Reading List

List Author

Phoebe Lickwar

University of Texas at Austin

Toward a Future Agrarian Urbanism

Urban agriculture is transforming our cities. With the reintegration of food production and urban life, we are witnessing the emergence of a new paradigm – productivity as creativity, abundance, fertility, and beauty; a marriage of human rights and ecological health; an expression of human and non-human interdependence resulting in new forms, processes, and rituals.

While this emergent agricultural infrastructure has the capacity to advance social and environmental justice, it can also be co-opted to reinforce existing patterns of inequality and injustice. The design of productive urban spaces is inherently a political act. This reading list, adapted from a seminar of the same title, is intended to promote discussion about the role of designers and scholars in developing a just and sustainable future urban agriculture. Focusing on readings that problematize urban agriculture, the list provides a starting point for a critical theory of urban agrarianism, delving into the entanglements between food, urban form, ecology, and social justice.

Condensed from a vast literature on urban agriculture and design, the list is organized in three parts. Agrarian Ideals traces the construction of a set of narratives underpinning contemporary urban agriculture, theorized by Christopher Mayes as the “Agrarian Imaginary” in his article “An Agrarian Imaginary in Urban Life: Cultivating Virtues and Vices Through a Conflicted History.” Agrarian Praxis includes design visions and experiments informed by agrarian ideals, offering strategies synthesizing urban form and the production of food. Agrarian Entanglements challenges the ideals and practices outlined in parts one and two, revealing the difficulties in achieving an equitable and sustainable urban agriculture. Together these readings demonstrate the urgent need for a new agrarian urbanism, one that transgresses structural inequalities while forming the basis for rapidly evolving productive cities.

[Image: Ohio City Farm, by Horticulture Group.]


  • Thomas Jefferson and Agrarian Philosophy

    The Agrarian Roots of Pragmatism

    Vanderbilt University Press

    Thompson deconstructs Jeffersonian agrarianism, acknowledging its problematic racist elements. A thorough analysis of Jefferson’s writing identifies themes common to eighteenth century political thought, revealing the contextual nature of his vision of an American agrarian future.

  • The Farmer as a Conservationist

    The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays

    University of Wisconsin Press

    Leopold’s 1939 essay argues for the possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship between farming and conservation, realized not through restraint, but through self-expression: “The landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself.” Leopold’s work has inspired a long line of scholarship and practice integrating ecology and productivity.

  • The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

    Counterpoint Press

    Berry’s 1977 critique considers the devastating environmental and cultural consequences of large-scale agribusiness, declaring the disintegration of small-scale rural farming communities and the simultaneous disappearance of agriculture from urban centers an ecological crisis.

  • Why Agrarianism Matters – Even to Urbanites

    The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land

    University Press of Kentucky

    Wirzba’s introductory essay asks the question: “Should we be contemplating an ‘urban agrarianism’?” Calling for a new agrarian philosophy that includes the urban realm, Wirzba emphasizes the interdependencies of city, farm, ecology, and culture.

  • Online

    From Agrarian Dreams to Democratic Realities: A Deweyan Alternative to Jeffersonian Food Politics

    Political Research Quarterly

    Hanagan provides an insightful critique of Berry’s Agrarian philosophy, tracing its Jeffersonian roots. She offers Dewey’s The Public and Its Problems as an alternative framework for food politics, one that eschews self-reliance for interdependency and the formation of “food publics.”

  • The Agrarian Vision: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics

    University Press of Kentucky

    Thompson argues for the development of a new ecological ethic based upon agrarian ideals. He contends that hybrid social-ecological-agricultural systems are central to our future sustainability and that an expanded agrarian philosophy should inform our thinking about 21st century sustainability.

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    An Agrarian Imaginary in Urban Life: Cultivating Virtues and Vices Through a Conflicted History

    Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

    Mayes unpacks the agrarian ideals that shape 21st century urban agriculture practices and beliefs, uncovering a conflicted history largely obscured by the narrative of agrarian virtue.

  • Civic Agriculture and the North American Food System

    Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for Sustainability

    University of Nebraska Press

    Thomas Lyson outlines a theory of civic agriculture as an alternative to conventional / commodity agriculture. Lyson claims that the reintegration of agriculture into local communities will be required to avoid the continued erosion of rural communities and culture, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. See also Lyson’s primer on civic agriculture, Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community (Tufts University Press, 2004).


  • “The Country is the Other City of Tomorrow”: Le Corbusier’s Ferme Radieuse and Village Radieux

    Food and the City: Histories of Culture and Cultivation

    Dumbarton Oaks Colloqium on the History of Landscape Architecture

    McLeod retraces Le Corbusier’s exploration of agrarian reform through two projects, the Ferme Radieuse and the Village Radieux. Of particular interest is Le Corbusier’s recognition of the symbiotic relationship between city and countryside and his attempts to reconcile industrialization with regional variation.

