Agrarian Urbanism


Agrarian Urbanism is a method of design that incorporates and intensifies agricultural activity across the Transect, promoting a variety of associated economic, environmental and social benefits from a neighborhood’s center to its rural edge. The production, distribution, availability, and the quality of food are topics that have informed a growing movement among the general public and decision-makers. DPZ’s initiative addresses these topics from an urban design perspective by offering a range of options and regulatory tools that facilitate a neighborhood’s participation in agricultural activity, from a simple window box to community gardens and even larger scale farming cooperatives. DPZ’s Agrarian Urbanism provides the framework whereby a community might build its own local economy around food production, processing and sales, reducing food miles and possibly insuring a group of residents with a degree of food independence and survivability.

Agrarian Urbanism is a concept that involves food not as a means of making a living, but as a basis for making a life and structuring the places in which we live. The shift in focus from “agricultural urbanism” or “urban agriculture” to the more encompassing term of “agrarian” refers to the planning initiative developed and forwarded by DPZ, promoting a type of sustainable community that intensifies agricultural activity across the Transect whilst promoting the associated economic, environmental and social benefits. This initiative has direct links with each of DPZ’s other initiatives - contributing to their goals or, in the case of Sprawl Repair, being one of the possible outcomes.

Agrarian Urbanism: Background and Research

Research is ongoing to develop techniques for assimilating agriculture into an urbanism acceptable to the expectations of modern life and meeting the choice of lifestyles of Transect-based plans. The ability to grow food has implications for communities on multiple levels: from food security and health issues, to ensuring a local economy, to the vast environmental benefits of local farming, and to the social benefits of a productive activity in which all members of a community can engage.

The dominance of large lot, low-density housing has become typical in many American suburbs. While appearingly idyllic, when these spaces are not incorporated into a larger urban and regional plan, the repetition and redundancy of a single slice of the transect can be the most detrimental type of sprawl, whereas when carefully incorporated into a larger plan arranged according to the transect, can have quite a different effect.

When farmland is built upon, a basic premise in Agrarian Urbanism is that one third will be urbanized while the production of the whole will be tripled. This trade-off is achieved by intensifying the agricultural activity at every level of the transect; from window boxes, balcony and roof gardens in the more urban transect zones, to the progressively larger community gardens, yard gardens, small farms, and ultimately large farms in the more suburban and rural Transect Zones.

The condition specified in Owner’s Association Documents will be that every dwelling, in some measure, participates (or allocates that portion of the household budget which would normally be dedicated to maintaining ornamental landscaping) in the production of food. Larger farms may be centrally managed with connection to distribution systems. There will be a heavy equipment yard held in common, as well as facilities for the processing and storage of high value food, which can be located in the town square.

There is a very positive attitude towards agrarian urbanism on the part of those who are environmentally concerned, those who would enjoy the society of a shared endeavor (front gardens were introduced for the purpose of social discourse—a role not unlike that of a porch) and for those who wish to take precautions with their health and welfare.

Urbanism must be cohesively designed. By concentrating development, land is liberated for agricultural use. Agricultural projects must be precise both in terms of the land cultivated, and in the management of it. The transect will help organize the appropriate placement of agriculture at the scale of both the master plan and the architecture of buildings.

 DPZ Food along the Transect
The chart above shows where in the Transect, each method of food production may be considered appropriate.

Food Production Along the Transect

Every dwelling along the transect will contribute in some measure to food production, either by labor or by wages. Owner’s association agreements regarding dedicating the funding which is normally allocated to landscape will be for agriculture subsidies. Producing food on-site allows:

  • Greater independence from mass-produced food, buffering from petroleum shortages, less pressure on government.
  • Control over food processing, including: pesticides and other additives to food, humane treatment of animals.
  • Social Benefits of including non-driving members of society in economy.
  • Economic Self-Sustainability: food is a reliable commodity, particularly when the means to preserve it through Value Added Agriculture is considered.

