Resources for built environment practitioners fostering more equal, healthy and sustainable places.
This year, the Black
Lives Matter movement enabled our
society to rethink and focus on the politics of public space, still dominated by symbols of
our colonial past. The history of urban planning has not always reflected
equity for less powerful groups. Rather it has often reinforced the status quo,
injustice, and spatial segregation. As Neely and
“a spatial perspective can provide
particularly useful lens and language for locating and understanding persistent
racial processes” (2011: 1934). Indeed, “echoes
from London and Berlin to Tokyo and Seoul continue to spotlight the workings of
institutional racism in different national contexts. All of this has unfolded
against the backdrop of a coronavirus pandemic that is disproportionately
devastating the world’s most vulnerable” (2020).
As the global reckoning with
systemic racism was generated by the historic wave of protests in response to
the disproportionate, increasingly
televised and often unjustified
shootings of Black Americans by police, Planning for Justice emerged in the
summer of 2020 as a coalition of graduate students, alumni and faculty in
Regional and Urban Planning Studies at the London School of Economics. The
coalition was built on the recognition of an immediate need to acknowledge our
past and establish long term strategies involving an equal representation of
communities in the co-creation of places. The effort resulted in collaborative and multidisciplinary digital
library of both accessible articles and academic material, to offer
planners, community groups and the general public information and inspiration on how to design
more just cities.
The group, led by Associate
Professor Nancy Holman (London
School of Economics), explained how “structural racism is ingrained into
urban policy throughout the globe—and likewise within the academic and
professional institutions that dominate our field. As benefactors, we can
educate ourselves and use positions of power to champion redistributive justice”.
Katie Mulkowsky, graduate in
Regional and Urban Planning Studies at the London School of Economics who first
envisioned the idea of crafting a digital library collecting literature on the
interplay between race and space to rethink the role of urban planning, reported
“Planning for Justice began as a collaborative,
open-source document that gathered accessible articles, academic work and
action items relevant to the events of the summer. As new incidents of police
brutality in America sparked reckonings with institutional racism throughout my
country and the wider world, I began reflecting on the role that urban planning
has historically played in producing systemic inequalities everywhere. From
post-apartheid South Africa to the boroughs of East London, the disciplining of
space has long been wielded as an explicit device of power that narrates access
to basic resources and economic opportunities. After building a team at the London School of Economics, we
therefore worked throughout the summer and fall of 2020 to digitise a resource
library and launch a blog that fosters reflection on the questions of
socio-spatial exclusion which are relevant to the contexts that our students
come from. These issues do not map onto every city in the same way, but we hope
that dialogue across places can reveal common problems and foster creative
Hence, the built environment has often embodied a spatial representation
of structural inequalities that clearly manifested in housing and transport policies, as well as the politics of public space. Those inequalities have never been racially
neutral. Therefore, the urban planning profession, which often induced community’
segregation, promoting redlining and divided cities grounded on social and
racial injustice, has now to openly commit to fostering more equal, healthy and
Therefore, Planning for Justice has the main goal of expanding its digital library as a democratic tool for learning and advocacy. Additionally, Planning
for Justice is building a team of collaborators from urban institutions and
civic organisations in cities around the world. The scope is elevating the
voices of community groups and social justice advocates who have long been encouraging
more inclusive public commons. Planning for Justice is explicitly committed to
anti-racist planning efforts and aim to disrupt legacies of uneven development
through scholarship, dialogue and the promotion of progressive projects, welcoming
multimedia and creative work.
Peeples, L. (2020). “What the data say about police brutality and racial bias —
and which reforms might work” Nature, London, 19 June. Available at:
Fowler and Calkins reported how blacks were significantly more likely to
be unarmed and pose no threat in contrast to whites. More at: DeGue,
S., Fowler, K.A. and Cynthia Calkins (2016) “Deaths due to use of lethal force
by law enforcement: Findings from the National Violent Death Reporting System,
17 U.S. States, 2009-2012”. American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
51(5 Suppl 3):S173-S187, doi:10.1016/j-amepre.2016.08.027. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6080222/.
policy has not usually represented a mainstream domain for urban planning.
