Agriburbia: Truly Sustainable Suburbs?

Agriburbia sustainable communities image

Image credit: Agriburbia/

I'm not a golfer nor an equestrian - so I was always a little confused by the golf course communities and equestrian communities that seemed to be all the rage back when people still built and bought houses. But while devoting acres of land to golfing or horse riding may not be the height of sustainability, I did like the idea of putting residences near to resources that were important to them - and using the open space that suburbia seems to require for something other than pristine lawns. So my ears pricked up when I heard about Agriburbia - a concept for integrating agricultural production with housing developments. Certainly Treehugger is not short on discussion about the problems with suburbia, as well as some possible solutions - from musings on how to uninvent suburbia, through attempts at creating solar suburbia, through to abandoning the whole concept and promoting urban density instead.

But one thing that suburbia has lots of is space - and space is a mighty useful thing for farming. Colorado-based developer Quint Redmond reckons that if we use that space to grow food, suburbia might not feel so unsustainable after all. He's trademarked the term Agriburbia, and he's working on housing developments covering hundreds of acres, and thousands of homes - all integrated with food production facilities interspersing the homes. In an interview with the Northern Colorado Business Report from last year, he explained why Agriburbia offers a vision of sustainability:

The key feature of an Agriburbia development, Redmond said, is to allow residents to be more in touch with the land and the food that comes from it. "Up till now, developers just focused on shelter," he said. "We want to address the human need of food the best we can. We believe agriculture is part of the infrastructure of a development."

Food production in developments may range from collectively owned orchards and vineyards, through to vegetable production - it would be fun to see suburban lawns being munched by goats too! Redmond also points out that these developments may be attractive for another reason - offering an immediate source of revenue in the form of food production as houses are being built.

Of course food is just one piece of the sustainability pie though - and the Agriburbia website (which could do with a little love in general) is short on details of energy efficiency measures or renewable energy generation that you'd expect from an eco-development. Similarly, the main drawback of allowing space in housing developments, besides physical footprint, is the distance it takes to travel anywhere. I'd hope (and this may very well be the case), that Agriburbia takes consideration of residents' sustainable transport needs, and facilitating telecommuting/co-working as part of the bigger puzzle. But certainly an interesting concept, and one to watch.

Incidentally - my friend Lyle Estill of Piedmont Biofuels once promoted "oil seed communities" as an alternative to golf course communities - using household waste water that might not be suitable for food production to irrigate biofuels crops. I'm not sure of the current state of that vision, but I'll be sure to find out. Maybe Suburbia isn't dead after all - it's just getting better.

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