Are we looking at a future of edible balconies and backyard chickens and rooftop beekeepers? Most city livers (and we are now a majority) have felt to some degree or other that a life without occasional access to nature feels empty — or, not empty enough. We make our cities bigger and bigger, and still can’t fully shake the feeling that the things people build, the things that most remind us of our humanness, also rob us of an essential part of our humanity. We have come to think this absence can only be filled by being in an environment that has nothing to do with us, that is bigger than we are. An environment we can’t control, that allows us to relinquish control when we are inside it. A lack of access to the natural world, that world we fought so very hard to protect ourselves from, has always left us a little colder inside.…Maybe the city is not such an obvious choice for agriculture. But then again, why not? Agriculture is, after all, culture. We can cultivate fountains in the desert; why not grow tomatoes on the windowsill? Urban gardeners tell us that we don’t need to leave the city to have a relationship with nature, nor do we have to leave nature alone in order to appreciate it. Whether or not urban growing truly brings us closer to nature, I cannot say. Perhaps, though, in turning farming into an aesthetic venture, urban growing will tweak the way we currently think about agriculture.Certainly, many urban gardeners are interested in the environmental (i.e. moral) consequences of city growing. The eco-ethical dream of those like Folke Günther is that urban gardening could move beyond aesthetic concerns and really help feed the world’s urban poor. For now, though, the movement outside my window is not subsistence farming. No one in Brooklyn is going to starve without urban gardens. Even so, urban gardeners are earnest in their agricultural pursuits. I think most commercial farmers would be pretty surprised to see how much children in Prospect Park have learned about irrigation techniques. What’s surely exciting is that urban gardeners have us imagining cities as we’ve never seen them, that move beyond public parks and designated green zones: rooftop apple-picking, gardens in school cafeterias, skyscrapers that emerge out of forests. The modern city as the new Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Gardens — and still Babylon, too.
I have no problem with the aesthetics of green roofs and vertical growing walls, of course. But again, the “environmental (moral) consequences of city growing”, just like those of eating meat, are not going to be offset by urban gardens and farmer’s markets as long as there are seven billion people and counting on Earth. Human beings cannot keep being fruitful and multiplying indefinitely while relying on cosmetic tweaks to magically produce sustainability.