However, as Professor Kevin Morgan argued now ten years ago, this “puzzling
omission” is not justifiable anymore given the multifunctional character of the
food system with his effects on different policy sectors and the now recognized
belief that it cannot be automatically relegated to the rural policy domain
(2010: 341). Accordingly, Thomas Forster et Al. collected best practices from
cities around the world to demonstrate the breadth of food policy and programmatic
work that is occurring in urban areas, proposing a wide range of solutions for
Mayors (2015). Their collection of policy solutions showed how “cities are
moving towards an integrated approach to food systems and there are wide
interest and experimentation in inter-departmental institutional mechanisms”
(Forster et Al. 2015:17)
this context, the city of London shows a complex governance system (Travers
2002: 787) which at a first sight does not seem to leave much space to food
policy. Thus, London has a two-tier structure with 32 boroughs plus the City of
London representing local interests and the Greater London Authority (GLA),
consisting of the Mayor and the Assembly, in charge of the London region
(Travers 2018: 340). The London boroughs are responsible for local services
delivery. In terms of policy competences, they run social care, environmental
policies, road management, public health, social housing, waste management and
they can supervise local schools (Travers 2018: 348). Whilst the Mayor
establishes the strategic framework for the boroughs and the London plan, he
also holds executive powers over transport – chairing the executive board of
Transport for London – policing, fire, emergency services, London’s growth and
economy. He even has a shared competence in housing and regeneration policy
(Burdett and Rode 2015). By contrast, food policy in the UK appears fragmented
amongst different policy sectors and layers. In particular, the multilevel
nature of the food sector led food to be considered a “wicked issue” for
policymaking and apparently unable to fit the policy system (Parsons, Barling
and Lang 2018: 212). Consequently, an evident policy opportunity emerged for
urban food policy, with the city of London experimenting new policy structures
and promoting policy change.
the last years, the city of London has strengthened its commitment to food
policy. The increased powers of the Mayor and the GLA enabled them to find new
policy opportunities and address relevant issues for the capital, even in
absence of strategic responsibilities. And food is one of these cases. Indeed,
the Mayor and the GLA “consult widely and work closely with London
organizations – boroughs, the private sector and voluntary bodies, in a new
inclusive style of politics” (Pilgrim 2006: 226). Moreover, the Mayor has to
enhance residents’ health and wellbeing, by also promoting social and economic
development (Halliday and Barling 2018: 186). Hence, food policymaking can be
enlisted within this duty. However, the creativity of Mayors in using their
powers (Blick and Dunleavy 2017: 4) explicitly manifested concerning food. In
fact, the current Mayor Sadiq Khan promoted a very interventionist policy
campaign banning junk food advertisements from Transport for London, relying on
its strategic direction over transport policy (Hawkes and Parsons 2019: 5).
This policy action was firstly developed on-the-ground knowledge released by
London boroughs (Hawkes and Parsons 2019: 5) and it showed how the complexity
of London governance provides several policy opportunities encouraging the
emergence of a complex urban food governance system. Additionally, the current
London Plan provides support for food growing, local food production,
encourages food waste management, aims to improve Londoners’ access to quality
and healthy food (GLA 2016). Moreover, the plan intends to tackle food poverty
by increasing the provision of land for food growing in London (GLA 2016: 323).
Finally, it calls for the implementation of a new London Food Strategy (GLA
2016: 323). This strategy exemplifies the pan London commitment to food
policymaking. The most recent – promoted by Mayor Sadiq Khan – was finally
approved in 2018 (Hawkes and Parsons 2019: 4). It openly aims to guarantee that
“all Londoners have access to healthy and sustainable food” (GLA 2018: 9) and
“highlights how food is connected to everything we do as a society: it affects
the environment, it drives our economy, affects our health and it is a central
part of our cultural life” (GLA 2018: 7). Among its policy objectives, it
differs from past food strategies in its promises to “tackle food poverty,
child obesity and unhealthy food environments” (Hawkes and Parsons 2019: 4).
