Agriburbia

Our local public radio station recently hosted a program that focused on the planning and design of the area’s first “agriburbs.” As the show notes highlight “much of Charlotte’s recent housing projects are focused uptown and along the light rail line but an entirely different type of development called “Agriburbia” is sprouting up here and in other places in America. Agriburbia represents neighborhoods built in the suburbs with a large central farm and small farm plots in the yards of each home. The inventor of Agriburbia joins us to describe this growing movement to create a nation of small farms.” The show featured Michael Hinshaw – Partner, Hinshaw Properties, LLC. and President, Charlotte Homebuilders Association, Quint Redmond – Owner, TSR Group, and Dane Fisher – Co-Owner, Fisher Farms. To hear the full program, click here.

The fundamental premise of the agriburbia design is to merge local agriculture from full farming to backyard gardening with a mixed-use traditional neighborhood that is walkable (at least internally). The featured project was The Farmstead, a proposed agriburb in Granite Quarry, NC (about 40 minutes northeast of Charlotte on a good traffic day). This is certainly not a new premise. The Congress for the New Urbanism has also been tackling this idea of agricultural urbanism.

The convergence of local food with walkable urbanism has been occurring for about a year now, ever since gas price soared past $4.00/gallon across much of the country in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately our first few examples of this merger of ideals is happening in the exurbs and rural outlying areas where auto dependency for even the most basic needs is high. But that doesn’t mean that we should through the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, we need to regard this as a prototype. If successful, and I hope that it will be, it can then be adapted into the urban areas. Just like when new urbanism emerged as Seaside on the panhandle of Florida in the early 80’s and then blossomed over the past twenty plus years to touch every context of our communities, so too will agricultural urbanism move quickly into the mainstream.

We also had the opportunity to explore this development model during the Mountain Landscapes Initiative charrette in May, 2008 when we contemplated a sustainable neighborhood focused around agriculture for the rural Cowee Valley area of Macon County, NC about 10 minutes north of Franklin, NC. At the time we opined that the need for such a community might perhaps become a necessity in a peak oil economy if we weren’t able to adapt our technology fast enough to perpetuate improved personal transportation. Perhaps it’s just a better way to manage the property development expectations of private property owners in suburban or rural lands.

Personally, I prefer the term agricultural urbanism to agriburbia. Agriburbia is derived from a merger of suburbia and agriculture. Suburbia has proven to be a wholly unsustainable model. Let’s not perpetuate it or put lipstick on it. Urbanism, particularly sustainable, walkable urbanism is the better path.

The picture to the left is from my backyard on what most would consider a postage stamp lot (about 1/10 acre). The year that we had that garden (before we did our home expansion in 2003) we had fresh corn through most of the summer. I’ve already found a new location for my corn next year. I can’t wait for Spring of 2010 to come around.

4 thoughts on “Agriburbia

  1. Posted by Elaine Stover via EmailI’ve enjoyed reading your “Urbanism and the New Economy” writings. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond, so I’m writing this email.The image that came to my mind when I was reading the article was that of a traditional Indian village (where we lived and worked for 5 years back in the ‘80’s). Then I started critiquing that image – the village itself is very compact. It has basic services at the center – like a kirana shop (small grocery stall), post office services, 2 small temples, and an elementary school off to one side of the village. The main feature is that all the farm land (plots of which are just 1-2 acres) is surrounding the village. In other words, the villagers do not live on their agricultural land. They walk out to it. That way all services – electric, household water and drainage and roads, are minimized by having them in the compact village. The sociality, of course, is different also. In the north of India, in the Punjab, where the farmers have large land holdings and are part of the “Green Revolution” they departed from this model and they have built large houses out on their acreage in a dispersed fashion.Back in the later 1990’s I visited a project in Atlanta which was called Conservation Development or something like that. It was a co-housing project which had the same design – compact center, with several acres of or small farms on the perimeter, along with parking. There is also a co-housing project outside of Seattle which has the same model, called Songaia. It was started in the early 1990’s. Some good friends of ours, who we worked with in India, started it. He is a Horticulturist. They are now surrounded by the city. Keep up the good work! Elaine

  2. Good post, but you misunderstand the premise behind suburbia. Suburbia is a good place to raise a family, much superior to many cities. It is best for children to have places to be in contact with nature, room to exercise and stretch their legs, and so on, be in areas with low crime, and so on. Most urban environments just don't offer this, and until they do families with children will continue to flock out to suburbia.Cities are fine for single childless people, but not for families.

  3. I totally disagree about the premise that suburbia is the best place to raise a family. But I also think that there is great confusion about what is meant by the term "City". Suburbia is the sprawling, single-use, auto-oriented areas on the fringes of cities. These are often confused with downtown cores. There are plenty of good urban neighborhoods that are well suited to raising families. We are raising our 4 children on a 1/10 acre lot in a 2100 sq ft house (far below the suburban standard). For recreation they walk down the street to the park. They can also walk to the library, post office, grocery store, and Ben and Jerry's. If children really get so much contact with nature and room to "stretch their legs" in suburbia, why is obesity highest in the suburbs? Perhaps it's because many children are isolated in their houses and can only get around in the back seat of cars, vans, and SUVs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s