The Rise of Urban Agriculture

Industrial agriculture is not kind to the environment and has been attributed to deforestation of the rainforest to the massive bee die-off. Yet, we find ourselves attached to this 20th century model of centralized production. Lucky for civilization, this is changing!

Small scale urban agriculture is getting large enough as an industry to compete with the large scale industrial production.

Urban agriculture in large cities goes a long way in redefining the food industry, he said. Piloted by Alvarez and fellow Humber College Graduate Craig Petten, Aqua Greens is trying to do just that with an innovative yearlong growing cycle. They use a process call “aquaponics” to produce basil, chives and arugula for restaurants and grocery stores around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Aquaponics is a hybrid of hydroponics and aquaculture, Alvarez explains. Hydroponics refers to growing in soil-free mineral nutrient solutions, usually water; aquaculture describes the farming of fish and other water-based organisms. Aqua Greens uses a closed-loop ecosystem composed of both processes to grow their produce. Plant roots are placed in the tank that contains a fish called tilapia; water containing waste materials from the fish is absorbed by the plants, who use the waste as a sort of fertilizer. The water is then recycled back into the tank.

Read more.

Read More

Even More Evidence That Bike-Friendly Cities Are Better Cities

Bicycles are wonderful contraptions that help people be healthier, have better commutes, and are a wonderful solution to car-based traffic jams. Yet, there are still cities out there that hate cyclists (like Toronto and it’s crack-smoking mayor). In a more civilized place, Aukland, they are embracing bike-friendly infrastructure to make the city better for people and for businesses!

The researchers looked at Auckland, New Zealand, which is currently not a particularly bike-friendly place, and used computer simulations to model different scenarios for new bike-related investments, including regular bike lanes, lanes shared with buses, and fully separated lanes.

They found huge differences: If the city built a network of separated lanes and slowed down traffic speeds, it could increase cycling by 40% by 2040, but adding a few lanes in a few places might only increase bike traffic by 5%. The more people ride, the more the cost savings would add up for Auckland–the biggest factor being a reduction in health care costs. A smaller investment would have little impact at all; the city is so bike-unfriendly that major changes are needed.

Read more.

Read More

A Good City is an Environmentally Friendly One

The urban environment can benefit from more, well, environment. More research is coming out that proves something that many urbanites already know: where there is green there is more peace. Cities with good access to nature and have more trees spread throughout the urban space are better places to live.

Urban neighbourhoods with more green space have lower crime levels and interpersonal violence, according to research from the University of Washington. The study shows that public housing residents with trees and natural landscapes nearby reported 25 per cent fewer acts of domestic violence and aggression, as well as roughly 50 per cent fewer total crimes than other buildings with sparse green space.

Green space doesn’t just help people shake the blues: According to a major British study, people who live near forests or the ocean live longer than those in urban centres, even adjusting for other factors.

Prof. Ellard, who is working on a book on place and psychology, recently conducted a set of experiments in New York, Berlin and Mumbai. People were asked to walk a specific route while giving self-assessments of their moods and feelings, while their heart rate and sweat levels were measured for signs of stress.

Read more.

Read More

A Call to Think Bigger About Transit

The way we get around in North America is changing from a work-home orientation to a node based network with multiple destinations. At first cars were used to fulfil this but as traffic worsens we need to rethink how we all get around. The solution, of course, is to kick the addiction to owning cars.

This raises bigger questions about the role of TOD in shared transport networks. One of the reasons services like Uber and Lyft, not to mention autonomous cars, make some planners nervous is because they don’t have a fixed node associated with them. So how do we continue to plan around them and for them? What is their relationship to transit? And, by extension, to transit-oriented development?

To answer these questions we need to re-think what transit is, just as we’re re-thinking what TOD is. If a chain of autonomous vehicles with vehicle-to-vehicle communications operate in a train-set type format, is that functioning just as transit would? Is that more or less efficient than the current local bus systems in some cities? I know this scares some people to talk about, and the answer often seems to be some sort of litmus test as to whether or not you really support public transportation, but I think to have an honest conversation we have to get rid of the sacred cows.

Read more.

Read More

Doctors Say Healthy People Come From Good Urban Design

A new report written by a handful of doctors titled Improving Health Care by Design concludes that in order to have a healthy populace we need cities designed for health. There is nothing startling in the report but it does provide one more reference and tool for people to use inspire positive change in their own communities.

The results: if we want healthy people, we need to build healthy communities. This means, the doctors suggest, that our communities need to made more conducive to walking, cycling, and public transit. The report concludes with calls for “major changes” in community design across the GTHA.

These are not perhaps particularly novel observations, few would argue that more opportunities for physical activity leads to better overall health. But the report, written as it was by doctors, adds leverage to these ideas by attempting to quantify more specifically, the health effects of good community planning.

Read more.

Read More