implementation of the London Food Strategy has been supported by the London
Food Programme, which is part of the GLA Regeneration and Economic Development
Policy Unit. The Food Programme team also cooperates with food partners in the
private, public and third sectors to deliver and monitor a wide range of
projects which may concern public health, social welfare and environmental
policy issues. It also works closely with the London Food Board. The board
counsels the Mayor on food priorities for London and it is composed of experts
from academia, the third and the private sector. Finally, London boroughs’
voice is heard through the Borough Food Sub-Group of the London Food Board
(BFSG), which is primarily composed of officials from London boroughs’ public
health teams (Hawkes and Parsons 2019: 5). It aims to strengthen the
relationship between the GLA and London boroughs as regards food policymaking
and reduce policy fragmentation. Since the Mayor has limited powers on
food-related issues and boroughs have no obligation to follow his
recommendations, the subgroup offers a more democratic arena for discussion
(Halliday and Barling 2018). Moreover, the London Food Programme works in
partnership with Sustain, an alliance of food and farming organizations, which
supports London boroughs developing Food Poverty Action Plans (GLA n.d.). Sustain
also releases every year the report “Beyond the Food Bank” to assess boroughs’
signs of progress in meeting food objectives over the year. The report shares
every year what each London borough is doing on food to generate positive competition
among each other.
this context, London Boroughs – like other local authorities in the UK – have a
wide range of policy levers to produce long-term food policy change, and
address social, economic and environmental issues as well (Marceau 2018: 3). Food
Poverty Action Plans represent one of these levers through which local
authorities can work with local partners to tackle food poverty at the local
level (Marceau 2018: 3). Here, the limited Mayoral powers and resources as
regards food policymaking explain how several food policy networks and
partnerships emerged, especially in London, to fill the gaps that neither city
nor local politics managed to compensate. Thus, a food partnership represents a
consortium of organizations, ideally from the public, voluntary, faith and
community sectors, who locally commit to working together and tackling food
poverty (Sustain 2020). In 2017 around 50 cross-sector food partnerships have
been set up in the UK as part of the Sustainable Food Cities movement (Davies
2017: 3). Once established, they are generally constituted by cross-sector
bodies. Davies reports that food partnerships may take different shapes,
relying on a more formalized or more informal structure. Some are directly
housed by public sector organizations and are generally staffed by government’s
employees. Others may be staffed and funded by third sector organizations or
even fully independent, with minimal available resources and mostly composed by
volunteers (Davies 2017: 3).
the complexity of London’s urban governance represented a fertile environment
for food policymaking, especially considering the policy vacuum left by the UK
central Government as regards food. Thus, food policies have been recently
added to London’s local and city-region agendas. Firstly, the Mayor made food a
relevant component of its London Plan and launched the third London Food
Strategy. Then, London boroughs started implementing local food policies as
food poverty action plans and cooperating with local food partnerships.
Evidently, if urban planning neglected food policy for a long time, the case of
London shows how an increasing number of local actors from the public, private
and third sector have finally recognized the strategic significance of the food
system for urban areas and, more in general, of food for communities’ health
A. and Dunleavy, P. (2017), Audit 2017: How democratic is the devolved
government of London? London: Democratic Audit UK.
K. (2010), Feeding the City: The Challenges of Urban Food Planning,
International Planning Studies, 14: 4, pp. 341-348.
K. and Hawkes, C. (2019), Brief 4: Embedding Food in All Policies, In
Rethinking Food Policy: A Fresh Approach to Policy and Practice, London: Centre
for Food Policy, pp: 1-8.
K., Barling, D. and Lang, T. (2018), UK Policymaking Institutions and their
implications for integrated Food Policy (Chapter 7), Advances in Food Security
and Sustainability, Volume 3, pp. 211-251.
M. (2006), London Regional Governance and the London Boroughs, Local Government
Studies, 32:3, pp.223-238.
FAO reports that about 80% of
food produced globally is destined to feed urban areas (FAO 2020). During the last century,
the bond between food production and urban planning was devalued by the very
idea of urban life as antithetic to rural life. The food system seemed
condemned to industrial and mass production. More recently, agriculture has slowly
started to make its way back to the city.
Urban agriculture or urban
farming is the practice of cultivating and distributing food in or around urban
area. If urban agriculture, stricto sensu, refers to small areas inside
the city such as small farms or community gardens for growing crops or raising
small livestock for own consumption or sale in neighborhood markets. Peri-urban
agriculture refers to intensive or semi-intensive agriculture undertaken on the
fringes of urban areas (FAO 2015). Indeed, urban agriculture has been spreading
in cities across the world in the last years, with the aim to boost more
sustainable food systems and the hope to offer a better relationship between
natural systems and human communities (McDonough 2014). In New York City, for
example, growing food in the city has been booming in the last years and
agriculture networks strengthened (McDonough 2014). In London, the enterprise GrowUp Urban Farms, which
produces fish, salads and herbs in unused city spaces now sells wholesale (Lovett 2016).
