Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 33–51 | Cite as

Urban agriculture of the future: an overview of sustainability aspects of food production in and on buildings

  • Kathrin SpechtEmail author
  • Rosemarie Siebert
  • Ina Hartmann
  • Ulf B. Freisinger
  • Magdalena Sawicka
  • Armin Werner
  • Susanne Thomaier
  • Dietrich Henckel
  • Heike Walk
  • Axel Dierich


Innovative forms of green urban architecture aim to combine food, production, and design to produce food on a larger scale in and on buildings in urban areas. It includes rooftop gardens, rooftop greenhouses, indoor farms, and other building-related forms (defined as “ZFarming”). This study uses the framework of sustainability to understand the role of ZFarming in future urban food production and to review the major benefits and limitations. The results are based on an analysis of 96 documents published in accessible international resources. The analysis shows that ZFarming has multiple functions and produces a range of non-food and non-market goods that may have positive impacts on the urban setting. It promises environmental benefits resulting from the saving and recycling of resources and reduced food miles. Social advantages include improving community food security, the provision of educational facilities, linking consumers to food production, and serving as a design inspiration. In economic terms it provides potential public benefits and commodity outputs. However, managing ZFarming faces several challenges. For some applications, the required technologies are known but have not been used or combined in that way before; others will need entirely new materials or cultivation techniques. Further critical aspects are the problem of high investment costs, exclusionary effects, and a lack of acceptance. In conclusion, ZFarming is seen as an outside-the-box solution which has some potential in generating win–win scenarios in cities. Nevertheless, ZFarming practices are not in and of themselves sustainable and need to be managed properly.


Food system Urban innovation Multifunctional landscape Integrated building Rooftop greenhouse Zero acreage Sustainability ZFarming 



Building-integrated agriculture


Controlled environment agriculture


Continuous productive urban landscape


Zero-acreage farming



We appreciate the time and effort that the editor and reviewers have taken to comment on our paper and we want to thank them for their useful suggestions concerning our manuscript. Funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Germany (BMBF) has supported this work (funding code FKZ 16I1619). The Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) is institutionally funded by the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) and the Ministry for Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg (MWFK).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathrin Specht
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rosemarie Siebert
    • 1
  • Ina Hartmann
    • 2
  • Ulf B. Freisinger
    • 2
  • Magdalena Sawicka
    • 1
  • Armin Werner
    • 2
  • Susanne Thomaier
    • 3
  • Dietrich Henckel
    • 3
  • Heike Walk
    • 4
  • Axel Dierich
    • 5
  1. 1.Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape ResearchInstitute of Socio-EconomicsMünchebergGermany
  2. 2.Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape ResearchInstitute of Land Use SystemsMünchebergGermany
  3. 3.Department for Urban and Regional PlanningTechnische Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  4. 4.Centre for Technology and SocietyTechnische Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  5. 5.Institute for Resource Management, inter3BerlinGermany

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