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URBAN E C O S YS T E M S ILARIA ZONDA Digital Transformation Designer ilaria.zonda@gmail.com


THE CHALLENGE

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With the expected rise of the population living in cities, there will be a challenge to make the urban environment more sustainable and able to provide food for its inhabitants. The way future cities are designed now is focused primarily on how to make processes efficient with the use of any type of new technology. Little space is given to nature, which has mainly a decorative or recreational role. I envision future cities as ecosystems where both technology and nature exist together in an interconnected way. The primary role of plants will be to contribute to feeding the citizens but the benefits of a greener urban environment are multiple.

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The Context

Gardening as a Civic Duty

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Cities of the Future

Urban Agriculture

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Permaculture

The Urban Ecosystem

INDEX 38

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The Role of Design(ers)

GrowKit 1.0

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GrowKit 2.0

City Buzz

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GardenBot

Conclusions

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THE CONTEXT

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BY 2030 THE GLOBAL POPULATION WILL RISE TO 8.6 BILLION AND 2/3 OF THEM WILL LIVE IN CITIES. The global population is expected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050 - but agricultural lands will not be able to follow the same pace. Although fertility levels worldwide are declining, life expectancy is increasing - and therefore, the global population keeps growing.

HOW CAN WE FEED BILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN A SUSTAINABLE WAY?

The United Nations estimates that the world’s population is increasing by more than 80 million people every year with forecasts indicating a nonstop rise: the global population is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100[1]. On top of that, it’s estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population will be city dwellers. About 54% of the population lives in cities today, and about 66% are expected to in 2050[2]. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) forecasts that global food production will need to increase by 70% if the population reaches 9.8 billion by 2050[3]. With so many more mouths to feed agricultural yields are going to have to catch up.

Furthermore, at the beginning of 2020, the world started facing a pandemic. The need for social distancing and interruption of many activities along the food chain created food supply anxiety, mainly among citizens of big urban centers. Following the announcement of the closure of work activities and the arrival of the first restrictive measures, thousands of people rushed to supermarkets to stock up on primary and durable goods, from bags of pasta to canned potatoes and vegetables. For days fresh vegetables and fruits has been hard to find on the shelves.

However, new agricultural practices have taken a toll on the planet resulting in a plethora of detrimental effects. From the colossal amount of water needed, pollution caused, and energy used, to the desctruction of natural habitats, the problem is clear: something has to change[4].

People started to realise the fragility of the food supply chain and the difficulties of dealing with a high demand of the same fresh products in urban areas. Especially in the US, there has been a sudden increase in the purchase of gardening material and views of tutorials on YouTube on how to set up a vegetable garden in your garden or balcony have received millions of views. It would appear people want to go back to those practices, both to integrate home-grown food with their groceries and to experience a new activity [5].

[1]

“World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”, United Nations

www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html [2]

”2018 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects”, United Nations

www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html [3]

”Population growth ‘a threat to food quality’”, Katy Askew

www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2017/11/10/Population-growth-a-threat-to-food-quality [4]

“Environmental impact of food production and Consumption”, Palaniappa Krishnan www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c07/e5-17-02-03.pdf

[5]

“Urban gardening in times of crisis”, Ilaria Zonda

medium.com/digitalsocietyschool/urban-gardening-in-times-of-crisis-a52dbd5e85a0

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GARDENING AS A CIVIC DUTY 8


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WAR & VICTORY GARDENS: GARDENING IN TIMES OF CRISIS

During World War I and World War II a new gardening movement sprouted in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany. This ‘Victory Gardens’ movement involved the population growing their own food wherever they could; in gardens, backyards, parks, rooftops, and empty lots. The government encouraged people to plant their gardens not only to release the pressure of food demand on public food supply but also to keep morale high[6]. After the war, European countries became even less self-sufficient in food production and the United States felt responsible for continuing providing food for those countries. Thousands of acres of the best farmland in France, Italy and Belgium were devastated by the war and unfit for cultivation. America, on the other hand, could produce even more than during wartime. The United States pledged to export 20.000.000 tons of food to Europe, coming from their surplus and savings. Most of the food needed was grains for feeding purposes, such as oats, barley and corn. To meet their pledge, America needed to rely not only on farmland but also on the land of cities, towns and villages. It was estimated that nearly 10.000.000 families lived in urban areas where having a garden was possible, and that number doubled when the vacant land in the various communities were converted into gardens. This newly created source of food enabled American households to feed themselves, making it possible for other food to be released for shipment to Europe.

