LABORATORY FOR URBAN. AGRICULTURE

Andre Viljoen and Joe Howe

The extent, infrastructural support for, and reliance placed upon urban agriculture in Cuba, means that it provides a rich source of information for the study of urban agriculture (Bourque and Canizares, 2000), (Caridad Cruz and Sanchez Medina, 2003). As such it may be considered a laboratory in which to observe and speculate upon the future shape of productive urban landscapes.

As Harris and Penna’s chapter makes clear, urban agriculture was introduced into Cuba as a matter of necessity (see Chapter 16). What one sees in Cuba is a system pragmatically placed with little time to develop design strategies that can respond to urban agriculture. Detailed observations, which can be made in Cuba, help us to understand what a Continuous Productive Urban Landscape could be like. The following section draws on observa­tions made by the authors during field trips to Cuba in 2002 and 2004, and focuses on describing the characteristics of urban agriculture.

Since the introduction of urban agriculture in Cuba in the 1990s, a number of distinct categories have been defined, determined by size, location, users and yield. Table 17.1 is based on the situation in Havana but is typical for the country as a whole.

Given that the environmental case for urban agri­culture relies on organic and local food production (see Chapter 3), we have concentrated on investi­gating high yield urban gardens, referred to as ‘organpopnicos’ in this text.

Organopnicos provide the highest yield of all forms of urban agriculture, and as such contribute the most to the horizontal intensification of a site. Their location within the urban fabric and the practice of selling crops from the farm gate, adds to their con­venience for consumers and explains their pres­ence in small rural towns.

In order to build up a picture of the qualities of urban agriculture, its spatial characteristics have been investigated at three different scales:

• the city

• the urban agriculture site

• the human.

To understand the implications for planning a city, which includes urban agriculture, we investigated the infrastructure required to support it. We also wanted to find out if organic agriculture was prac­tised in Cuba.

Although the examples investigated in Cuba are influ­enced by local conditions, internationally relevant con­clusions can be made. Local climate, topography and soil type all affect crop type, yield and the plot size required for a given return. Land ownership, neigh­bourhood and municipal boundaries all determine legal or social boundaries which may further impact on the size and location of urban agriculture sites, dis­placing sometimes ‘randomly’ the desired location of urban agriculture fields or their boundaries. These particular circumstances of location will interfere with general strategies for the design of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes. Rather than being understood as negative realities, they are the factors which provide the local variations that lend interest to Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes.