Read this book almost a year ago, but came across my notes recently while doing some clearing out and thought I would post an extended version of the review that I posted over at Archinect (here).
What is perhaps most interesting about this book, is it’s web presence and based on this it’s assumed audience. Based on a search via Google the top three reviews of the book are by a website which serves as the online hub for Transition Culture in the UK (see here), a site Energy Bulletin, which bills itself as a clearinghouse for all things related to peak global energy (see here), and Culi Blog, which is a culinary weblog by Debra Solomon, an artist and designer (Eds Note: Per Debra’s comment below she is a designer who works on urban renewal and urban planning – like projects) based in Amsterdam Netherlands, which focuses on food, food design and innovation (see here). Politically then, the book shares online company with those in society who are concerned with changing the current structure(s) of food and energy production politics. As, opposed to a more traditional or expected audience, of urban planning and design professionals.
This is especially interesting given that Elselvier, the publisher of the book, states on it’s website that; “This book on urban design extends and develops the widely accepted ‘compact city’ solution. It provides a design proposal for a new kind of sustainable urban landscape: Urban Agriculture.” It then goes on to list “Architects and architecture students” as it’s target audience.
There is one other aspect of interest, with regards to the book’s web audience. The perception of the book is highly influenced by these reviewers understanding of the concept of permaculture and the organizations attempts to live such an explicitly decisive life. In fact the reviewer over at Transition Culture wonder’s why the authors chose to invent a new term, in the first place. In a more structural critique the author questions, “Why do so few professional landscape designers call their work permaculture, and apply these principles?“. Such a line of questioning points to the opportunities available for designers and architects to develop closer links to more political active and directed groups. However, I would note that a key difference between the two terms, is that CPULS as a concept is more explicitly urban in scale and design(ed) in nature. Whereas, permaculture is “an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies” which is more explicitly agricultural and rural in character. If anything CPULS is permaculture blown up and re-thought for the urban or mega-urban scale and context.
The book, begins by outlining the theory and the evolution of CPULS as a concept. This section features a Utopian dream sequence of sorts, in which a London of 2045 is envisioned. This future is one of integrated, productive, green space and walkable, pedestrian/cyclist focused transportation networks. The public, open space of urban London serves as farm, market and site of leisure. London in 2045 is transformed, it’s urban fabric shaped by these new connective, productive spaces purposed for pleasure and public, civic use.
As a number of authors remind us that in the global South, urban agriculture never went out of style. In fact if anything it’s practice is growing as a result of rapid urbanization and population growth. Two models are reviewed. Urban agriculture as part of larger urban scale nutrient/waste recycling systems (think night soil and it’s collectors) was long practiced in urban China and the practice continues today at some scale, in spite of the rapid, urban-modern-ization. Cuba however is the more well reviewed case.
The second model Cuba, has long been studied as an example of a successful transition from an industrialized farming model to one more integrated and locally scaled. The transition in Cuba resulted from the withdrawal of Soviet farming and petroleum subsidies during the 1980s. The resulting system of “Organoponicos”, along with a host of other de-industrialized, nutrient/waste intensive, urban and peri-urban farming practices transformed the social, economic, agricultural and infrastructural-urban landscape of Cuba.The system was based on the idea of “Production in the community, by the community, for the community” and all efforts towards this goal were supported by the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture.
Later in the book Graeme Sheriff explores the relationship between permaculture and the concept of CPULs . Sheriff acknowledges there are similarities but suggests that CPULs as a concept is something beyond permaculture. The chief of insight of permaculture Sheriff suggests is the desire to create self-regulating systems which rely on sustainable energy/waste cycles. Next, in a section entitled, “Practical Visioning” Katrin Bohn and Andre Viljoen emphasize their interest in all urban agricultural practices whether vertical or horizontal, for edible or leisure, and labor intensive or mechanized. CPULS can’t be rushed, their arrival relies on two key strategies, Bohn and Viljoen believe.
A key strategy leading to the London of 2045 outlined in the beginning of the book, is the identifying and expansion of the current topography of the British “multi-use, shed and garden leisure” allotment system. In connection, they argue for the activation of empty or available areas (brown-fields for example). These small beginnings, expand over time in a linear way, providing “connectivity and space of encounters“.
However, what begins with the activation of unused land becomes a cannibalization. Existing roads and other infrastructural junkspace are re-purposed and when integrated with agriculture serve as bridging elements. It is from these continuous elements that the acronym CPUL is formed. The elements serve as public route and agricultural landscape and thus shape the topographical and experiential character of the city.