“HOME FOOD PRODUCTION WILL CONTINUE BECAUSE IT HAS BEEN FOUND WORTHWHILE, AND, LIKE OTHER THINGS WHICH THIS WAR HAS PROVED TO BE OF VALUE AND BENEFIT OF MANKIND, IT WILL LAST [5].” The victory garden movement began during World War I and called on Americans to grow food in whatever spaces they could. It maintained that there was nothing more valuable than self-sufficiency, than working a little land, no matter how small, and harvesting your own eggplant and tomatoes.

[6]

“Victory Gardens Feed the Hungry - the Needs of Peace Demand the Increased Production of Food in America’s Victory Gardens” Charles Lathrop Pack, 1919

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ORTI DI GUERRA (WAR GARDENS), ITALY At the beginning of 1900, as many workers moved from the countryside to the main cities, many industries created vegetable gardens where their employees could cultivate their own food, mitigating the abrupt change from their previous country-lifestyle and contributing to alleviating poverty. Railway companies provided terraces alongside the train lines, and the majority of green spaces around the workers’ houses were converted to areas for cultivation. This trend continued in Italian cities during War World II when different public spaces, like squares and parks, were transformed into vegetables gardens. These gardens were cultivated by both the army and citizens in order to make up for the scarcity of food and with the aim to be independent from external import. All images: Public spaces in Milan (Italy) converted into areas for cultivation, 1943.

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EVOLUTION OF URBAN GARDENS In the ‘60’s, the number of urban gardens decreased exponentially, as it was perceived as synonymous with poverty and memories of war times. With the rise of large food factories the concept of controlled food production took hold at the expense of food produced on traditional farm land. Traditionally produced food, including that produced in cities, started to be perceived as unsafe and at risk of being polluted and contaminated. Every piece of land within the city was now covered with buildings and cultivated land moved to the suburbs to be used by poorer people who could not afford to live inside cities anymore. In the early 2000’s, the urban gardens, once seen as a symbol of poverty and crisis, became an expression of modernity. This transformation was due to the radical change in the purpose of the garden. The need for food has been replaced by the progressive desire for food awareness. The garden space, perceived at the time as an individual responsibility, has become a space for sharing and socializing. This new push also gave rise to community gardens all throughout Europe.

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CITIES OF THE FUTURE:

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N AT U R A L UTOPIA O R DYS TO P I A ? 13


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In literature and cinematography, the utopian city of the future has often been imagined as a sterile space filled with flying cars, huge skyscrapers, and technology embedded in every aspect of the city. The ideal of ‘smart city’ is not that far removed from this supposed utopian vision, as cities have always been the epicenter of technological development. Modern cities work on technology networks that are a far cry from the natural world, and that requires massive capital consumption, such as electric power or Internet communication. The future ‘smart’ cities will be systems through which the environment will adapt to meet citizens’ needs in the most environmentally, economically, and socially conscientious way possible. Technology is seen as the only solution to the main challenges that current cities face. Infrastructural systems and communication networks will be fed with data collected from the environment and the citizens themselves and will be able to adjust and improve based on the changes in data. Technology will permeate every layer of our urbanity. In contrast to utopian visions of cities, postapocalyptic urban landscapes are often derelict spaces, devoid of technology and blinking LEDs, but with one very important element obviously present: nature. Vines winding their way through skyscrapers, moss covering every inch of pavement, and trees adorning city squares; apparently, only when humanity ‘fails’ do urban environments become lush green spaces again. It is time to move this imagery away from its postapocalyptic roots and firmly plant it into visions of future smart cities. Plants, especially food producing plants such as those found in urban farms, can contribute to the fundamental needs of future citizens. Therefore, plants should be an integral part of the ecosystem of the smart city.

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HOW CAN WE INTEGRATE NATURE IN FUTURE CITIES?

