Monday, October 06, 2008

Green Manhattan

A very funny—while completely serious—article from the New Geographic about growing crops in Manhattan high rises.

An excerpt.

“In the Seventies, thanks to environmentalism, grand engineering projects fell out of favor. E. F. Schumacher and J. R. Tolkien were the new gods. Skyscrapers and dams were passé. Utopia was a sod-roofed hobbit hole designed by Amory Lovins. But human fascination with large-scale projects could not be satisfied by designing high-tech composting bins in the backyard. So now we have the arrival of something new: It’s the gee-whiz engineering boondoggle of yesteryear resurrected with a thin veneer of greenwash turning it into... Call it a greendoggle.

“Inside a high-rise was that farm
Ee-yi ee-yi O

“Scientific American, a once-sober magazine that seems to be going down-market along with National Geographic, has just published its own flashy Earth 3.0 issue, with stories like “MisLEEDING? When Green Architecture isn’t Green” and “China’s Eco-City.” On page 74 you will find “GROWING VERTICAL”: Cultivating crops in downtown skyscrapers might save bushels of energy and provide city dwellers with distinctively fresh food.” The hero of the article is Dickson Despommier, a microbiologist at Columbia University, who proposes growing food downtown in glass-walled buildings.

“Scientific American, of course, gushes over the idea as a way to plan “more sustainable cities,“ sustainability being the ultimate planning buzzword of the moment. A brief internet search reveals widespread discussion of vertical farming—not only Professor Despommier’s vertical farms and feedlots, but proposals for raising produce on green roofs downtown.

“At first sight, the idea seems plausible. True, vertical farming would be a non-starter if urban rents were higher than rural rents. But we all know that land is just as cheap in downtown Manhattan as it is in rural Nebraska, right? One wonders, though, why farming moved off the island a more than a century ago.

“Professor Despommier claims that food grown indoors would be pesticide-free, unlike that dirty outdoor produce. Once again, totally plausible. Big American cities are as free of rats and roaches as Ireland is of snakes. The Museum of Natural History has a glass case containing the last rat found in New York City, way back before World War I. (Just don’t look down at the tracks when you are waiting for a subway).”