the edible city

A third of the world population (regardless of geopgraphic location or nationality) is moving from rural areas to the cities, within one generation the global urban population is expected to double. Today, almost 80% of europeans live and work in urban agglomerations. This raises a great deal of social, economical and environmental issues. How do cities deal with these facts, now and for the future?
Growing Food for the Hungry City is an OpenGreens project that researches the possibilities of Urban Agriculture and the green zones in the future city. Can cities secure their food security? How participative are the citizens? What is the motivation of the do-ers, the collectives of citizens? How do collectives, families and individuals organize their temporary green zones in OpenGreen networks, autonomous and bottom up? Do these sustainable cities thrive on new food politics, supported by a democratic and eco-minded community engagement?
The thread of this project is the creation of an OpenGreen track along the canal, a biological corridor that is connected by the flightroutes and foraging areas of city honeybees.

TAZ: urban voids, temporary autonomous zones

Due to social and economical developments, the space surrounding us is continually subjected to adaptations. In an urban context however, this process is often confronted to the inertness of the built environment, resulting in ‘interruptions’ of the continuity of the urban fabric. This becomes obvious for example in places of conflict, deterioration and/or vacancy. Today for instance, the transformation of the city from an industrial node to a node of knowledge has resulted in the withdrawal of production units from the city centres, leaving behind numerous voids.
Re-appropriation and reincorporation of these spaces is time-consuming. First of all our society doesn’t always have well-defined purposes for these places. But even if there is a clear plan, the realization of any spatial redevelopment project is always preceded by a (sometimes very lengthy) phase of conceptualization, negotiation, planning and preparation, before the actual realization on site can start. On top of that implementation of plans can easily be delayed due to financial, social or other reasons.
This is why there will always be a number of urban spaces that are temporarily ‘in transition’. These are the places we are focusing on: abandoned by their previous users and not adapted to the demands of the current society, these places seem unsuitable or undesirable in the mainstream economic cycle. Because of this, they often (temporarily) slip out of the main urban actors’ notice and are left behind with little or no use - we could therefore say that they are ‘temporary out of use’. They consist of large or small scale places, public or private and built or un-built, which are in some kind of in-between phase - a pause - in functionality. Therefore these spaces can be described as ‘pause-land/spaces’.
Learning form tactical approaches to urban voids, 02 april 2012 - Aurelie De Smet - K.U. Leuven, Faculty of Architecture - Campus Sint-Lucas (LUCA)

tactical urbanism: reclaim the rooftops!

As mentioned earlier, quite recently we observed the emergence of a broad range of urban activism emerging worldwide. These civil initiatives oriented towards spatial planning and urban redevelopment, aim at ‘re-conquering’ the city from institutional and economical organizations by mobilizing the bottom-up energy of the city and enabling citizens to take part in the shaping of their daily environment. They believe that the dynamism created by this network of weak and everyday users, might be able contribute to the reconstitution of urban life in areas, where official (traditional) planning strategies do not seem to offer adequate solutions anymore. To refer to this broad range of alternative urban interventions arsing worldwide today that are attempting at answering the need for more contemporary, flexible and spontaneous ways of developing we will use the term ’tactical urbanism’. The use of this term is inspired by a piece of writing by Rebar (2010) saying that ’In contrast to technocratic urbanism, there exists a set of people, processes, and places that we would characterize as user-generated urbanism. This is the urbanism of the tactician, those devising temporal and interim uses, and seeking voids, niches, and loopholes in the socio-spatial fabric. These processes are made evident in circular, hybridized, and overlapping patterns of resource consumption and tend to foster a diverse, resilient, social ecology.’ It also follows the distinction between tactics and strategy as applied by Michel de Certeau to describe the behaviour of people and institutions. A tactician, unlike a strategist, depends not power or financial resources to achieve his goal, but instead makes use of external forces (visitors, media, …) and specific circumstances, manipulating them in order to achieve his goal. He is motivated and wants to work hard, even with limited resources, for the realization of his plans.
An investigation into the approaches and methods employed by these actors, that we then could call ’tactical urbanists’, reveals that ‘temporary use of urban voids’ is one of the tools that is commonly adopted by them. The potential of voids to act as ‘heterotopia’, ‘liminal places’, ‘thirdspaces’ and/or ‘terrains vagues’ is then exactly what they are taking advantage of.

artistic approach to urban voids

The edible city cpuls-project (continuous productive urban landscapes) is an artistic research on the levels of sustainability of the future city. More specific, it takes a closer look at models of urban gardening and urban agriculture and examines how communities occupy with these activities the (unused) public space.
The edible city project monitors a network of green urban voids and renders the green belt-information in an augmented city map.
How much 'green space' is still available in the city, and what is the best possible interpretation we can give to these liminal places? Can we come up with new models for building a more resilient, sustainable and ecological society?