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URBAN AG R I C U LT U R E


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WHAT’S THE ROLE OF URBAN AGRICULTURE IN THE FUTURE OF FOOD PRODUCTION? With half the world’s population living in cities, modern farmers have found new approaches to farming. New technologies are allowing people to grow food in places where it was previously difficult or impossible, and in quantities superior to traditional farms. Urban farms can be as simple as traditional small outdoor community gardens, or as complex as indoor vertical farms in which farmers think about growing space in three-dimensional terms. Most of them contain rows of racks lined with plants rooted in soil, nutrient-enriched water, or simply air. Each tier is equipped with UV lighting to mimic the effects of the sun. Unlike the unpredictable weather of outdoor farming, growing indoors allows farmers to tailor conditions to maximize growth. Urban farms have the potential to change cities’s agricultural landscape. They can bring greater yields in smaller areas, increase access to healthy options in urban food deserts, and mitigate the environmental impact of feeding the world[8].

[7] [8]

“Why urban farms are the future of food production”, Sophie Fitzpatrick edgy.app/urban-farms-are-the-future-of-food-production

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Besides large scale urban farms, different forms of urban farming can involve single citizens directly, like community gardens or vegetable gardens in private backyards. The benefits of urban farming practices extend beyond the tangible aspects of growing food in underserved areas — there’s also a fortunate side effect of growing a community. In cities where it’s unlikely that you’ll know your neighbors, urban farming harnesses community interaction and connections[7], encouraging open air activities and exchange of knowledge.

Moreover, urban farms add much-needed greenery to the concrete jungles that are big urban agglomerations and act as a natural air-filters in the fume-filled cities. More plants mean better air quality and decreased ozone levels[8]. In regions like the Netherlands, where rains are aboundants, urban agriculture can contribute collecting the excessive water.

Anna’s Tuin & Ruigte, community garden in Science Park, Amsterdam

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By cultivating a medium-sized vegetable garden a family can save approximately €130 - €150 per month, by self-producing fruits and vegetables. This financial incentive can encourage individuals to cultivate private and public green areas within the city. The excess production of vegetables and fruit can enable people to exchange or sell their produce within local circuits or markets, which can have significant advantages for the local economy[9]. In addition, directly growing your own vegetables creates some independence from the food industry and provides total control over the use of pesticides and artificial fertilizer. Thus, safe and organic products become more easily accessible. It is important for citizens to acquire a new awareness of food production and what it implies.

Lastly, interacting with nature also helps people to reconnect to the Earth. Numerous studies have shown that being exposed to plants can have a positive effect on mental health[10]. When people have a greater appreciation for nature and understand where their food comes from, they are more likely to want to safeguard the environment. Urban farming helps to eliminate the disconnect that comes with having access to a supermarket where you can get everything at any given time of the year.

The abolition of industrial production processes, packaging and transport leads to savings in terms of time, energy and moneyIn addition, local production underlines a sustainable approach to food production and a focus on seasonal supply. The awareness raised on these themes pushes the citizen to discover an approach that is more directly approach connected with the land and the fruit that it bears[10]. An intensification of urban agriculture on a large scale would generally lead to greater environmental sustainability of the city itself, by limiting the supply of produce coming from the surrounding countryside or even from different countries and continents.

“Orti Urbani. Germogli contro la crisi” Z. Cosentino, C. Fedele, L. Stanisci, ISIA Roma Design, 2016 [10] “La campagna in città: l’agricoltura urbana a Milano” C. Stroppa, Napoli: Liguori, 1992

[9]

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URBAN FARMS

Urban farms are complex, futuristic and can be configured in a number of ways. Most of them contain rows of racks lined with plants rooted in soil, nutrient-enriched water, or simply air. Each tier is equipped with UV lighting to mimic the effects of the sun. Unlike the unpredictable weather of outdoor farming, growing indoors allows farmers to tailor conditions to maximize growth.

The downside of urban farms is that they require a big amount of technical knowledge to be set up, along with high consumption of electricity, that not always can be from renewable sources.

