General preferences for (productive) urban land use
Urban greenspaces have the potential to play various social, economic, and ecological roles. We assume that visual projections of what a city is supposed to look like and the prioritization of different urban functions will determine the conditions for introducing urban agriculture to urban spaces. Herein, we investigate participant preferences for urban land use and determine whether participants view urban agriculture as a suitable form of urban land use. To obtain insight into the general preferences of participants for urban land use, we asked the participants the following: “Which of the following uses of green and open space would you like to have in your direct living environment?” [Q1]. This question targets general preferences for the use of green and open space (Fig. 3).
The results demonstrate that most of the respondents reported a preference for the uses of green and open space that allow for recreational and leisure activities. More generally, preferred uses of urban spaces involved those that integrate recreational functions while remaining open to the general public or surrounding neighborhood, as can be found in public parks and gardens or in agricultural production sites with events for members of the public (e.g., maize/labyrinth paths, educational trails, or demonstration plots). As in numerous other growing cities, inner-city greenspaces in Berlin are decreasing in number, thereby limiting the number of opportunities the city can offer for outdoor activity and mental restoration (weblink #13). The priorities identified herein align with general planning principles and strategies. Urban planners that developed guidelines for Berlin and for other European cities envisioned the ideal city as “compact, urban and green” and therefore prioritized inner-city urban development without the consumption of greenspace (weblink #14).
As most of the surveyed individuals reported appreciation for the use of public greenspace, they may view the integration of productive uses as competing, and this may spur land-use conflicts. The overall level of acceptance was high for those types of production that do not restrict accessibility but rather offer opportunities for participation. All options proposed for urban land use that exclude recreational uses show markedly lower levels of acceptance. An exception was land use for “landscape and nature conservation,” which shows a high level of acceptance despite potentially decreasing public accessibility. In Germany, areas under the nature conservation act allow only limited use and accessibility. Nature conservation measures are well accepted and appreciated in Germany, a trend that may be attributed to the nation’s long history of environmental education (weblink #15). Professional agricultural or horticultural activities, such as extensive or intensive farming, aquaponic farming, and pasturage activities, show very low levels of agreement among the survey participants. The large number of participants expressing indifference regarding “aquaponic farms” might be explained by a general lack of knowledge about that type of production system.
Unexpectedly, rooftop gardens are highly appreciated. This observation might be because rooftops are generally vast, unused spaces that present opportunities for productive use and because people generally appreciate green areas as recreational spaces. Therefore, urban agriculture activities on rooftops, even if they are dedicated to private or non-public activities, are less often perceived as competing or conflicting forms of land use as are urban agriculture uses in ground-based urban spaces.
The results presented in this section reveal that opportunities for public participation and accessibility play a major role when considering uses of urban spaces for urban agriculture. The levels of these opportunities may limit the implementation of large-scale and commercially driven projects in inner-city spaces. A general preference for socially integrated projects has also been reported in previous studies on urban agriculture among stakeholders in Berlin (Specht et al. 2015b). To summarize, the results of the present survey highlight that higher public acceptance can be obtained for projects that have recreational or educational functions and that ensure public accessibility. The exploitation of rooftops for business-oriented urban agriculture activities appears promising as land-use conflicts may not occur or be less severe than those conflicts arising from “on the ground” activities.
Preferences for urban agriculture forms, production systems, and production orientations
Here, we describe the preferences and levels of acceptance of different urban agriculture options ranging from lowly to highly market-oriented projects. The acceptance of feasible forms of urban agriculture is a crucial precondition of their economic success. Therefore, we surveyed participants as to their level of approval of different urban agriculture forms [Q2]. The results reveal that participants hold generally positive views in regard to urban agriculture activities that do not present potential land-use conflicts with other preferred uses (e.g., rooftop farming is preferred). Furthermore, forms that are consistent with traditional images of agricultural/horticultural production and that apply low-tech production systems are more likely to be accepted. Urban agriculture on rooftops, along the urban fringe, on brownfields and in backyards shows a high level of acceptance, whereas urban agriculture with connotations of intensive or high-tech agriculture (e.g., agroparks, aquaponic and vertical farming) is less accepted (Fig. 4). These survey outcomes are consistent with the results of previous studies investigating stakeholder perceptions of innovative forms of urban agriculture (Sanyé-Mengual et al. 2015c; Specht et al. 2015b).