The Covid-19 pandemic is not
only changing our daily lives but especially the way we live in cities. It also
affected the globalized and industrialized food system producing a variety of
responses, both in the short and in the long-term. FAO and RUAF provided a
framework to understand the vulnerabilities of urban food systems, to improve
communication and cooperation and provide new strategies to safeguard food security
and nutrition during this trying time (Blay-Palmer et Al. 2020). In particular,
they recognized how some cities are particularly exposed to food supply
problems, given their lack of diversification of food value and supply chains,
their dependency on imports and other economic and natural vulnerabilities (Blay-Palmer et Al. 2020). The less
cities rely on their rural hinterlands, the more they result unprotected to unpredictable
shocks of their food supply chain, as the pandemic showed.
Indeed Covid-19 health crisis
has quickly aggravated food security for most vulnerable urban populations.
According to FAO, “the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting urban food systems
worldwide, posing a number of challenges for cities and local governments that
are obliged to deal with rapid changes in food availability, accessibility and affordability”
(FAO 2020: 1). In London, for
example, foodbanks are struggling to provide food to city dwellers during the
lockdown, and this is affecting mostly low incomes, older people, those with
disabilities, rough sleepers and asylum seekers, given the fall of donations,
the insufficient supplies from supermarkets and lack of volunteers (London City
Hall 2020). RUAF also reported that in
Quito, Ecuador, public places being locked down meant that local markets, could
not remain open and provide food to low-income residents (RUAF 2020). Maximo
Torero, Food and Agriculture Organization chief economist, explained that the
challenges that the pandemic is posing to the food system do not affect the
supply of food in itself but the logistics of food distribution, given the high
dependency on food imports (Harvey 2020). Moreover, The Economist reported
how current food system bottlenecks have severe impacts on consumers, who are
facing reduced or lost incomes since the lockdown measures were implemented
globally (The Economist 2020). In fact, vulnerable urban residents can only
afford to buy food in small quantities and depend mostly on small shops and
open-air markets rather than supermarkets and other food delivery options. Therefore,
some national governments are trying to maintain outdoor food markets open to
support vulnerable groups’ access to food. For example, in France food markets
partially reopened at the end of March (The Connexion 2020) and UK is prepared
to reopen all outdoor markets from the 1st June (Sustain 2020).
Hence, it could be interesting
to investigate if among other long-term actions that cities and local
governments can implement to strengthen urban food systems’ resilience, growing
food in cities may be a viable option. FAO stated that promoting short supply
chains may adequately support the resilience of urban food systems in the
long-term. In particular, “the crisis provides an opportunity to underline
the multiple benefits of local food systems, enabling local actors to better
coordinate during the crisis to avoid main gaps distribution, and making cities
more food resilient” (FAO 2020: 6).
Therefore, cases of urban and
peri-urban agriculture and/or urban residents directly growing their food from
home are spreading. In particular, Kotchakorn Voraakhom, the designer of the
largest urban rooftop farm
in Bangkok stated that “more people are thinking about where their food comes
from, how easily it can be disrupted, and how to reduce disruptions” (Chandran 2020). She also
reported how urban planners and local governments tend now to be more concerned
with land-use in cities (Chandran
For instance, Singapore relies
on other nations for almost everything its residents eat. More recently, it has
been working on addressing land constraints to diversify food sources and
increase local production. According to William Chen Professor of Food Science
and Technology ant Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (Kwiatkowski
and Stringer 2020), Singapore is not only developing expertise in technologies
such as vertical farming, but it has also been working constantly to increase
free additional urban spaces for urban farming, such as rooftops on multi-storeys
car parks (Kwiatkowski and Stringer 2020). An example is a structure atop a car
park in the Ang Mo Kio district where “Citiponics Pte Ltd. grows about 4
tons of Georgina lettuces and other leafy greens a month, while part of a
former downtown high school site has also recently been re-purposed for urban
agriculture” (Kwiatkowski and Stringer 2020).