With the proper technology, farming can go anywhere. That’s what the new trend of urban farming shows — these farms go beyond simple community vegetable gardens to provide food to consumers in surrounding areas. All vertical farmers need is some space and access to electricity; no special facilities required. Farmers can buy everything they need to start and maintain their farms online as easily as shopping on Amazon which is why these innovative solutions are starting to gain traction all over the world. Urban farms have the potential to change the world’s agricultural landscape. They can bring greater yields in smaller areas, increase access to healthy options in urban food deserts, and mitigate the environmental impact of feeding the world. Moreover, city farming enables more people to eat as “local” as possible and making it easier for urban populations to get the freshest food possible. By growing food closer to those who will eat it, “food miles”, or the long-distance transportation needed, is substantially decreased. When food doesn’t need to be transported, a lot of plastic packaging can be cut out of the equation, too.

A LAB VERTICAL FARM A Lab Amsterdam has a small vertical farm run by volunteers where salads and herbs are grown in different types of soils and conditions (see picture). As a volunteer (between October 2018 and May 2019), I had the chance to learn all the processes from the sowing to the harvesting, while also taking care of the maintenance of the farm.

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CAN WE DO IT AT HOME? Many growing kits can be found on the market. They usually allow the user to grow one to five plants in a controlled or semi-controlled environment. They can either assist with keeping the ground moist or providing specific red-blue lights that will enhance the plant growth. More technical DIY “food computers� have a deeper control on the variables involved in the plants growth, but requires more knowledge of how to build and maintain them.

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Examples of commercial solutions to grow edible plants indoor

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P E R M AC U LT U R E

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Permaculture uses a set of principles and practices to design sustainable human settlements. The word, a contraction of both “permanent culture” and “permanent agriculture,” was coined by two Australians: Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. In the 1970s Mollison and Holmgren, using what they had observed in nature and in indigenous cultures, began to identify the principles that made those systems so rich and sustainable. Their hope was to apply these principles to designing sustainable, productive landscapes.

“IF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES HAD BEEN LIVING RELATIVELY HARMONIOUSLY IN THEIR ENVIRONMENTS FOR MILLENNIA, THEN LIFE AND INDIGENOUS CULTURES MUST HAVE FIGURED OUT SOME THINGS ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY” [10]. Permaculture began, then, as a set of tools for designing landscapes that are inspired by nature, yet include humans.

[10]

“Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition” Toby Hemenway

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PERMACULTURE PRINCIPLES Permaculture principles allow to create a way of cultivating that can endure and thrive for generations to come. To help us understand how permaculture leads us to a more ethical and sustainable way of life, David Holmgren made a list of twelve design principles that make permaculture a way to reach a more ethical and sustainable life. They are mostly applied to agricultural practices but can be expanded to other fields [12]:

These principles can be used as a reference to design green spaces in the urban environment. The implementations can start very small - in backyards and small portions of green - and increase in size to reach parks and urban forests. The following interventions can be easily implemented in an urban backyard by any inexperienced gardeners. The improvement in the biodiversity will be soon visible.

- Observe and Interact - Catch and Store Energy - Obtain a Yield - Apply Self-Regulation and Feedback - Use and Value Renewables - Produce No Waste - Design from Patterns to Details - Integrate Don’t Segregate - Use Small, Slow Solutions - Use and Value Diversity - Use Edges and Value the Marginal - Creatively Use and Respond to Change

[12]

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“The permaculture city - Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban and Town Resilience” Toby Hemenway


URBAN ECOSYSTEMS

Herb spirals parsil chives

coriander oregano rosemary

thyme watercress

violets

Herb spirals are the perfect small intervention that can be made in a backyard, to follow permaculture principles. Herb spirals are a 2- meters wide construction that allows the gardener to grow a big variety of herbs by planting them in different “zones” of the spiral. The shape, in fact, allows to have different “microclimates” with different amounts of light and moisture. [12]

tarragon

chamomile marigold

mint

basil

pond

Different herb spiral designs Can be adapted to the locations and materials available.

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Keyhole beds

The shape of a garden determines how much of its area can actually be used to contain plants, and how much should be dedicated to paths to let the garden reach them. Vegetable gardens can be designed differently than the usual rows of plants, in order to optimize the space’s usage and make it easier for the gardener to reach and maintain the vegetables. Rounded design with branched pathways mimick branching patterns used in nature to collect or disperse nutrients, energy, and water, like tree branches spread leaves over a wide area to better absorb sunlight and forking roots gather nutrients and moisture.

