It is strange that few urban thinkers today talk about agriculture, while few agricultural experts digress into the discipline of urbanism. And yet these two fields were once intimately connected. While food systems shaped cities for centuries, the history of urban visionary thinking is also one of architects and urbanists projecting cities and their support system in utopian harmony. From Fourier to Le Corbusier and from Howard to Frank Lloyd Wright, no ideal city existed without its agricultural plots and acres, within or around it, to sustain it.
While agricultural development and urbanization have grown apart in people’s perception – two recent surveys in the UK showed that 22% of adults were unaware that bacon originates from farms, and 36% of children did not know that French Fries were made from potatoes– they have never been more intertwined. First, both agriculture and urban development are after the same increasingly rare resources: land and water. Second, both disciplines find themselves today in a heightened state of urgency: how to feed an exploding world population, estimated to be around 9 billion by 2050, and how to house this population when over two-thirds are expected to live in urban cores. Third, both fields are now all too aware of the potentially devastating consequences presented by the unsustainable practices that have characterized their raging development for the last century. And yet, so far, while the old sprawling urban model continues to be adopted worldwide, new cheap land is being ‘discovered’ thanks to scientific progress finally enabling tropical forests to be turned into cropland, producing cotton and soy for animal feeds, from South America to South Asia (challenging the US as the world’s grainery, Brazil has recently exploded on the world agricultural scene, now supplying a third of China’s soybean imports).
Inscribing itself in the long tradition of thinking together the urban and the productive rural, as well as addressing the ongoing questions posed by the suburban model, ‘New Ark’ is a provocative proposition to sacrifice suburban sprawl to preserve global wilderness, while simultaneously reducing a wide range of industrial farming’s ailments - from excessive water and fuel consumption to land depletion, global warming and obesity. While creating employment for a new population of agricultural researchers and farmers in a reversed move from country to city, the adoption of sustainable organic farming at a regional scale, would transform the suburban landscape while allowing existing towns to be densified and new urban cores to be formed, becoming experimental grounds for sustainable living.