Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs), widely considered to be highly important urban design concepts, are popping up around the globe.

The term, coined by Andre Viljoen, refers to urban agriculture and the creation of multi-functional urban space networks within cities that desperately need food security.

An element of sustainable urban design, interlinked productive landscapes in cities are changing the way food is produced on a global scale.

Following Viljoen’s 2005 publication Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes: Designing urban agriculture for sustainable cities, the role of urban agriculture in Australia and worldwide was touted as having great potential to create resilient cities.

Viljoen says cities should be farms. Using London’s connectivity through cycle paths and walkways, he advocates networks of green space within cities that combine urban agriculture and recreation.

Viljoen’s publication discussed the inevitability of the earth running out of oil and looked at how cities could provide for inhabitants during the imminent food shortage.

CPULs can potentially change the way people live in cities and the entire layout of the landscape. They are places of leisure with social and environmental benefits, the main focus being urban agriculture.

CPULs change the landscape of food production as well as distribution and consumption patterns.

organic orban farm in Cuba

organic orban farm in Cuba

The goal of CPULs is ‘continuous’ landscapes that navigate their way through a city without interruption. This takes a great deal of planning as open usable space is already very sparse in cities and CPULs will have to compete with other urban developments.

Those involved with CPULs must use lateral thinking to find the best way to gain land through reclaimed space and brownfield sites, for example. Obtaining a large square of usable urban space is unrealistic, so any land can hold potential including small patches of land, alongside roadways, or even vertical spaces.

Almost every community garden or green space creates social cohesion. CPULs can help to increase the quality of life for those involved and encourage urban regeneration, self-reliance and social inclusion.

Small-Scale CPULs in Action

What Viljoen envisioned in a CPUL city has yet to exist on the scale he imagined but several smaller, individual CPULs have been created. The obsession with organic food and vegetable boxes are evident throughout most cities, proving the guerilla gardening movement a success.

Melbourne has several urban agriculture practices and community food projects running in an effort to create a fair and sustainable food system. Most capital cities and small towns across the country engage in some form of community agriculture with Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network linking gardeners around the country.

Vancouver, Canada, recently opened the largest urban orchard in North America. Located on the site of a former petrol station, the land was leased by the city of Vancouver to the Sole Food company for $1 per year.

The orchard includes nearly 500 trees on a site that sat vacant for more than a decade due to soil contamination. The site was cleaned up and now grows apples, cherries, pears, figs, lemons and 60 varieties of herbs.

Vancouver's urban orchard

Vancouver’s urban orchard

“This is a production model and is designed to produce quantities of food and employment, two of our main goals,” said company co-founder, Michael Ableman.

Sole Food runs four urban gardens in Vancouver, taking advantage of otherwise unusable space. The other three gardens focus on vegetable production; the orchard located at the corner of Terminal Avenue and Main Street is a new venture.

“A system of perennial tree crops in an urban environment is in many ways more difficult than growing vegetables. We must take advantage of vertical space. At maturity, these trees reach 15 to 25 feet high,” Ableman said.

Sole Food employs 25 people, most of whom struggle with substance abuse, mental illness and poverty. The social enterprise expects to double its food production this year, producing more than 30 tonnes of food in 2012.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba’s oil imports vanished overnight. Urban agriculture exploded when Cuban Organopónicos were introduced by the government to deal with food shortages. Cuban agriculture is now more than 80 per cent organic and Havana produces half of its vegetables from a series of community gardens, balconies and rooftops within the city.

CPULs are gaining momentum in urban design, with the benefits obvious as they continue to make their way into the design ethos of modern landscape architecture.