In the meanwhile in UK, the University of Sheffield’s
Institute for Sustainable Food is working on the launch of the Resilience
Food Project which will see the creation of “financially self-supporting
aquaponic micro-farms in unused or under-used urban spaces of Sheffield that
offer a localized high tech intensive food production method” (Nickles 2020). The project aims to assess
the financial viability and resource efficiency of urban agriculture, gather
evidence to stimulate investor confidence and explore ways to involve local
communities in the co-production of farms and food, particularly in more vulnerable
urban areas (Nickles 2020).
Also, in Bolivia, lockdown
measures highly affected the urban food system. However, families working in
urban and peri-urban agriculture resulted fundamental to guarantee the supply
of food into Bolivia’s cities. With local governments and FAO’s support to
urban and peri-urban food sector, farmers managed to shorten food value chains
and guarantee food access in Bolivian cities during quarantine (FAO 2020).
These examples showed how the
increased attention towards urban and peri-urban agriculture in the attempt to
shorten food supply chains has become even more urgent, since lockdown measures
have been implemented in cities all around the world. Even if urban farms can
only partially address food needs in cities, they seem able to promote more
sustainable communities and generative capacity of buildings and urban
Covid-19 is showing how urban and especially peri-urban agriculture will
certainly play a more relevant role in reducing food insecurity and food supply
chains vulnerabilities, if unpredictable shocks happen to compromise the food
system. Therefore, more attention from local authorities is needed to ensure the
safety of local food production by supporting policies aimed at shortening food
supply chains. As Jane Jacobs noted, perseverance of peri-urban agriculture embodies the symbiotic relationship that occurs
between cities and their hinterlands (Jacobs 1984) which can definitely be a shock
absorber during disruptions such as a global pandemic. Therefore, in a world
after coronavirus, as the European Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz
Wojciechowski, advocated “we need to have our own food, produced on our fields,
by our own farmers, and we have to take better care of local markets, shorten
those supply chains” (POLITICO 2020).
Agriculture Organization (2020). Urban food systems and COVID-19: The role
of cities and local governments in responding to
the emergency. [online] Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/ca8600en/CA8600EN.pdf
Cities are known to be
places of multimodal transport connectivity, social interaction and gathering,
agglomeration economies and public life. In the last weeks, as cities all
around the world turned into desert spaces due to quarantine measures, they have
become the most evident and symbolic example of the health crisis that our
world is facing. Now we can hardly recognize them.
Pandemics do shape cities,
leaving a visible trace in the way they are planned. The Romans built numerous
aqueducts to bring water from distant springs to their cities, supplying
thermal baths, latrines, fountains and private homes. The wastewater was
eliminated with complex sewage systems and discharged into nearby watercourses,
keeping cities clean and free of effluents. They made cities healthier places
for their residents and helped preventing collective diseases, bringing clean
and drinkable water within their borders.
More recently, the London
Metropolitan Board and the first urban sanitation systems developed during the
19th century in response to a cholera outbreak. These urban
reactions to epidemics were the result of experimentation. Part of the history
of urbanization is no more than a series of trials to face the spread of
infectious diseases within cities.
However, as Michele Acuto,
professor of global urban politics at the University of Melbourne and director
of Connected Cities Lab, explained during his recent interview for CityLab, Covid-19
is the result of “peri-urban and rural-to-urban” interactions (Klaus 2020).
Globalization definitely plays a central role, but global cities do not
represent the scenario where everything started (Klaus 2020). Most probably this
is the story of a person who travelled from the peri-urban region of Wuhan to a
rural-to-urban city in Bavaria (Klaus 2020).
If global supply chains
might explain part of the story, global cities are those which experience the
outbreak of the pandemic more seriously and violently. Public health is definitely
an urban issue and now more than ever the overwhelming burden on hospitals is
affecting cities more than smaller urban and rural areas. Thus, cities tend
to represent a multiplier of opportunities and problems at the same time.
Indeed, proximity as a result of built-environment densification in cities can
be a problem when trying to contrast pandemics with a high rate of transmission
such as Covid-19. One of the first lessons, suggests Prof. Acuto, may be
rethinking density management to survive in a pandemic world, by decentralizing
some essential services and imagining new forms of health care delivery such as
door-to-door testing. In fact, compared to rural areas, urban centers
provide stronger chains of viral transmission, with higher contact rates and
more people prone to infection.