  • Online

    Notes Toward a History of Agrarian Urbanism

    Places Journal

    Waldheim examines agricultural production as a driver of urban form through the lens of three unbuilt projects – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, Ludwig Hilberseimer’s New Regional Pattern, and Andrea Branzi’s Agronica.

  • Aux Fermes, Citoyens!

    Ecological Urbanism

    Lars Muller

    Imbert explores the role landscape architecture plays in shaping urban agriculture as a design strategy, identifying three main trends: the Palliative, the Recuperative, and the Projective.

  • Eating Places: Food Systems, Narratives, Networks, and Spaces

    Landscape Journal

    Potteiger’s framework of food narratives, networks, and spaces offers a means of understanding and shaping relationships between landscapes and food. He argues designers should expand beyond productive sites to “respatialize” the logistical spaces of the food system in order to realize significant structural change.

  • Online

    Eat the City

    Places Journal

    Ingersoll proposes a reconceptualization of cities as agricultural zones, through the implementation of an opportunistic civic agriculture. He argues for the critical importance of design in realizing sustainable productive urban land: “Tending an urban orchard should be about more than subsistence farming. Yes, you can grow food in the city, but farming within the public realm begs for art.”

  • Online

    Lush Lots: Everyday Urban Agriculture - From Community Gardening to Community Food Security

    Harvard Design Magazine

    Nairn and Vitiello tell the story of everyday community gardening in Philadelphia, noting the disconnect between the world of professional design (promoting, for instance, unrealistic capital-intensive vertical farming schemes) and the thriving experimental grassroots urban agriculture that feeds the city.

  • Second Nature Urban Agriculture: Designing Productive Cities


    This companion volume to Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes, published by the authors ten years earlier, charts the ongoing development of urban agriculture theory and practice. Viljoen and Bohn refine their CPUL city theory, proposing urban agriculture as an essential component of urban infrastructure guiding the future development of cities. Case studies from Germany, the United Kingdom, and the USA focus on strategies that reinforce the interdependence of first and second nature, knitting agriculture and ecology together through design.

  • Carrot City: Creating Places for Urban Agriculture

    Monacelli Press

    Carrot City identifies the potential of urban agriculture as a design strategy for reshaping cities, creating coherent networks, rehabilitating abandoned spaces, and integrating housing and productive lands at the peri-urban fringe. Case studies, primarily from North America, indicate fertile territory for the design disciplines to collaborate with other urban agriculture professionals.


  • Online

    Gentrification and the Urban Garden

    The New Yorker

    Markham explores the difficult issue of gentrification in neighborhoods where community gardens increase land values, thereby displacing the people they were originally intended to serve.

  • Online

    Can We Love Nature and Let It Go?: A Case for Interwoven Decoupling

    Breakthrough Journal

    Marris explores the decoupling framework as a model for a sustainable future, advocating for a combination of large-scale technologically based farming and small-scale urban agriculture to achieve human well-being, feed the planet, and avoid environmental destruction.

  • From Beets in the Bronx to Chard in Chicago: The Discourse and Practice of Growing Food in the American City

    Food and the City: Histories of Culture and Cultivation

    Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

    Lawson and Drake expose the contradictory characterizations of urban agriculture across time, examining the justifications and prohibitions of urban gardening in the United States during periods of economic crisis and war. They suggest an alternative framing of urban agriculture as an everyday resource rather than a “packaged rationale.”

  • Urban Agriculture in the Making of Insurgent Spaces in Los Angeles and Seattle

    Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities


    Mares and Pena probe the contested space of urban agriculture in marginalized communities through two case studies: South Central Farm in Los Angeles and Marra Farm in Seattle.

  • Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning From Seattle's Urban Community Gardens

    Landscape Architecture Foundation in association with University of Washington Press

    Using case studies from Seattle, Hou, Johnson, and Lawson consider the contributions of community gardens to urban sustainability, including benefits to community food security, urban ecosystem health, pedestrian networks, and social equity. A comparative analysis highlights opportunities and challenges in designing and supporting community gardens as transformative urban space.

  • Subversive and Interstitial Food Spaces: Transforming Selves, Societies, and Society-Environment through Urban Agriculture and Foraging

    Local Environment

    This editorial introduces a special issue on “subversive and interstitial food spaces,” a subset of alternative food networks that “subvert or skirt the logics that drive the conventional agrifood system.” The authors outline the problematic and complex politics surrounding these urban agriculture projects, acknowledging their transformative potential to remake urban spaces and associated social-ecological relationships.

  • Online

    Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species

    Environmental Humanities

    In an essay indebted to Donna Haraway’s concept of companion species, Tsing contemplates the significance of foraging for mushrooms, an act of transgression that defies territorial exclusion and celebrates interspecies interdependencies. This reading of foraging as a practice of resistance has implications for integrating productivity into the design of public space, a potential avenue for achieving a more just and humane urban food system. See also Tsing’s extraordinary chronicle of the Matsutake: The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, (Princeton, 2015).

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