We are in Shanghai, a small village of 27 million souls, otherwise defined as the most populated city in the world. As you know, we are in China. A country that is booming, so much so that in the last 20 years it has had to sacrifice something like 123 thousand square kilometers (more or less the extent of Greece) of cultivable area in favor of urbanization.
Of course, there is still a lot of available land. Even though the Ministry of Environmental Protection has recently learned that one-sixth of it (the beauty of 200 thousand square kilometers) is seriously polluted. Read uncultivable.
Shanghai, however, is different from the classic western metropolis. Like much of the eastern city, it has been trying for decades to maintain a close connection with agriculture, with its periphery of small farms supplying the city’s population with fresh food. However, the frenetic growth of recent times has undermined this historical coexistence. Bringing the city to use more and more of the import and at the same time removing young people from agriculture.
But Shanghai is not even the classic Chinese metropolis. It is the flagship of this country, the economic and technological heart, which has always been a fertile territory for innovation. And, in fact, they find one solution.
Sunquiao is born
Thanks to the collaboration with the architecture firm Sasaki, the Sunqiao project was born: an agricultural-cultural district of 100 hectares (140 football fields) enclosed between the airport and the center. A great neighbourhood where they will devise real Vertical Farms based on the principles of hydroponics and aquaponics. Inside, experimentation and production will go hand in hand towards a sustainable future.
On the other hand, Shanghai is the ideal place for Vertical Farming: the price of land is sky-high, so building upwards is the only reasonable alternative. Moreover, 56% of the vegetables consumed by its inhabitants belong to the family of the so-called green leafy vegetables (leafy greens), such as spinach, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and others. Typologies of cultures among the simplest and most effective to be realized with soilless techniques.
However, thinking of Sunqiao as a huge ‘food factory’ is not only reductive, but also wrong. In addition to Vertical Farm there will be, in fact, space for an interactive greenhouse, a science museum, parks and pedestrian paths, restaurants and markets, as well as of course many homes.
The idea is to bring agriculture back to being an active and integral part of a city, also a protagonist of the urban context.
A possible and necessary condition if you want to have healthier food, more active local markets, more knowledge and less waste. Yes, because the other great goal of this master plan consists precisely in re-educating young people on the origin of food, bringing them closer to agriculture, to the environment, after all, to life.
Photo credits: Sasaki Associates, Inc