Edible Infrastructures is an investigation into a new mode of urbanism which considers food as an integral part of the energy infrastructure. Our aim is to build an algorithmic systems-based computational model which: 

  1. Creates an urban ecology that provides for its residents within the given boundaries of the system via local, multi-scalar, distributed food production. 
  2. Enhances agricultural production by reconnecting the traditional waste-nutrient cycle which was lost with industrial farming. 
  3. De-couples food/energy costs from fossil fuels by limiting food transportation at all levels, from source to table. 
We begin by coupling urban consumers to productive surface area within a cellular automata type computational model. This relationship forms the basis for exploring emergent patterns in the distributions dwellings and agriculture within a given area. Various parameters are introduced, such as compactness and a gradient of production intensity types in order to study their effects on evaluation criteria, such as population density, density distribution, coverage and open space.

Our work builds upon existing research into the metabolism of cities and urban regions, focusing on the relationship of food sources and distribution networks to urban morphology. We aim to go beyond predominant approaches which consider urban farming as a small-scale leisure activity, but without resorting to the highly-centralized mechanistic proposals such as vertical farming towers. We position our work as an integrated model which considers both the productive and the social aspects of food production as part of a new urban experience.

Food Crisis

As urban sprawl continues to weave a low-density ex-urban condition between the cities of the world's mega-regions, agricultural production is driven further from urban consumers while claiming more and more of our forests and other natural habitats. Food is produced in distant lands using cheap labour and imported using relatively cheap fossil fuels. This increased separation of urban populations from their food sources has had considerable social, economic and environmental ramifications which, until recent times, have been overlooked as the economies of the current food system continued to produce increasing convenience and lower prices.

This model is unprecedented in biological and ecological systems and the unsustainable consequences of the global predominance of such a system are beginning to become clear as the world population marked a turning point recently with over half of the world’s population living in cities for the first time in our history (UN, 2010)(1). Over 3 billion people now live in cities, many of whom leave behind generations of knowledge of growing and gathering food, relying instead on an anonymous supply of food managed by commercial interests. This growing alienation from where our food comes from and how it is produced is likely a root cause for the rise in many dietary linked health problems as many urbanites consider food as little more than a necessary fuel, disregarding its sources, means of production and quality.

Environmentally, the increased production requirements to feed this population are taxing our available land resources. The UN estimates that by 2050 the population of the world’s cities will double, requiring a land area the size of Brazil to feed these new urbanites. Not only are we running out of land, but the vegetation that is being cleared for agriculture is our primary defense against climate change. As urban regions grow to accommodate the influx of people, their food will come from undeveloped and often unprotected regions. Already “an estimated 1.7 million hectares of Amazonian rainforest are lost to farmland every year”(2) contributing to our inability to maintain carbon levels and escalating the rate of climate change.

Worldwide food riots in 2007-2008, and the more recent uprisings in Northern Africa in 2011, foreshadow that economically the system is perilously close to a tipping point as well. Relying on fossil fuels for transport, fertilizer, pesticides and industrial processes, food prices have spiked recently as the world approaches (or has already surpassed) peak oil(3). The UN forecasts that food prices are expected to rise by 70% by 2050, attributing rising energy prices and climate change among the key factors(4). 


The problems with the current food system are rooted in a longtime undervaluing of the economic costs of natural capitol1. As the underlying resources that enabled our current food system become scarcer we can begin to see that the founding assumptions that have led to the spatial separation of production and consumption are flawed. Taking a long-term view paves the way for a reexamination of this model. While historically, moving agriculture to the bounds of available transport seemed inevitable in light of high land prices within urban areas, when viewed through the lens of the coming crisis these economic assumptions can no longer be considered a given.

We propose a systems based model for urban growth which considers food as an integral part of the energy infrastructure. In contrast to the current urban model where food is an input and waste is an output, ours is an integrated approach considering the urban region as an ecological system with the potential for a closed loop of energy, nutrient and waste cycles. There is a long history of agriculture benefitting from the waste of the pre-industrialized city and while much research has begun into modern techniques our primary focus is on the spatial organization of such a system.

Using the Megalopolis as a test case, we will examine the implementation of our model within the urban region at different positions and scales. We will consider the agricultural and the urban as an extensible system of cellular units which organize themselves into an interdependent network of ‘production cells’ and ‘consumer cells’. The model will take local conditions as inputs, tailoring the output to accommodate for the varying land use requirements within urban, suburban and ex-urban contexts. At the macro scale, the result will be a gradient of production intensities which responds to local variation allowing for a heterogeneous distribution of productive surfaces and built densities. The ability of our system to generate a variety of solutions (in the form of urban morphologies) in response to the given criteria is key to the successful implementation of our proposal and why a procedural/ computational approach is employed

The fitness of the generated urban tissues will be based on their ability to accommodate the productive surface requirements for a given population density while balancing several opposing parameters:

1. scale and geometry of agricultural surfaces appropriate to the intended production intensities

2. density criteria (including Floor Area Ratio, Ground Coverage, and Network Density) to achieve desired characteristics of urban spaces

3. minimized travel distances (between production and consumers)

We see in the interaction of these spatially competing but functionally interdependent programmes, opportunities for new urban typologies which address the competing demands for urban space as well as the large amounts of surface area required to feed urban populations. Local production of food will result in significant reductions in transport costs and environmental impacts and benefit from the overlaps in energy-waste cycles.  We believe the result of this new spatial model will be to reacquaint consumers with their food sources, find new surfaces for production of food and to de-couple food costs from the price of fossil fuels.