The increasing danger
generally associated with living in cities during the age of pandemic disease
seems to have induced some people to quarantine themselves in the suburbs, considered
as safer places. A new line of business is growing in the US, where there
are cases of people renting their rural houses and branding them as Covid-19
safe houses (Bliss and Capps 2020). These social reactions easily
remind of The Decameron, a well-known story written by Giovanni
Boccaccio about a group of young and rich Florentines who escaped the Black
Death, which was slaughtering Florence in the 14th century, to find
shelter in a cottage in the countryside.
However, there is no place
which is inherently safe and, as aforementioned, Covid-19 initially spread in
the urban periphery. Indeed, if rural populations have less means to
contract Covid-19, they also have less means to treat it, as Kassens-Noor
explained, professor of urban planning at Michigan State University specialized
in the study of the relations between pandemics and urban densities (Bliss and
Capps 2020). Thus, there are specific challenges that peri-urban and rural
areas need to cope with. Firstly, there is the issue of access to health care
facilities. Secondly, vaccination rates are usually higher in cities.
Therefore, the so-called phenomenon of the heard immunity tends to occur more easily
in large urban agglomerations (Bliss and Capps 2020).
Finally, a paper published
in 2018 on Science explained how middle-size urban centers tend to
experience “shorter and more intense outbreaks of influenza” when compared to
big cities (Bliss and Capps 2020). This still depends on the heard immunity
mechanism which reaches higher degrees in bigger cities.
Moreover, and especially in the global south, risks associated with
pandemics in cities result to be higher for people living in slums and informal
settings, where common hygiene standards and self-isolation are not really
feasible. Therefore, as anthropologist and health systems researcher Annie
Wilkinson pointed out, it is necessary to consider how to mitigate the impact
of Covid-19 on people living in densely populated and unsanitary environments
(2020). She highlighted how the difficulty in the collection of data on
slums represents an additional constraint when policies need to be implemented.
In these areas, many diseases and health issues go unresolved and people live in
chronic untreated conditions (Wilkinson 2020). Most vulnerable groups tend
to be more exposed to any kind of epidemic disease and urban planning across
the world cannot avoid considering this trend. Thus, specific policies must be
implemented to guarantee an additional support especially in term of food and
health care access for city dwellers who are socially and economically excluded
but more exposed to urban risks.
Finally, there is a lesson that every city around the world must learn,
which is that crises can be productive when established ways of thinking are
jeopardized by non-predictable circumstances, such as global epidemics. The magnitude and direction of transformation depend
on how cities can learn from each other, from their successes and mistakes in
interpreting and handling epidemics. Again, as Prof. Acuto stressed, there is a
terrific opportunity offered by digital transformation (Klaus 2020). In
particular, digital infrastructure may determine one most revolutionary change
in health care management and sanitation across the globe. Therefore,
cities with their higher levels of connectivity can lead the way towards
revolutionary changes. Hence, understanding the urban planning dimension of
pandemics starts from improving data management, digital infrastructure and
connectivity in cities. We have now the opportunity to rethink, especially in
dense urban settings, the way to test and contain pandemics. Acuto reported how
platforms such as Tencent and Alibaba can provide detailed information on how
many people are sick in a given neighborhood, which may be a relevant tool for
decision-making and urban planning during this trying time (2020). These experimentations,
however, inevitably raise questions on privacy, state control and policing.
How can we use digital innovation tools for the improvement of our
health care management and risk prevention strategies without transforming them
into mass controlling instruments?
The Milanese architecture firm “Stefano Boeri Architetti”, who projected the Vertical Forest in Milan, designed the plan for the first Smart Forestry City that will be based in Cancun, Mexico. It is expected to host up to 130.000 inhabitants, by replacing the project of a shopping center. The city will be built on a 5.57 km2, currently employed as a “sand quarry for hotels” (Endel 2019) and 4 km2 will be reserved for green spaces. There will be about 7.500.000 plants in the project and 260.000 will be trees. With a ratio of 2.3 trees per inhabitant, the Smart Forest City “will absorb 116.000 tons of carbon dioxide with 5.800 tons of CO2 stocked per year” (Endel 2019). Public parks, private gardens, green roofs, and green facades will help create a balance within the built environment.
