The Hanging Gardens of the Future

Green Futures, the sustainable solutions magazine, recently featured an article on the subject of urban farming.  They’re basically talking about what we here at Rooftop Ecology will soon be putting into practice.

“Every one of us will own a ‘farm in a box’, which will sit on our balcony, roof or next to a window. Advances in aeroponics – growing in a mist of nutrients, rather like in a rainforest – will give us emissions-neutral food at the heart of our cities.

These boxes would be supplemented by neighbourhood vertical farms housed in the redundant high-rise office blocks we no longer commute to, and the multi-storey carparks we no longer need. They will employ closed-loop systems, generating their own energy and harvesting and recycling rainwater. Front gardens, flat roofs and patches of wasteland will also become mini-market gardens, helping to green, cool and feed the city.

The full article is here:

I agree with this article for the most part. What I disagree with is the idea of having closed loop systems. Such systems tend to be envisioned rather narrowly, missing out on the possibilities that come from borders, linkage and connections.

If you accept the idea that energy and materials can neither be created not destroyed, merely turned into different forms, then closed systems would be stifling in its constraints. I tend to side with ZERI on this – ZERI methodology is more of an attempt at an infinite cycle, constantly using energy from the sun and material from the earth’s surface and oceans to power an ever more complex of beneficial linkages, such that absolutely nothing is wasted.

Nature is chock a block with systems of unbelievable complexity such that nothing is wasted. To think that a human designed closed system would be the ultimate is to lack vision.

Additionally, aquaponics (fish and plants in gravel) beats hydroponics (plants in solutions) into a cocked hat. The reason is that fish-plants-fish beats plants-plants. Add recyclers like earthworms, fungi and black soldier fly and you have recyclers-fish-plants-humans- and so on. You can’t get complexity if you restrict yourself to ‘just’ growing plants. Plants use animals, algae, fungi to complete their cycles, so we should also.

Furthermore, looking at it as being merely a food growing process is to miss out on the energy channeling potential. For the moment forget energy generation, think energy reduction because a NEGAWATT is so much cheaper to obtain than a MEGAWATT. Plants will perform this service for free, while doing everything else – it doesn’t get much cheaper than free.

So you see, these processes we’re developing also make buildings better. The benefits spread out to society and particularly to infrastructure:

Also Emission Neutral? Plants remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, some of it can get back there but you can slow the process down a lot. Additionally some of the carbon taken in by plants can be turned into biochar and sequestered in the soil for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. That’s getting into the heavy carbon negative territory. I removing carbon from the atmosphere and putting it into the soil in a form that doesn’t lead back to the atmosphere again.


Finally, “Box” is a particularly inappropriate concept in this regard, because what we’re talking about has no walls or boundaries. Use “infinite webs” instead. Some might say you can’t design the infinite. I say look at the the massive networks we have which are composed of simple units connected to each other – one example would be the internet.


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