The Transect: Fostering Good Agriculture and Urbanism

At the edge of the Transect, the same large lot zoning, which can, in repetition, lead to the worst kind of sprawl can exist successfully in limited quantities. The critical difference shown here is proximity to urbanism which limits the repetition of a single transect zone. The location of the structures along the thoroughfare creates a sense of community and, the farther from urbanism these lots are, the more self-sufficient they are shown to become. In most circumstances, a five acre parcel is large enough to allow some animals and some crop rotation.

Environmental Implications

Incorporating the production of food sources into an urban masterplan results in built-in efficiencies, both economic and environmental. Because there is practicality towards closing a natural cycle, many costs may be reduced or eliminated, including waste disposal, food fertilzers, and food transportation, when food is grown locally.

In the project shown here, the following efficiencies were realized:

Uphill reservoir; Tsawwassen, British Columbia.
An illustration for an uphill stormwater collection and purification reservoir in Tsawwassen, British Columbia.


  • Collection, filtration, storage in reservoirs designed as civic landmarks
  • Great increase in pervious land


  • Less driving for food and its transport
  • On-site job creation
  • Proximity to food
  • Buildings energy-efficient


  • Closer to closed nutrient cycle
  • Better control over supply of food
  • Better control over food additives
  • Better control over treatment of animals


  • Composting sites at both public and private gardens
  • Recycling stations become a part of town life

Extra-Urban Agriculture: The Corrugated Edge of Agrarian Urbanism

The plan for this agricultural community provides a variety of ways for different scales of agriculture to plug into the urban fabric. This maintains open views into the agrarian lands and allows an economic and social interchange between the active agriculture and the town.

The corrugated edge of Agrarian Urbanism.
This illustration demonstrates how varying intensities of agriculture can "plug in" to the edge of a community. Tractor Farms (left), Small Farms (center), and One-Acre Farmsteads (right) fit together like jigsaw pieces.

Intra-urban greens in a planned development.
The illustration and the following diagrams depict the different ways agriculture can prosper in a planned development, based on its location in the Transect.

Intra-Urban Agriculture: The Diversity of Places

Intra-Urban greens are intended to democratize agricultural opportunity. These growing spaces vary in size depending on their location and proximity to density, in accordance with the transect. They may be publicly or privately held on the ground or within buildings.

On the Ground

Community and private gardens.
Community & Common Gardens (left), and Front & Back Yard Gardens (right) find their places within the neighborhood.

In the Building

Roof gardens and balcony containers
Roof Gardens (left), and Window Boxes/Balcony Containers (right) allow residents in more intense Transect zones to contribute to the community's food production.

Agrarian Urbanism Market Square.
The centrally-located Market Square satisfies the commercial needs of the rural population.

The Market Square:

The Market Square depicted here is centrally situated between agricultural land and residential development and is anchored by a university’s Urban Agriculture studies department. It is within a ten-minute walk of all residences and will be part of a regional transportation network, connecting it to the existing town and village centers.

The main thoroughfare that passes the square is lined with ground-floor retail, live- work units and community facilities.

Value Added Agriculture

Value Added Agriculture refers to the processing and preservation of foodstuffs in a way that increases their market value. Bakeries and canneries are examples of two programs that buffer market and crop fluctuations, allow the use of less than perfect produce (creating value where none might otherwise exist), and make use of less skilled or part-time labor, including a part of the population that might not otherwise be employed. Therefore, including of these spaces into the program of an agricultural town is important for its economy.

Building Types Matrix

Agrarian Urbanism Building Type Matrix
The building type matrix shown here demonstrates possible achieve-able densities on one-acre blocks throughout the community.

This study shows the insertion of dedicated agricultural areas into various lot and building types along the Transect. It is an organizing diagram that moves from the more rural to the more urban, using the single acre as a point of reference.

Four one-acre blocks in Tsawwassen, British Comumbia.
This illustration shows a potential four-block configuration of one-acre parcels as outlined in the matrix in the previous diagram.

In reality, a hierarchy of thoroughfares would allow several blocks to be joined depending on the location along the transect.


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