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DESIGNING A GARDEN FOLLOWING PERMACULTURE PRINCIPLES Designing a garden following permaculture principles requires much more than just picking which plants to put in a specific location. The whole design process needs to take into account both the needs of the garden owner and the natural environment in which the garden is located . The first step is to observe the location, taking notes about soil composition and exposure to natural elements like wind, sun and rains. It’s very important to observe during the different times of the day and in different seasons, as the best design should take into account all the changes in the environment over time. The second step is all about imagining what the place can look and feel like, mainly based on what the owner wants and needs. The planning phase comes third and combines the first two steps. How can the desires become reality taking into account the specifics of the location? The planning phase requires detailed research to understand what’s the best design could be for every detail of the garden and every produce desired. Permaculture patterns (for example herb spirals and keyhole beds) are the first things to be included in the landscapes if the conditions allow them. Studying behaviours and relationships between different species will allow a true ecosystem to develop in the garden while making full use of space and resources naturally available in the chosen location. [13]

The finals steps are development and implementation, where the final design decisions need to be taken and sketched on paper, getting into details about design elements, species and varieties. During the actual building of the permaculture garden, new discoveries about the landscape might occur. These need to be taken into account and the design has to be adapted accordingly [13]. Once the design is completed, the garden will start thriving following the natural cycle of seasons and adjusting to the local climate. Correct planning requires a minimum effort from the gardener, as all the elements in the ecosystem are interconnected and working as a whole. A garden of 100mq can provide in a year more than 400kg of herbs, fruits and vegetables, with a care of 4 hours a week. More than enough to provide food for 2 adults and occasional guests [14] . Not bad!

“Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition” Toby Hemenway [14] The Plummery - permaculture garden

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9ZukMyejLk

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THE URBAN E C O S YS T E M

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WHAT’S THE ROLE OF PLANTS IIN THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT OF THE FUTURE? An ecosystem is a community of living and non-living components that cohabit in the same environment and interact with each other. Ecosystems are controlled by external factors, like climate, the composition of the soil (i.e. what the soil consists of) and the topography. The internal factors are, instead, controlled, like the types of species, the way the species interact with each other and how they evolve.

IF WE IMAGINE THE FUTURE OF CITIES AS A BIGGER ECOSYSTEM WE WOULD HAVE TO DESIGN A WAY TO MAKE HUMANS, INFRASTRUCTURE AND TECHNOLOGY INTERACT WITH A MORE “NATURAL” LAYER OF PLANTS AND ANIMALS COHABITING TOGETHER.

City living and landscaping pose a unique set of challenges and opportunities for ecological gardening in smaller spaces. Backyards, city parks and even parking lots and office courtyards could become lush, productive, and attractive landscapes that aid nature while yielding much for people as well, instead of being the grassy voids that they are now [15]. Conventional yards and gardens mimic ecosystems at their early stage, when they are usually dominated by early-succession plants. By keeping lawns mowned and free from weeds, we’re attempting to keep our yards at an early stage of ecological development. An immature ecosystem like a lawn demands that we expend time, energy, and materials to stop or slow down nature. Yet nature relies on multifunctionality, redundancy and biodiversity. Diversity can come from two sources. The first one is from the gardeners planting a broad assortment of flowers, shrubs, and trees. The second one is the diversity of life that can be found nearby in wild places, such as birds, bugs, and plants both imported and native that are ready to spread into the urban habitat, but are stopped by the human intervention. The two depend on each other and are fundamental to create a balanced ecosystem [15].

“The permaculture city - Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban and Town Resilience” Toby Hemenway

[15]

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Green walls help fighting air pollution and offer a home to many small animals and insects.

Parks of the future could be transformed in vegetable gardens for food production, enhancing a sense of community between citizens of each neighbourhood.

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ECOURBANISM

DEVELOPMENT OF MULTIDIMENSIONAL SUSTAINABLE HUMAN COMMUNITIES WITHIN HARMONIOUS AND BALANCED BUILT ENVIRONMENTS

Vertical farms will be essential for sustainable food production.

