Voids to Farms Front Picture 2Ripples, and sometimes waves, of the economic tsunami continue to roil through cities across the United States. One product of the downturn is stalled real estate projects. Many shelved projects have left vacant lots, derelict buildings, or parking lots where housing or office space was planned. The need to put these spaces back into use has motivated some great thinking about how to integrate open space and farming into the urban landscape. Interestingly, this is not a new problem. Philadelphia has been working on projects to convert “brown space” to “green space” for years. Philadelphia’s voids were created by migration from the cities to outlying urban areas, not a specific downturn. In 2005 they held an international design competition called Urban Voids.  The point is, Philly has paved the way—er, broken new ground—for other cities to follow. And the best ideas about what to do with vacant property have to do with food.

You can review some of the design contest entries here. For the most part these ideas are at the edge of feasibility, but that’s the point of design competitions: to push the limits of what conventional wisdom says is possible.

One of the successful entries to the Urban Voids competition was Front Studio’s cleverly named Farmadelphia concept. Farmadelphia was another competition created to generate ideas for urban agriculture in empty urban spaces.  

Here is an aerial view.

 Void to Farms Farmadelphia Grid.jpg

 Some more detailed images. Here is a pasture for urban cows.


Void to Farms Cows


 We wouldn’t want to leave out the chickens.


Void to Farms Chickens


 What is a farm with out some goats?


Void to Farms Goats


Farmadelphia knits together a couple of ideas we’ve discussed about urban farming  and food insecurity. Specifically Farmadelphia challenges us to consider the end of the dichotomy between rural and urban. This idea of connecting farming with urban life is not new to the Northwest. And new doors are opening as urban properties remain undeveloped.

Seattle’s Greg Smith has allowed a great food truck to park right around the corner from the Sightline offices on property that is no longer going to be developed. Portland has been doing this for years. Seattle, Portland and Vancouver allow chickens and thanks to City Councilmember Richard Conlin Seattle allows goats

Seattle has a municipal farm, the Marra Farm, that is not only in an urban area but in part of the city that’s downright industrial, South Park. The Marra Farm is a working farm that is right near the day-lighted Hamm Creek. The Marra Farm was one of the many farms operated by Italian immigrants in the Duwamish River Valley that supplied produce to the Pike Place Market in the early years of the last century. Today it provides for a city food security program called Solid Ground. Portland and Vancouver have similar programs. Vancouver has also entertained a skyscraper farm called Inhabitat

Putting farms on more and more vacant lots makes sense on several levels: transportation costs would be cut for hauling produce, green spaces help reduce runoff into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans; healthy food would be more available in more neighborhoods. And just as important urban farming reminds us food doesn’t come from the grocery store but from the land, animals and water.  

So perhaps, one day, our region might realize a version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, a city of tall buildings surrounded by open space and farms. Something about this concept is very appealing.


Void to Farms Broadacre Grid




Void to Farms Broadacre Detail


It’s the ultimate: density paired with open space and proximity to healthy food. But…maybe it’s the flying machines that would really seal the deal. 

Big hat tip to Alan Hart sponsor of the Great Urban Debate and principal at VIA Architecture for alerting me to Farmadelphia.

All images except for those of Broadacre City are from Front Studio.