Artists occupy the public space and develop activities with a specific ecological focus: hack the top level of city and give it another destination. Connect different rooftop gardens in a network of OpenGreens and city honeybees.
The greenhouse rooftop garden project blends nature and technology. By digital means it explores how the growth, blossoming and decay of plants occur while they are submitted to different abiotic elements as wind, rain, sun, etc.
Can we learn something from the data resulting from the monitorings? Is our environment programmable? Does the fusion of natural and artificial matter produce new organisms, new environments, new natures?
Elements of the garden, plants as well as technology, become nodes in wireless networks. This happens both on rooftop level as on city level. The connections between people, plants, sensornetworks and utilities of the rooftopgarden are mapped for further study.
We submit the data to the 3 ecologies (Guattari, 1969) : ecological, social and political.

New forms of sculpting the public space can be found in rooftop hacking and squatting, transforming rooftops into urban fields, short chain agriculture. These are interdisciplinary activities situated between art and the broader social and political world. Their aim is to provoke a change. It are forms of site-specific art. The natural environment as in a process of a constant change, the city layers overwritten by various urban systems: socio-political and historical but also industrial and economical systems. The work involves natural processes, but as well elements of technology.
Important is the recultivation of the land/location, the historical act of rewriting, of adding new layers, with the help of earth/art methods, DIY instruments and technology. This new world is perceived from the perspective of the 3 ecologies as stated by Guattari: social, mental and environmental. The eco-logic can be found in everydays’ life. The existence for the art world is confirmed as covered by film, audio recordings, photographs, maps, diagrams, drawings and storytelling, together they create an augmented reality.

the canal - a biological corridor

Biological corridor is the designation for a continuous geographic extent of habitat linking ecosystems, either spatially or functionally; such a link restores or conserves the connection between habitats that are fragmented by natural causes or human development. Such corridors are an important aspect in the preservation of species richness and biodiversity. There are different scales of biological corridors, but all share the same purpose of providing connections for species through fragmented landscapes.

A biological corridor, alternatively termed habitat corridor, is used for the transportation functions of fauna and seed dispersal/propagation routes for flora and lower life forms. Specific elements of this transport for fauna include seasonal or migration movement, life cycle links, species dispersal, re-colonization of an area and movement in response to external pressures. These corridors are not always literally continuous, some acting as stepping stones that provide resting and feeding stops along migratory routes that may contain inhospitable territory. Managed areas adjacent to these corridors are called buffer zones. These zones extend the areas within which faunal species can travel or flora species can propagate.
There are many different types of habitat that are suitable for these pathways: natural, semi-natural and artificial.

Cpul - Katrin Bohn and Andre Viljoen, architects : the edible city - continuous productive urbanlandscapes
London 2045 - Katrin Bohn and Andre Viljoen, architects : Cpuls, London 2045

biological corridors, an ICT approach

Art and ICT. Citizens and Sustainability.
The project will develop the ICT components necessary to support the bottom-up emergence of ecological corridors in urban areas. Ecological corridors are ephemeral living structures in the form of green spaces connected through animal life (such as bee colonies), that are set up and maintained by communities to regenerate areas of the city, particularly areas which are undergoing social and urban stress. These corridors can contribute to social cohesion and sustainability by raising awareness and minimizing resource waste. Several ICT technologies are crucial to achieve such corridors: Embedded systems, novel sensors, low energy computing, and sensor networks are needed for monitoring soil quality, plant growth processes, animal activity, pollution and the movement and interaction of people within the local environment. Mobile communication and geoinformatics are needed for aggregating sensory data and projecting it in real time onto maps. Complex systems analysis, low energy computing, and machine learning are needed for detecting patterns to allow prediction and the shaping of ongoing social and biological processes, and novel user interfaces are needed to make embedded technologies accessible and usable without requiring sophisticated background or training. The project will be highly innovative because it opens up a new application area for a whole range of ICT technologies and because it generates deep challenges that will push the state of the art for each technology as well as their integration into a complex distributed system. The project will also innovate by putting artistic methodologies at the heart of the project. Ecological corridors require disruptive action in the city and intense participation of citizens which will not happen by itself. The role of artists is to help create a safe space for the needed disruptive action and to develop effective representations that would increase participation and help to dissiminate the results of the project.

artistic research methodologies

More than ever today, nature has become inseparable from culture. If we are to understand the interactions between ecosystems, the mecanosphere, and the social and individual universes of reference, we have to think tranversality. (Guattari)
Guattari deduces that aesthetic praxis together with science and technology offers the most productive answer to questions of the living environment.
It is necessary to always look anew, how artworks deal with the relation between ethical and aesthetic across the various disciplinary fields, what is the politics of art tools.
To become familiar with the context of the origin, distribution and presentation of the works. With the relationship which these works establish between natural and cultural.