Trees can provide food, shadow and increase biodiversity.

Roof gardens can be used for food production, temperature control, hydrological benefits, architectural enhancement, habitats for wildlife and recreational opportunities. They attract bees and help them in their role of pollinators.


URBAN ECOSYSTEMS

The key process in urban permaculture, to reach an urban ecosystem, is designing and living within a web of mutually beneficial relationships that link the elements of the cultural and social world as well as those of the natural one. Urban life is impoverished without a strong connection to the local. Cities self-organize, and much of that organization happens at a personal, neighborhood and community level. Creating the conditions for community, prosperity, and resilience to grow can start with something as simple as a neighborhood [16]. In many cases it makes sense to focus first on solving for needs at the personal level, but there’s an inevitable push to move beyond the personal to the community or local realm. Growing food ecologically builds diverse links to people, policies and nature. You can grow all your food, but it’s less work, more resilient, and probably healthier to meet your food needs via a community of food suppliers at multiple scales. Part of urban permaculture is identifying, preserving, and building those mutually supportive relationships between all the stakeholders involved in the city.

[16]

“Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition” Toby Hemenway [17] “NL Pollination Strategy”

promotepollinators.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/117/2018/07/nl-pollinator-strategy-bed-breakfast-for-bees.pdf

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WHAT’S THE ROLE OF POLLINATORS? The main issue that future citizens will face is producing enough food for everyone. The challenge of merging nature with the urban landscape can start from the goal to increase the growth of edible plants and trees by making sure that pollination can happen. Pollination – the transfer of grains of pollen – is an essential step in the reproduction process for most food crops and plants and takes place when bees and other pollinator species move from plant to plant. Pollination is necessary for more than 75% of our food crops, primarily vegetables and fruit, and for more than 85% of wild plants in the natural environment. Pollinators are indispensable for the natural ecosystem to flourish, but they are at risk of extinction worldwide. In the Netherlands there are 360 bee species, but more than half are endangered. Insufficient pollination results in a decline of vegetation, potentially giving rise to a food shortage for wild animal species, including bees, mammals and insects [17].

It is important for biodiversity to enhance the habitat of wild bees and other species, both in the countryside as well as in towns and cities. It is crucial to provide bees with food supply and nesting sites, promoting infrastructures and green spaces all around the urban environment. Herbs and wild flowers provide the ideal habitat for these species, but are harder to find in cities, where green spaces are primarily focused on decoration and entertainment.

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W H AT ’ S T H E ROLE OF DESIGN(ERS)?


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Designers have the massive opportunity to enable more sustainable behaviours through making it easier to do things in a more sustainable way. Lowering the barriers to sustainable behaviour means doing research with people, in this case citizens, to understand and empathise with the struggles that prevent them from taking action into making the city greener. By providing simple and effective solutions, designers are able to inspire and promote a behavioural change in citizens. The following projects where developed between September 2018 and January 2020 by three different teams of learners at Digital Society School. Digital Society School is an educational institution that seeks to research the impact of technology on society, develop the skills necessary to guide the transformation and pass on this knowledge and these skills to a new generation of professionals. All projects tackles some specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Multidisciplinary teams of designers, programmers, social/digital media experts, researchers, copywriters and storytellers work together on a design brief provided by an industry partner, to develop a working prototype, as the ones in the coming pages.

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GROW KIT 1.0 A sensor stick in a pot sends data to the main hub to show the user if the most important parameters of plants’ health (moisture, temperature and light) are optimal for the growth.

Team members Angelo Moestadja Anisha Sivakumaran Joel Ruhe Maitrayee Sohni Coach Ilaria Zonda Project partner Vodafone - Ziggo

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GROWKIT 1.0 As part of a fall 2018 semester project, a team of multidisciplinary learners researched and designed a sensor kit that could be both cheap and easy to use by inexperienced people. For the first iteration of the Growkit we focused on designing a system that would be small, simple and that could fit every possible pot that people could have in their homes. The system consists of: one or multiple sensor sticks directly connected to various plants, a central unit to display notifications, and a mobile application. The sensors stick The sensor stick (Catnip Electronics) measures the moisture of the soil, the amount of sunlight the plant receives and the room temperature. The stick can be put in the soil close to the potted plant the user wants to monitor. The stick sends the measured data to the central unit, which will provide the user with feedback regarding their plant’s health. On the first installation the user tells the stick, through the mobile application, the type of plant that it is going to monitor. The data received from the sensors are compared to the optimal conditions for that specific species of plant and feedback is given to the users through the central unit. Multiple sticks can be connected to a single central unit so that a user can monitor as many plants as they like. The central unit All the sticks send the information obtained from the sensors to the central unit. The central unit displays the health of the plants to which each stick is connected to the user through lights and sounds. The central unit has a circular shape with three circles. The different circles represent the three different measurements of the plant (i.e. water, light and temperature) through an integrated LED strip.

The LEDs light up depending on which measured aspect of the plant needs attention. For example, when any of the plants is subjected to an unfavorable room temperature for too long, the temperature ring will turn red indicating the user needs to address the ambient temperature of their plants. The app The mobile application receives all the data from the central unit and gives detailed information to the user about each plant that is being monitored. Thus, the app plays an important role in providing users with feedback about their plants. Importantly, the app also serves as a way for individual users to connect with others around growing food at home. With this, our aim was to virtually recreate the community gardens’ social aspect, that was considered to be a key component of the success of community gardens. People feel more motivated when they can share knowledge and connect with other people with a similar interest. Interviews with members of the community garden revealed some interesting social interactions that members engage in, such as showing their plants to friends, asking questions to more expert people when in doubt about how to best treat a specific plant, helping someone else by sharing personal knowledge, celebrating success and connecting with like-minded people, and sharing their harvest. Through the mobile application we wanted to connect individuals, not only in the same city, but also on a larger scale by giving them a platform where they can share the sensor data of their plants and get feedback on the growing process. Each user has a personal profile showing the plants they are growing and the milestones they want to reach. The community of users can interact and encourage each other by celebrating successes and giving advice through a forum section where everybody can share their knowledge and ask specific questions.

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GROWKIT 2.0 Building upon Growkit 1.0’s initial efforts to develop a solution to raise awareness about sustainable and responsible food production in an urban context by harnessing the opportunities offered by the internet of things, a second fully functional prototype came to life as a spring 2019 semester project.

The final result is a sensor stick that can be put in a pot. A set of three lights indicates measurements of the plant’s need for light, temperature, and water. Compared to the previous version, the interaction with the user comes directly through the sensor stick, without the need of an additional central hub.

The product aims to help individuals gain confidence, no matter their level of knowledge in gardening, to grow their food and create a community around these habits and support trade of excess produce. As millennials and social media are currently considered industry drivers for the home plant industry, the team focussed its design decisions to cater to this market while emphasizing the aesthetics of the product. While the entire design process followed a human-centric approach by applying various empathetic design methodologies, the project also consisted of intensive market research, problem definition, strategic business development and experimentation with recycled plastics.

Different designs for the sensor stick

Team members Martin van der Wolf Jien Wakasugi Mari Pinheiro Luca Guagliardo Hugo Hruska Coach Ilaria Zonda Project partner Vodafone - Ziggo

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URB UA RN B AENC O NS AT YU SR TEMS

GROW KIT 2.0 The iterated sensor stick integrates both the sensors and the hub, using a simpler and more immediate light language to communicate with the user. This compact version uses fewer materials which reduces the production costs and makes the overall product more sustainable.

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URB UA RN B AENC O NS AT YU SR TEMS

Team members Yiting Tang Vivika Ekman Asli Erdem Mudita Singh Coach Ilaria Zonda Project partner Rooftop revolution

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CITY BUZZ An artificial flower attracts pollinators thanks to a specific pattern and colour. A camera mounted on top can detect the insects flying on the flower and count them to monitor biodiversity.


