, the role of technology and science becomes increasingly important. The advent of AI, machine learning and other digital tools has the potential to revolutionise our work and classroom spaces, making them more adaptable and personalised. This shift towards digital platforms has also made it possible to break down geographical barriers by enabling remote working and online learning.
In the context of food systems, this shift has profound implications. As our understanding of sustainable practices grows, so does the need for education and skills in these areas. Local food production and community-based agribusiness, key components of sustainable food systems, require, among other things, a deeper understanding of different sciences and technologies. So what knowledge and skills are required for vertical agribusiness and hydroponics?
Urban Agribusiness Learning
Vertical agronomy and hydroponics represent a significant departure from traditional farming methods and require a unique set of knowledge and skills. These innovative farming methods are particularly relevant in the context of smart cities, where space is at a premium and the need for local, sustainable food production is high.
- Plant biology: A deep understanding of plant biology is crucial for vertical agronomy and hydroponics. This includes knowledge of plant physiology, e.g. how plants take up nutrients, photosynthesise and grow, as well as understanding the specific needs of different plant species.
- Hydroponics and nutrient solutions: Hydroponics involves growing plants without soil and instead with nutrient-rich water solutions. It is important to understand the composition of these solutions and how to adapt them to the different plants and how to control the pH.
- Controlled environment agriculture (CEA): Vertical agriculture often takes place in controlled environments, such as greenhouses or indoor farms. Knowledge of CEA includes understanding how to control and optimise environmental factors such as light, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels for plant growth.
- Lighting technologies: Since vertical farms often rely on artificial lighting, it is important to understand different lighting technologies (such as LED lamps) and their effects on plant growth. This includes knowledge of photobiology, the study of the effect of light on living organisms.
- Systems engineering: Vertical farms and hydroponic systems are complex and require a good understanding of systems engineering. This includes planning and managing the physical infrastructure, water circulation systems, lighting and climate control systems.
- Data analysis and automation: Modern vertical farms often use sensors and automation to monitor and control growing conditions. Skills in data analysis can help farmers interpret this data and make informed decisions. Familiarity with automation technologies can also be beneficial.
- Sustainability and resource management: Understanding the principles of sustainability is key to running a successful vertical farm. This includes knowledge of water and energy conservation techniques, waste management and the ability to assess the environmental impact of agronomic practices.
As we delve into the intricacies of vertical farming and hydroponics, it is important to recognise the potential conflicts that can arise when transitioning from traditional, soil-based agronomy. The shift to these innovative farming methods can create tensions with property and asset management, as well as with traditional and organic farmers. Managing these conflicts requires careful mediation and risk mitigation to ensure harmonious co-existence of the different farming methods. Although permaculture principles are not directly applicable to vertical farming and hydroponics, the overarching goal of creating sustainable, efficient and local food systems is a common thread.
By combining scientific knowledge with innovative farming methods, we can work towards creating food systems that are resilient, sustainable and suitable for the urban landscapes of the future. Here, the role of lifelong learning as an accelerator in change management becomes clear. As we transition to more sustainable food systems, continuous learning and training are needed to equip people with the knowledge and skills they need to contribute effectively to these systems.
In addition, the concept of smart cities further links these elements. Smart cities, with their integrated systems and data-driven approaches, can provide platforms for local food production and community-based agribusiness. For example, technology-enabled urban agribusiness initiatives can transform rooftops and unused land into productive green spaces. These initiatives not only contribute to food security, but also promote community engagement and education, and thus a culture of sustainability.
However, this intersection of work, learning, technology and food systems also requires greater social awareness. As we use technology and science to transform our workplaces, classrooms and food systems, we must ensure that these advances are accessible to all and promote equity and inclusion. We must also be mindful of potential challenges such as the digital divide and the risk of job displacement through automation, and work to mitigate these issues.
So the future of work and learning, underpinned by flexibility and lifelong learning, is closely intertwined with advances in technology and science and our evolving food systems. As we navigate this complex landscape, our social consciousness must guide us and ensure that this progress is inclusive, sustainable and beneficial for all.
Some compelling examples show us how these concepts are being translated and innovated in real-world scenarios.
Innovating for a lifelong learning future
The UPCEA report entitled Innovation for a Future of Lifelong Learning: This project focuses on the importance of lifelong learning (LLL) as a social good. It explores how LLL could be further developed as a public value creation for the long-term benefit of nations, governments, cities and organisations. It addresses the difficulties LLL encounters, such as labour market dynamics, the structure and practices of higher education, and the demands of learning in the 21st century. The project presents an integrated framework for the future of lifelong learning, with a focus on social equity, ethical leadership and sustainability.
The SEE Institute at the Sustainable City in Dubai
Located in the Sustainable City in Dubai, the SEE Institute is another compelling example of a pioneering initiative in the field of work and learning. The institute serves as a hub for education, research and business incubation in the field of sustainability with the aim of promoting the growth of sustainable practices both regionally and globally.
- Education and research: The SEE Institute is the first education provider in the region dedicated entirely to sustainability education. It leads, promotes and supports research projects that focus on all three pillars of sustainability, with an emphasis on sustainability in the built environment. The Institute's Research Centre strives to advance sustainable practices through research initiatives conducted in collaboration with industry, governments and academia.
- Innovation and Business Incubator: The Institute builds, scales and invests in businesses committed to solving global sustainability problems. It hosts a Dubai SME certified business incubator and accelerator for innovative start-ups focused on social, environmental and economic sustainability.
- Immersive learning: As a centre for innovative education, the SEE Institute offers a unique approach to sustainability education using XR technology.
- Net-Zero-Carbon building: the Institute operates the first net-zero emissions building in the region with the aim to inspire and accelerate climate action and low-carbon living through education, research projects and global conferences.
[Source:] SEE Institute Hub of Sustainable Education and Research. SEE Institute https://www.seeinstitute.ae/ (2023).
Anecdotes and treasures
Throughout our lives, we often stumble upon treasures where we least expect them. My encounter with the SEE Institute was one such chance discovery. I was on a world tour to quench my thirst for knowledge and experience. My journey took me to Sustainable City, a beacon of sustainability in the middle of the arid desert near Dubai.
It was almost a coincidence that I found myself at the doorstep of the SEE Institute. As I stepped through the doors, I was greeted by an oasis of knowledge and innovation, and by Dr Jacinta Dsilva, Director of Research and Development, in a place where the principles of sustainability are not just preached, but practiced. The Institute was a testimony to the power of lifelong learning, a place where curiosity was encouraged and knowledge freely shared.
The SEE Institute was more than just a building in the desert; it was a microcosm of the world we could build - a world that values sustainability, welcomes continuous learning and fosters a sense of community. This chance encounter was a stark reminder that sometimes the most profound lessons are found in the most unexpected places.
These initiatives by the SEE Institute exemplify the future of work and learning, where sustainability, innovation and lifelong learning are at the forefront. These initiatives illustrate the ongoing efforts to adapt to the changing nature of work and learning and the importance of adaptability and lifelong learning in relation to these developments.
As we think about the future, we need to strike a balance between progress and maintaining our fundamental beliefs about how people want to live their lives. The kind of future we want is one in which technological innovation and progress enrich our lives rather than control them. It is a future where sustainability is not an afterthought but a guiding principle, where justice and inclusion are not concepts but realities, and where our freedoms and rights are not sacrificed but preserved. This is the future we want for ourselves. To successfully navigate the complexities of our rapidly changing environment, our collective efforts, insight and commitment are needed to realise this vision of the future.