Insights · September 16th, 2012

This is Part 3 of Chapter 4 of our book on the future of cities, being written with  Dennis Walsh. Our plan is to publish a new book blog nearly every day for the next couple of months. We will publish them both here on and on Later we will compile the blogs into an e-book.

We are debating the eventual title. We started with two choices: “Downtown” and “Shine…The Rebirth of American Cities.” Which do you like? We hope you will find the subject of interest and follow this book in serial form. A reader has suggested, “City Transformation?” So far, “Downtown” with a subtitle is leading. What do you think?

by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra

A society, economy or country is neither great nor successful simply because it amasses the most wealth. It’s not always about money. Health is wealth as well.

Cultural endowments like architecture, streetscapes, and historic sites are considered important economic resources in cities around the world. The World Bank finances heritage conservation. Projects are designed to increase city livability by preserving streets and neighborhoods built at a human scale. By preserving their heritage, cities create a unique sense of place, and that ironically attracts investors.

Child obesity has grown to epidemic proportions in this country. Children need access to safe outdoor places, especially children who live in low income neighborhoods. A few years ago, first lady Michelle Obama introduced the Let’s Move Outside! initiative to solve childhood obesity within a generation by encouraging families to get active in nature.

The Outdoors Alliance for Kids recently released the “America’s Great Outdoors” report with input from more than 100,000 Americans. The report recommends increased Department of the Interior investments in their “Youth in the Great Outdoors” initiative including support for their “Trail to Every Classroom” professional development program for teachers. Partnering with communities, the Alliance works to improve urban parks and to provide outdoor opportunities where most Americans live. The key benefits – 6.5 million jobs created every year from outdoor activities together with the obvious health benefits of spending time outdoors.

Isn’t it true? Everything old is new again. Across the nation, urban gardens and farms are sprouting on empty lots, parkland and in schoolyards. It isn’t the first time U.S. cities have ventured into the agricultural landscape. It’s happened before during major economic downturns, and the 20th century’s world wars. 20 million World War II victory gardens produced nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. When the war ended, victory gardens disappeared.

It’s well worth the effort. Cities are embracing agriculture not only to combat hunger and air pollution, but also to make themselves healthier and more sustainable. Regardless, most city zoning doesn’t recognize agriculture. Urban growers and agricultural businesses are waiting for the law to catch up while cities scramble to update ordinances to regulate and even facilitate urban agriculture. Zoning rules are tricky. Urban farms can’t use chemical fertilizers and pesticides like industrial farms, so organic farming is common.

In a 2010 study, “Growing Food in the City: The Production Potential of Detroit’s Vacant Land”, researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing conclude that urban agriculture could supply Detroit with more than three quarters of the vegetables and almost half of the fruits to meet the cities needs.

There are more than 400 community gardens and farms operating throughout the city. Most exist outside of the law because Detroit zoning doesn’t recognize agriculture as a permitted use. That is an unintended consequence of state laws designed to protect rural farms from urban sprawl.  In the mid-range future we expect to see development of high-rise urban agriculture, multi-story buildings that combine living and working spaces with entire walls and terraces dedicated to commercial scale agriculture. Such concepts have become popular in architecture design contests, and before long the first real development is bound to be attempted.


[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of, and curator of Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through]

Millennial City
Nikolas Badminton – Chief Futurist

Nikolas Badminton

Nikolas is the Chief Futurist of the Futurist Think Tank. He is world-renowned futurist speaker, a Fellow of The RSA, and has worked with over 300 of the world’s most impactful companies to establish strategic foresight capabilities, identify trends shaping our world, help anticipate unforeseen risks, and design equitable futures for all. In his new book – ‘Facing Our Futures’ – he challenges short-term thinking and provides executives and organizations with the foundations for futures design and the tools to ignite curiosity, create a framework for futures exploration, and shift their mindset from what is to WHAT IF…

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