URB UA RN B AENC O NS AT YU SR TEMS

CITY BUZZ The City Buzz project focuses on the possibilities for citizens to be an active part in making cities green and help bees and pollinators thrive in the urban context. The aim is to identify what role technology plays in spreading the message of sustainability and measure the impact of any developed solution. City Buzz is composed by an artificial flower, able to both attract bees, detect and count them. The solution uses gamificatino to encourage rooftop owners to grow different flowers and increase biodiversity. The artificial flower The artificial flower is a sensor that can be installed in rooftop gardens near flowers and plants. Its specific colour is meant to attract bees and other pollinators, which are attracted to specific lightwaves. On top of the flower, a smart camera is mounted to detect pollinators flying underneath. Once they are detected, they are also counted. The sensor can be used to measure the biodiversity of a green area and how the area impacts the number of species of pollinators benefitting from it. The app A gamification approach helps users to get to know about the presence of biodiverse green areas, especially rooftop gardens, which are normally diffilcult to see. Biodiverse green areas are shown on a map of the user’s location within a certain city. The artificial flower interacts with the mobile app that is used by garden owners and by any citizen interested

in getting involved. Rooftop owners Rooftop owners can pair up their sensor in the garden with the mobile app and, simply by taking a picture, log all the different flowers present in their garden. The higher the variety, the more points the garden’s owner receives. Once the sensor in the artificial flower detects the presence of pollinators, the owners get points, and their rooftop lights up in the city map. Citizens Citizens will see the presence of pollinators in a specific location and can simulate pollination behaviour by going to the area and collect “pollen” and points.Virtual locations where citizens can take quizzes about pollinators are spread around the city. The quizzes cover different pollinators and the importance of a biodiverse environment, especially in an urban context.

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URBAN ECOSYSTEMS

G ARDEN B OT a personal project by Ilaria Zonda

GardenBot is a chatbot to help citizens that want to experiment with growing food at home. The chat asks where the user is located and in which part of the house they want to garden. Based on the sun’s position in the user’s location, the bots suggests specific plants and provides information on how to better take care of them. The chatbot, at its early stage, has a quite simple structure. After the initial greetings, the bot asks the users if they are ready to start growing something and where the user lives. The answer can be a city or a neighborhood, followed by the request to identify the specific location in the user’s house where they want to grow something. To keep it simple and easy to use, the chatbot provides four options: “Window” “Balcony” “Rooftop” “Backyard”.

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Based on that answer, the bot asks if the location is sunny or shaded, to provide the users with four different choices of plants. If the location is sunny rocket, tomatoes, basil, or mint are suggested. If the location is shaded the bot suggests lettuce, parsly, thyme, or coriander. By choosing one of the options, the user goes to a (third-party) website where they can get all the information on how to grow that specific plant.


URBAN ECOSYSTEMS

The chatbot has been developed with Dialogflow and can be tested on Telegram. Dialogflow is a Google-owned developer of human-computer interaction technologies based on natural language conversations. Telegram is an instant messaging app where users can send messages and exchange photos, videos, stickers, audio and files of any type, as well as interact with bots.

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CONCLUSIONS

URBAN ECOSYSTEMS

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URBAN ECOSYSTEMS

Half of the global population currently lives in cities and that number is destined to rise. For that reason cities are the place where the work on sustainability needs to be done the most. The demands for resources and the overall environmental impact of cities lies at the heart of the planet’s ecological crisis. A lot of work still needs to be done to rebalance the relationship between cities and nature. Planting trees and funding restoration projects will not be sufficient if the mindset and actions of city inhabitants do not also change. A paradigm shift towards urban ecosystems is necessary. Urbanized humankind has the tools, knowledge, and spirit to make this happen. Given the environmental impact of cities in the future, and the effects that climate change will have on them, it is vital that cities are designed to be ecologically sensitive and environmentally sustainable. By taking inspiration from nature and integrating natural solutions in the design of urban ones, cities are destined to become proper living ecosystems, where citizens, plants and animals can thrive. An urban ecosystem is also equipped to face the future challenges coming from climate change and unexpected global crisis, as it will adapt and make use of its resilience, in the same way that natural ecosystems do.

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ILARIA ZONDA Digital Transformation Designer DIGITAL SOCIETY SCHOOL ilaria.zonda@gmail.com

Profile for ilaria.zonda

Urban Ecosystem  

With the expected rise of the population living in cities, there will be a challenge to make the urban environment more sustainable and able...

Urban Ecosystem  

With the expected rise of the population living in cities, there will be a challenge to make the urban environment more sustainable and able...

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