Berlin is currently not facing any food security problems, and its inhabitants (being surrounded by highly productive rural land) generally question the need for large-scale urban agriculture (Specht et al. 2015a, b). However, there is a growing demand for local food products, and urban agriculture could complement the existing food system. Comparing these results with the categorization of business models (Fig. 2) reveals that projects that appear promising in terms of market potential are strongly rejected.
To determine participants’ views on different production orientations, we asked respondents about their level of acceptance of various potential urban agriculture production orientations (e.g., organic, intensive, or GMO) [Q3]. The results demonstrate that environmentally friendly production orientations, such as organic or extensive production operations, are generally well supported, whereas intensive crop production is largely rejected. GMO and intensive production in combination with animal husbandry show particularly low levels of support. These results regarding GMO production are consistent with previous studies from Germany. The German population shows a low acceptance for the use of GMOs, particularly in the food sector (Thiel 2013). The pronounced division of views regarding “resource oriented, organic and extensive” versus “intensive” practices suggests classifications of “good” and “bad” agricultural practice. Our sample was not representative of the German population as it was characterized by a high proportion of young, urban individuals (20–40 years of age) who are generally more amenable to purchasing organic and local products than the average German individual (weblink #8). Similar to societal views of rural agriculture, preferred practices are those perceived as healthy and safe, whereas practices that are associated with particular risks (such as GMO or intensive animal production) are often rejected in relation to urban agriculture. This phenomenon was observed by de Wilt and Dobbelaar (2005), who described how an agropark proposal in the Netherlands failed due to public resistance. Agroparks are spatial clusters of intensive agricultural production (see de Wilt and Dobbelaar 2005). The authors concluded that many consumers prefer “naturally” produced food and that highly technological production systems may not match consumer preconceptions about food production. Manufacturers and advertisers suggest that agricultural products are “natural” and “traditionally produced,” thus reinforcing romantic views of farming. In urban agriculture, producers and consumers are part of the same community, and potential consumers are directly confronted with the production process. Therefore, practices that do not represent idealized images will face greater challenges when performed in urban agriculture than in rural production where they are “out of sight.” Consumer proximity to production in urban agriculture would reveal the intensive production methods of which many consumers had previously been unaware.
To summarize, individuals tend to be more receptive towards the introduction of organic, low-tech, and extensive urban food production and are rather critical of production systems and orientations that show high levels of intensity and technology use. Systems that may be more promising from a business perspective (e.g., vertical farming, agropark development, or aquaponic farming) appear to face greater acceptance barriers.
Preferences related to potential urban agriculture products
To identify public preferences for urban agriculture business products, we asked “Which urban-agriculture-produced products would you approve of?” and “Which products would you be willing to buy?” [Q4a; Q4b]. The results illustrate that horticultural products (e.g., vegetables) grown in either open-ground or greenhouse settings received the highest levels of approval and purchase willingness. For all of the other proposed products (e.g., fruits, honey, arable crops), the participants generally did not approve of proposals to grow them in urban areas, responding that they would not want to buy such products. The lowest purchase willingness levels were expressed for animal products (e.g., meat, wool, cheese/milk, fish, and eggs). Low acceptance of urban animal production has also been found in previous studies (de Wit and Dobbelaar 2005; Specht et al. 2015b). Two main reasons were provided for these objections. First, individuals suspect that their quality of life would decrease due to intensified odors and noise. Second, urban environments are perceived as “unnatural” spaces for raising livestock. Although cattle, sheep, and other large farm animals appear to fall outside the paradigm of commercial urban agriculture (Despommier 2010), fowl, pigs, and fish are often proposed for commercial urban agriculture. The fact that these products are met with low consumer acceptance may present barriers for those who wish to establish urban agriculture businesses that involve animal production.
Nevertheless, participants state that they would prefer urban agriculture products to conventional rural products under some conditions. When asked “Which requirements must an urban agriculture product meet for you to prefer it to other products?” [Q5], most answered that they would prefer urban agriculture products to others if the former fulfilled specific criteria, namely, high quality, regionality, organic production, higher standards of animal welfare, or the inclusion of additional social benefits. The results reveal that quality demands for urban agriculture are greater than or equal to the quality demands for rural products. Our results imply that urban agriculture producers must either adhere to very high product standards (e.g., organic) or consider other values that are appreciated by consumers (e.g., provide additional social benefits). In addition, well-considered product marketing and communication, product labeling, and quality certification mechanisms would prove vital to the success of potential urban agriculture enterprises.