The city has also been imagined to be completely food and energy self-sufficient. Indeed, it will be surrounded by solar panels and agricultural fields. Water will be gathered at the entrance of the city, next to the desalination tower and dispensed by a system of navigable channels in the whole settlement up to the agricultural fields that surround the urban area. Within the city, people will circulate via internal electric and semi-automatic mobility, leaving their cars outside of the city.
The Smart Forest City will also hold “a center for advanced research that could host all worldwide university departments, international organizations, and companies that deal with very important sustainability issues and the future of the planet” (Endel 2019).
The Smart Forest City definitely promotes the idea of sustainable city. In fact, the project seems to create a perfect habitat where human beings can live in total harmony with nature within the urban space. Apparently, this sounds like a perfect solution in a scenario where urbanization is expected to rise in the next years and climate change needs to be handled with innovative solutions. Indeed, this project not only seems to support the idea of reducing urban sprawl by creating dense and compact settlements, but it also seems to avoid one of the main challenges that urban density can bring, which is the lack of green space on urban footprints. Thus, one of the main critiques to the urban density discourse has been the idea that if land is consumed for increasing urban development, areas devoted to green will be necessarily reduced. However, the Smart forest city represents an anti-sprawl and densification project able to reduce urban expansion while increasing the quantity of green within the built city. “A model that connects to the policies for reforestation and naturalization of the edges of large urban and metropolitan areas” (Kucherova and Narvaez 2018: 5). In fact, as the Stefano Boeri Architetti firm’s manifesto states, the reforestation of the urban environment can be an extraordinary help to improve the quality of health and life in a city. Indeed, forests and trees absorb nearly 40% of fossil fuel emissions largely produced by cities every year.
However, there are some challenges which are not self-evident when looking at these projects. First, instead of building sustainable cities or eco-cities out of nowhere, believing that higher densities are necessarily good, planners may better consider that urban design is not enough to make cities more sustainable. As Laurence Crot highlighted, Masdar City (a planned city project initiated in 2006 in the United Arab Emirates) portrayed as the world first sustainable city and the example of Abu Dhabi’s new urban vision, has soon renounced to some of its most ambitious sustainability goals (2012: 2809) such as its car-free mission. Masdar City has been recently rebranded as a carbon neutral project and its previous zero-carbon commitment soon disappeared from the policy agenda. Indeed, eco-cities projects instead of representing the panacea for main environmental and urban challenges seem just able to bring a new label to neoliberal urban development plans, since they rarely innovate and seldom keep their promises of sustainability (Cugurullo 2018: 74). Another weakness associated with these brand-new urban solutions relates the issue of who could really afford to live in eco-cities or smart forestry city. In fact, density increases the price of land and in turn increases the price of housing. Moreover, reforestation means bringing new amenities in the built environment which represents a new source of housing unaffordability.
Though a project as the Smart Forest City represents a perfect solution to reduce urban sprawl and pollution by increasing green space in cities at the same time; cities are more than their urban form. So, bringing urban design solutions to make cities more sustainable will not work alone, it can only be part of the answer. In fact, as Neuman pointed out, instead of asking ourselves if urban form can produce sustainability, we should question whether the processes of building cities, living, consuming and producing in cities are actually sustainable.
Edel, D. (2019), Smart Forest City Cancun Design Is First 100% Renewable Circular Economy City, Available from: https://www-intelligentliving-co.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.intelligentliving.co/amp/smart-forest-city-cancun-first-renewable-circular-economy-city
 Stefano Boeri Architetti (2019), Smart Forest City Cancun, Press release available from: https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/en/urban-forestry/
Kucherova, A. and Narvaez, H. (2018), Urban Forest Revolution, E3S Web of Conferences 33, 01013, pp. 1-11.
Stefano Boeri Architetti (2019), Smart Forest City Cancun, Press release available from: https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/en/urban-forestry/
Crot, L. (2012), Planning for Sustainability in Non-democratic Polities: The Case of Masdar City, Urban Studies 50(13), pp. 2809–2825.
Cugurullo, F. (2018), Exposing smart cities and eco-cities: Frankenstein urbanism and the sustainability challenges of the experimental city, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 2018, Vol. 50(1), pp. 73–92.
Neuman, M. (2005), The Compact City Fallacy, Journal of Planning Education and Research 25, pp. 11-26