Food in the City – January 2021 Meetup – Circular Economy

‘Food in the city, 2021 meetups’ kicked off well as 64 circular economy enthusiasts joined us virtually on the last Wednesday of January. This international discussion brought us perspectives from different parts of the world – from Lebanon and London to the US and Spain – around the topic of circular design practices in food production and urban design.

To make the cities of the future, the conversations around the design principles which promote the circular model of reuse, recycle and sharing of components within the food production are valuable. In this meetup, we learned about urban applications of the circular economy through our speakers and participants.

The discussion around the circular projects, problems and solutions

Victoria Dietze from Humboldt university, Berlin introduced the CUBES Circle project. This project aims at developing agricultural systems where food is produced in standard production units which are connected and can mutually communicate, called ‘CUBES’. She also shared how urban farming could strengthen the urban food situation and solve the challenges that follow. To clarify further, she explained how a CUBES Circle unit works. (as shown below)

Image: Material flows within the CUBES Circle

Sharing more about this interesting project, she talked about the research focus and methodical approaches involved in the project. She highlighted the importance of different stakeholders, especially community buy-in during the development stages; she found that the general public seems to be skeptical about greening spaces if it may attract or foster pests or insects. This presents a challenge that must be overcome through community engagement. If you would like to find out more about the CUBES Circle project, visit their website here or check out their instagram for more updates.

Chris Schappeit (Founder, Farmlyplace GmbH) shared about how the urban farming methods such as hydroponics support a sustainable and circular model instead of a linear model of traditional farming. Plants grown hydroponically are of exceedingly high quality, occupy less space, and consume fewer resources than traditional growing methods. Additionally, hydroponic growing methods, in combination with vertical gardening, have aided in expanding the possibilities of urban gardening and indoor gardening which could support the green building solutions like urban greening of spaces by adding such smart vegetation.

Continuing the talk around greening of urban spaces, Jessica Weir (Analyst at adelphi Research GmbH – Hotels4Climate) talked about the relevance of such projects and the barriers in context of using them inside the cities. One of such barriers is to convince the stakeholders and generate the necessary funds. Jessica also mentioned a disparity in building codes, which in some places create or hinder an enabling environment for circular design. You can find one of her recent publications relevant to the topic here.

Key points about the challenges while attempting to incorporate such green solutions

What prevents the innovative concepts from making the changes happen?

The challenges around current government policies and politics are something that top the list. A possible solution could be to bring more startups to give a voice to these issues and spread awareness about the projects that aim for sustainable changes.

One of our participants, Tokelo Shai, working on a project that is exploring market opportunities for green technologies for urban food systems in Cape Town agreed to the above, sharing that the challenges in diffusion of such technologies are similar there as well i.e. ‘change in mindset and policies to provide growing space and land in cities.’

Another participant, Ryan Hinton in the US, highlighted the communal aspect of land use and the challenges around such projects. It is important to clear the doubts of the common public about such innovative projects.

How were the responses of our participants about projects around the circular economy?

We discussed how projects like CUBES Circle, urban farming can bring a positive change.

Madeleine Recknagel shared her experience working in Bangkok and Thailand saying that ‘89% of the soil is totally impaired. 60% of the vegetables contain high levels of toxins.’ She ran a local community garden, but faced a lot of challenges. Hence, “I see the projects like CUBES as having potential for Asia, as there we find megacities”, she said.

Naho Iguchi shared that there could be the potential in Japan for circular projects as the consumption of fish is quite unsustainable. In rural Japan, some people use fish to clean their vegetables. Watch this national geographic video recommended by Naho: Unusual Kitchen Helpers | Wild Japan by NAT GEO Wild This could inspire the circular models inside the cities as well.

The dialogue also included the points around …

  • What type of ownership models can be used in case of such projects
  • How to incorporate effective storytelling to inform and convince the short sighted investors & stakeholders
  • What could be the potential drivers of growth for these systems in food production (apart from consumer preferences for high quality food)
  • How to benefit from Green Financing (An example of Triodos Bank was shared during the conversation. It has interesting schemes for Green Finance)

What’s next in Food in the city?

Food in the City: How to Design Biophilic on 24. February 2021 @ 19:00 – 20:30 CET

Biophilic Design is the practice of connecting people and nature within our built environments and communities.

The key points for the upcoming February meetup:

  • Clearly defining biophilic design and people’s positive and negative perceptions of it in cities.
  • First steps & critical considerations needed to build biophilic cities.
  • As we all know the carbon-centered approach to sustainable architecture, why don’t we shift to a more human-centered approach?
  • How can we improve the overall well-being of our communities today? Moreover, how can we reverse the trend of urban disconnection from nature?
  • How can biophilic design benefit our everyday lives and the perception of food systems?

Register now for this free and online meetup. See you there! 🙂

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)

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