How Town Planning Can Integrate Urban Agriculture in City Regeneration

For centuries, cities have been fed by their agricultural hinterland. Nevertheless, after the WW2 huge phenomena as the demographic explosion in cities, the globalization of the economic system and new lifestyles, deeply changed this relationship.

As a consequence in the planning schemes normally agriculture was not taken into account: it was corresponding, in fact, to a white surface on the map awaiting urbanization.

This spatial and functional rupture between city and agricultural hinterland remains associated to a social and economic breakdown between the two worlds.

Until recently, urban planning has been considering Urban and Peri-urban Agricultural areas (UPA) as reserve for new urban developments. Now, many of these areas come back dismissed and degraded or remain still unused. Another city comes back, expressing the need to be recovered within a framework of sustainability at all levels: environmental, social, economic and functional level. How to rescue these areas, excluding a mere real estate development? How transform them by retrieving an urban quality in terms of beauty, culture and productivity?

Today, several policies are underway worldwide, not enough consolidated but full of potential and positive impacts on urban and natural life. In this framework, UPA is becoming a major concern worldwide to such an extent that local officials are rethinking their approach to town planning either to maintain existing agriculture or to introduce new forms of agriculture. New institutional frameworks foster the entering of agriculture in the urban project perspective and raise the question of its sustainability. In fact, agricultural areas are more and more considered as a target of urban planning.

Beside, the choice to work on UPA as a strategic sector of urban transformation fosters a new way of urban rehabilitation and provides a new field for Urban Design and Town planning. It follows the opening of a 'slow' and truly innovative change in urban space and society, different by the usual urban renewal focused on tertiary complexes and prestige projects.

Therefore theory, practice and teaching of the UPA are nowadays separately carried out, by scattered means among the different European countries. It's time to overtake this deficiency in order to counter a too sharp distinction between the architect's and the urban planner's approach, also looking for a more efficient link with the other disciplinary fields currently engaged in UPA issues, as landscape design, agronomy, geography etc.

The Erasmus 2014 IP-Citygreening intends to propose solutions to strengthen this process, not yet consolidated but full of potential and positive impacts on urban life. Related to this a broad question arises: the defence of agriculture as a 'public good'.

Mains goals

An Intensive Programme (IP) is a short programme of study (…) which brings together students and staff from higher education institutions (…) in order to:

  • Encourage efficient and multinational teaching of specialist topics which might otherwise not be taught at all, or only in a very restricted number of universities;
  • Enable students and teachers to work together in multinational groups and so benefit from special learning and teaching conditions not available in a single institution, and to gain new perspectives on the topic being studied;
  • Allow members of the teaching staff to exchange views on teaching content and new curricular approaches and to test teaching methods in an international classroom environment"

Following this official mission the work of the IP-Citygreening is based on an interdisciplinary approach, directed to raise the urban quality by the means of innovative practices and development opportunities connected to the agricultural sector. It follows two goals/actions:

  • Providing students with conceptual and technical tools making them able to deal with the interface between Urban Design, Town Planning and Urban and Periurban Agriculture.
  • Carrying out a concrete experience in order to update the existing training curricula for architects and urban planners and set up a common educational framework that could integrate both careers.

In addition to this the IP will include an activity of participatory design with a forum of local stakeholders and city associations. The general aim is not only to identify operative proposal to local problems, but also to strengthen the action of local actors and research new ways of dealing with urban planning.

Associated goals

A set of additional goals is considered as follows:

  • increase the potential of synergy among city, planning and agriculture;
  • enabling the diffusion of an Agri-Culture within the urban community;
  • making available big green areas which maintenance is not depending on the public funding;
  • contributing to the general process of rehabilitation of dismissed or abandoned areas;
  • involving citizens and consumers, also through educational measures;
  • developing a public dialogue on "food and cities";
  • sensitizing young people and adults in UPA activities;
  • addressing the question of short supply logistics (km 0);
  • enlarging the new training process to the labour market stakeholders;
  • supporting new job opportunities in urban areas.

Two different approaches to UPA

UPA is today addressed in quite different ways. The 'western way', with worldwide movements mainly advocating for a soft revolution in terms of urban orchards, roof gardens, container gardens, garden towers etc.; this approach is recently opening toward a wider set of goals ; on the other hand the 'way of emergent countries', advocating for a UPA deeply related to the need to reduce food shortage.

NGOs give a strong impulse to bottom up actions but the institutional bodies don't show a same engagement and often don't give to local stakeholders the support they deserve. There is a lack of response to urban agriculture issue at social, economical and political levels, especially in terms of capacity to tie all these levels in an integrated and multi-layered strategy of UPA development. In short, there is a need of planning and design new agri-urban projects.

Field of study

The field of study is located in the Southern periphery of Turin, in a mainly agricultural area tight between a natural river park and the urban periphery.


The methodology is set with reference to two integrated approaches:

  • a Project Based Teaching (connected to the Workshop activity);
  • a Participative 'learning by doing', corresponding to the involvement of local co-partners and stakeholders, producing an iterative process top-down and bottom-up, among Institutional and non Institutional levels.


The concept of Urban Agriculture arises during the 1990s within the work of the Urban Agricultural Network supported by the United Nation Development Program (UNDP) and reported in 'Habitat II' (Istanbul, 1996). The report proposed to define the Urban Agriculture "as a distinct industry that needs to be recognized and treated as such".

A few years after, in the European Community, it arises the need that "the various peri-urban areas come together and provide an administrative body that pursues not only the protection but also the revival of agricultural land and agricultural activities, through territorial schemes of conservation, use and management of the land" (European Economic and Social Committee, Peri-urban agriculture, Brussels, 2004).

Today, Urban Agriculture is the object of a widespread set of policies and practices carried on by institutional and non-institutional entities, in the developed as in the emergent countries, ranging from the urban to the environmental policies.

In Italy the 'Carta dell'agricoltura periurbana' (2006), promoted by a consortium HEIs and Farmers Unions is a broad reference for promoting UPA activities.

At European scale a broad reference is the 'European Charter for Peri-urban Agriculture' (2010).

Giuseppe Cinà, coordinator of IP-Citygreening

Dist © Politecnico di Torino