Artists are outside of the demands of market and disciplinary conventions, and thus with more ease research and widen various methods and technologies, and – since they are not subjected to priorities designated by specific disciplines- follow non-for-profit lines of research. The cooperation with experts and wider public is necessary.
Projects which often take as a starting point a specific problem and look for the solution in ecological context. The disappearance of agricultural land, monoculture in commercial agriculture, genetically modified plants, biodiversity, relations between the natural and the cultural, the concept of permaculture, the visualization or sonification of natural processes as bees’ activity …
Art storytelling (movie making, book making) can become an efficient political tool for advocating the changes in concrete locations.

Artistic research : What goal? Which link to sciences? How?
Sculpting the cityscape. Sculpting eco-politics. Sculpting green time. We are artists who don’t hesitate to get dirty with natural materials. We want to be the motors of ecological recultivation. We organise ourselves in a modern ecological movement, and we develop an ecological activism where ecology is perceived as a subversive science.
The research is set up as a long term collaboration with scientists.
Socially engaged art activities should be subversive and create situations of conflict and incertitude rather than look for solutions.
New forms of ethical thinking should evolve right from the aesthetic regime.
Aesthetics as an ability to think contradictions.
Environmental art cannot avoid the negotiations between aesthetic –political relations. Reconnect art and science with their related contexts and fields of expertise.

Intertwining lines of ecological art and science.
Neglectic, wild, invasive plants provided with labels and make them fully fledged components of their garden. The cultivated spaces are monitored with open source tools. By collecting the data (information about humidity, light and t° conditions) a different reading of the environment is generated.
Ecological artists should be aware not only when the issues of the environment protection are ignored or when scientifically based arguments are being deformed in economic interests. They should also resist temptations of environmentalist ideology, taking ecology as inherently improving and in itself necessary bringing a certain goodness to the world.
Garden of monasteries, botanical gardens, laboratory gardens, gardens of protected areas.
Works that are aesthetically compelling, disconcerting, challenging the established perception modes in various ways.

gardens participating in the case study

  • vilvoorde - NNOF / your.mover
  • thurn&taxis
  • kaaitheater
  • okno
  • gemeentehuis molenbeek
  • so-on x2
  • libanese garagehouder
  • semaphore asbl - péniche Jean Bart / pierre renault
  • barbara van dyck / kobe matthys

practice, fieldnotes and dissemination

  • hardware ICT : sensornetworks for data gathering
  • data storage in databases
  • biological research (bees / foraging areas, plants, agriculture)
  • anthropological research (history, people)
  • data analyses
  • data visualizations
  • output

BOOK output

theoretical section (upper halve of the page)
The general outline for the book is set-up as follows: there will be 2 main texts running as a thread through the book/research:
- one on the current state of the city, focusing on the ecological aspect of the canal zone: green zones, urban voids, citizen's initiatives, community projects, DIY, bottom-up
- and one on the history of urban agriculture and gardening, focusing again on the perifery of Brussels around the canal zone.
These 2 texts will define the starting point for the research. They will be cut up and extensively annotated by field research findings,
transcriptions of interviews with gardeners and other actors involved, in the green city belt along the canal.
practical section (lower halve of the page)
Also the practice -the laboratory function of these gardens- will play an important role. Here we monitor on a more microscopic level the evolution in the gardens.
the link
the link between the 'general' (macro: political, economical, social, ecological) and the 'specific' (micro: garden-level, plants, animals, …) are the flightroutes and foraging areas of the honeybees.

research list

  • field research on the different gardens along the canal
  • interviews with gardeners and annotations in padma video database
  • practice in the urban fields and urban orchard (so-on)
  • permaculture practice in the edible forest rooftop garden
  • technological monitoring with different sensors and webcams
  • logging data in databases
  • fablab prints and technology

bees from brussels, real time ……………………….. Joseph Beuys - 7.000 oaks, dia foundation NYC

corridors: study topics

How can we study, measure, monitor, store and compare the differences between an urban corridor and the rest of the city?
What are the levels, domains, areas, … we have to look into?
What sustainable technology do we have to develop to monitor the (changes in) environmental urban layers?

We can work with TIME CAPSULES, showing slices in time of a specific OpenGreen in the Corridor, represented by its environmental data. What data do we add to the Time Capsule?