High expectations and demands in regard to product quality are attributed to existing fears and associated risks that individuals assign to urban agriculture products [Q6]. The majority of participants agreed that urban agriculture products are superior in terms of “freshness,” but most participants discussed the perceived risks of contamination through air pollution and contaminated soil. Scientific uncertainties regarding the health risks of urban food production remain, and these risks are an important focus of future research. Studies have identified some risks that can be avoided through proper management and control mechanisms (e.g., the establishment of minimum distances to main roads, proper washing practices, and the substitution of contaminated soil) (Antisari et al. 2015; Säumel et al. 2012). Health risks can also potentially be minimized by establishing a product certification scheme that guarantees low levels of contaminants.
The results presented in this section reveal a higher level of acceptance and willingness to purchase horticultural products over animal products (which are largely rejected). Nevertheless, individuals attribute urban agriculture products with risks and uncertainties; thus, strict controls and proof of product quality (certification) are necessary to counter existing doubts.
Perceptions of urban agriculture impacts
At the end of the survey, participants were asked to estimate the impacts of urban agriculture on urban environments and on quality-of-life measures [Q7; Q8]. In addition to its economic functions, urban agriculture is generally considered to generate additional non-food and non-market goods and to provide multifunctional benefits. Overall, most of the participants expressed that urban agriculture initiatives would help improve the city’s image. Only 10 individuals replied that urban agriculture would worsen the city’s image. Most agreed that urban agriculture can have positive effects in the following areas: environmental improvement, education, job creation, leisure activity option diversification, community building, and societal views of agriculture. Although these effects have not yet been studied in Berlin, perceptions of positive impacts are reported in other studies that describe similar urban agriculture impacts elsewhere (Anthopoulou et al. 2013; Caplow 2009; Eigenbrod and Gruda 2014; Pourias et al. 2015; Sanyé-Mengual et al. 2013; Specht et al. 2014). It is likely that urban agriculture can similarly offer social and environmental benefits in Berlin.
Study limits, study generalizability, and opportunities for further research
Our study can be understood as a seminal case. As we applied an exploratory, non-probability sampling approach, the results are not representative of the German population as a whole. In addition, our survey was characterized by a disproportionate number of urban, younger (20 to 40 years old) participants. It would be useful to repeat the survey using a larger, more representative sample in Germany or beyond. Future studies that investigate potential consumers’ acceptance and preferences can build on our results and use them to generate hypotheses.
For our study, we relied on a single case study. As social acceptability and perception are highly dependent on locally framed conditions and cultural factors, it is necessary to compare our results to other case studies in the future. Regarding the transferability of our study, we assume that comparable results would be found in other spatial contexts with similar characteristics (e.g., in growing cities of the global north that are surrounded by productive agricultural land). Nonetheless, we expect differences from our results if similar studies are conducted in cities that have different characteristics (e.g., cities that are shrinking, import-dependent, or located in deserts). We assume that the perceptions of risks (e.g., regarding technology, soil-less growing, or animal production) differ geographically and culturally.
Future studies could expand on our objectives and investigate how preferences and acceptance variables depend on age, gender, education, or previous knowledge about urban agriculture. In addition, future studies could analyze preferences regarding urban agriculture in competition with other businesses, such as rural producers, or with other sustainable practices (e.g., photovoltaic production in rooftop farming). Evaluating “willingness to pay” in a future survey could provide a quantitative estimation of the acceptance of food products and further details on the competitiveness of UA projects. Furthermore, it could be interesting to include in future surveys questions on general consumption behaviors and values of participants (e.g., perceptions regarding buying organic or local food).
It would be valuable to add a spatial analysis to a study of survey-based acceptance data and evaluate whether preferences for different types of urban agriculture vary among neighborhoods. Some types of urban agriculture might be accepted or rejected depending on the area (e.g., peri-urban, low-density, or high-density neighborhoods).
As our study represents a first attempt to obtain insights into an entirely new research question, the results do not allow us yet to offer general guidelines and recommendations. Once more robust data are available, the next step will be to review the possibilities and instruments for planning, the construction of legal frameworks, and community buy-in to incorporate the consideration of potential consumers and public demands into urban agriculture projects and increase their acceptance.