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Dickson Despommier On Cities of the Future
I am a microbiologist/ecologist by training, and for 27 years I conducted laboratory-based research on molecular aspects of intracellular parasitism funded by NIH. I also teach courses in the medical school and in our school of public health (e.g., Parasitic Diseases; Medical Ecology; Ecology 101). Many of them deal with parasitism and its effects on large segments of the poor that live in the tropics. Controlling soil-based transmission cycles of helminthes that cause significant health problems throughout the world is of prime importance to me.
I left the lab in favor of working on more globally relevant projects that address some these important problems. Since it is generally agreed agriculture is solely responsible for so much environmental disturbance and serves as the interface for the transmission of geohelminths, one area of focus of mine has been on how to raise food without further encroachment into natural ecosystems.
I have established The Vertical Farm as a theoretical construct to look at the possibility of agricultural sustainability within cities. The idea grew out of a class project to measure the effects of rooftop gardening in New York City on reducing the dome of heat that develops over us each year. From that original idea, I expanded the concept to include urban agriculture and finally to multi-story indoor farming. I have given this project to my students in my course, "Medical Ecology."
Question: How would vertical farming be possible?
By redesigning a building that’s totally transparent, and the best
example of what I know that everybody can associate with at least in
New York City is the new Apple building on Fifth Avenue. Just the
entrance to the Apple Store is a remarkable space because everybody is
sort of attracted to it going what is that? It’s a totally transparent,
and yet it’s there, thing. Now if you could imagine five stories of
that and a half of a city block, and beautiful plants of all kinds
growing inside, and restaurants associated with them all the way around
it, and green markets, come on. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing
is wrong with that picture, nothing. So that’s what the future could
hold for us if we decided that this was a good idea that needs to be at
least tried. This year the United States government set aside
three-hundred billion dollars for Farm Bill, three-hundred billion
dollars. And if you look at in that Farm Bill there isn’t one penny for
alternate agricultural strategies. Not a cent. A lot of it is farm
insurance. A lot of it is food aid. They have two billion dollars
that’s earmarked for nothing. That’s just in case they need it. Well, I
raised my hand but nobody saw it, because I could have used one billion
of that, how’s that? Because if I had a billion dollars or even a half
a billion, I could-- I actually might have that, so I’m sort of
preempting your next question to me and that is who could afford these
things if they’re going to be so expensive, right? But the fact is that
the first one of anything is expensive. The first ten of anything is
expensive. But the first maybe the hundredth one starts to be
reasonably priced, and then I can take out my cell phone. It’s off by
the way. I could show it to you, but imagine what a cell phone looked
like ten years ago, right? It was clunky and big and had an antenna on
it. And then everybody said I need to carry one with me and pretty soon
you can’t see them anymore, almost. They’re remarkable. The laptop
computer evolved in the same way. Now everybody affords them. I won’t
say everybody because of course there are tremendous of poor people out
there. Everybody should get the same amount of food though. Everybody
should get the same amount of water. Why is that a privilege rather
than a right of being born into the human race? It’s not a race by the
way, because we’ve lost that one already. It’s actually a species. The
human is a species, a single species that behaves like a hundred and
however many nations there are in the United Nations. It behaves like
that many different species. But it should behave like a single species
in providing the basics to every one of them because why? Because I’ll
tell you why. I think the reason that I think this will succeed is from
all of the interest expressed from commercial sources now. Not
domestic, you know, people that just come out of the woodwork and say
“Great idea, can I work with you?” There are developers now that are
serious about developing and building vertical farms within what we
would call ecoparks or ecocities. There are 12 of these things being
planned throughout the world. It’s remarkable. Not just in Dubai and
not just in Abu Dhabi, and not just in China although those are places.
And in China and Korea, Los Vegas for instance has a real interest in
this. That’s a desert community in case no one has noticed, although
you’d never know that by going there. Phoenix has a big interest in
this. Any large city that’s stuck in the middle of the desert should
have a huge investment in food. Now if you’re an Arab country you can
afford, most Arab not all Arab countries, but if you’re a rich Arab
country with lots of oil you trade oil for food and water and things
like this. But they don’t even want to do that anymore. What they would
want to do is be self-sufficient so they can sell everything and make a
huge profit rather than having to spend some of that on themselves, so
I think the logic of this is inescapable. And that is that we must
learn to feed the city people with city-grown food now.
Recorded on: 6/10/08
The ideas of vertical farming visionary Dickson Despommier.
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