  • Plant diversity
  • air quality
  • degree of pollution / small particles
  • soil quality
  • all meteo elements (rain/wind/sun)

activity patterns

  • economic
  • social
  • cultural
  • historical
  • representation: the ecological Time Capsule

we can compose a capsule with different items, and repeat this for the different participating OpenGreens:

  • pollen (and plant determination through the pollen)
  • dried plants with a description of the active constituents and a representation of the %
  • strips of paper colored by the degree of air pollution on a specific timeslot,
  • dead bees with their descriptions

We can compare the data of the different Time Capsules and check and compare the emergent patterns:

Emerging is an interdisciplinary dialogue whereby philosophy and literature would learn from each other to think about, imagine, and describe, vegetal life with critical awareness, conceptual rigor, and ethical sensitivity. Literary works featuring plant imagery may be analyzed with reference to philosophical frameworks, while philosophical discussions of the meanings of vegetal life may be enriched and supported with the tools of literary criticism. Another dialogic dimension of the series entails a sustained engagement between Western and non-Western philosophies and religious traditions, representative of the human attitudes to plants. This “cross-pollination” of different fields of knowledge and experience will become possible thanks to the fundamental role plants play in human life, regardless of their backgrounding or neglect.

A biomarker, or biological marker, is an indicator of a biological state. It is a characteristic that is objectively measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological processes, pathogenic processes, or pharmacologic responses to a therapeutic intervention. It is used in many scientific fields.
In cell biology, a biomarker is a molecule that allows for the detection and isolation of a particular cell type.
In medicine, a biomarker can be a traceable substance that is introduced into an organism as a means to examine organ function or other aspects of health.

corridors at the salon of the critical art ensemble - documenta 13 kassel

In the spirit of Joseph Beuys, this salon discusses how art can be relevant again for shaping society in positive ways, as opposed to catering to the speculative interests of a small circle of rich collectors. Concretely, we put forward ecological CORRIDORS in urban environments as a new medium of social sculpture, a Gesamtkunstwerk that relies on the creative participation of many. Corridors are ephemeral living structures in the form of green spaces connected through animal life (such as bee colonies). They are set up and maintained by urban communities to regenerate areas of the city, particularly areas which are subject to social and urban stress. Corridors are here seen as art works that contribute to social cohesion and sustainability by raising awareness and minimizing resource waste. Artists create the safe spaces that enable the disruptive activities required to make corridors and they make the internal structure and activities of corridors visible through visual and auditory representations.

Ecological corridors rely partly on methods of urban agriculture, guerilla gardening, ecological management and social anthropology. Corridors can also make good use of avant-garde technologies, so that such projects become experiments on the edges of art, science and technology: Embedded systems, novel sensors, low energy computing and sensor networks are useful for monitoring soil quality, plant growth processes, animal activity, pollution and the movement and interaction of people within the local environment. Mobile communication and geoinformatics are useful for aggregating sensory data and projecting them in real time onto maps. Complex systems analysis, cloud computing, and machine learning are useful for detecting patterns to allow prediction and the shaping of ongoing social and biological processes. And novel user interfaces are needed to make embedded technologies accessible and usable without requiring sophisticated background or training.

This salon discusses the theoretical bases and ecological and technological foundations of corridors and challenges us to think how corridors act as art works. It then looks at concrete examples of ongoing projects that are in the process of realizing the vision of corridors, particularly the Open Green project by Annemie Maes of the artist collective OKNO in Brussels (

corridors as a social sculpture

  • social sculpture ref. Beuys: The idea being that every decision you make should be thought out and attempt to make or contribute to a work of art which in the end is society. This point of view invites followers to humble themselves by realizing that they are an important part of a whole not only an individual. (link with the honeybee colony)
  • corridors as a social sculpture ⇒ community, bottom up (the social, cultural and political function and potential of art) occupy public space
  • potential of art to bring about revolutionary change (Beuys) transformation (metaphore = honey)
  • effect environmental and social change through this project
  • participating gardens ⇒ active creative expressions of the participating inhabitants, communities, neighborhoods
  • social awareness raising : human activity that strives to (re)structure and (re)shape society and the environment
  • knowledge building of cities as complex ecosystems

corridors as artworks

  • bee tracking & mapping : flightroutes as emergent behaviour (
  • the color & texture of pollen + wax
  • alternative economies : honey & plants & vegetables as exchange for services

the importance of bees in the corridors

  • introduction of bees/honey ⇒ stands for transformation in habits, in society
  • honey (analysis) ⇒ can give diverse info on the habitat, on the available plants and food (urban agriculture) in the perimeter of the hive (connected OpenGreens)
  • honey analysis ⇒ compare the polluants in the different OpenGreens of the corridor
urban_corridors.txt · Last modified: 2016/01/13 18:48 (external edit)
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