The smart urban pioneers idea contest invited innovative makers and thinkers to open up new perspectives for livable cities. Among the top trends: urban farming. Time to present four stand-out projects.

We love to live in global cities, brimming as they are with life and cultural, social, and culinary diversity. Here, we meet people from all nations, get inspired, swap insights, and party together. Yet the conditions are by no means perfect. How can we improve this environment? How can we inject life into the asphalt jungle with social, digital, creative, and technological sparks of ingenuity? The smart urban pioneers ideas competition has the answer.

Urbanization vs. urban farming

smart started this innovative competition to highlight one of today’s most pressing mega trends and challenges: accelerating urbanization and the associated changes in our cityscapes. After all, 2008 saw a seismic shift: Ever since, more people have been living cities than in the countryside and projections suggest that these numbers will rise to 70 percent urbanites by 2050. Will these future mega cities still be humane and livable? And what can we do to turn our city into a playground for new ideas? One aspect that invariably enriches metropolises is innovative urban farming.

Pick your own food – in Minden

New York, Detroit, and the German city of Minden are lucky – here, food not only comes from supermarkets, but also grows in fields and hothouses – right in the center of town. Great examples include Manhattan’s famous High Line Park or the reclaimed fields in and around Detroit. Another highlight hides away in the inner city areas of Minden, where vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers are being grown to boost residents’ appreciation of natural food, to create spaces for meeting and communication, and to encourage healthier urban living. The team of the local initiative “Essbare Stadt Minden”, including a gardener and a landscape architect, invite citizens to help themselves – free of charge – to these natural riches: Instead of “no trespassing”, pick your own and enjoy.

A City Tree growing from the pavement

City Tree is an environmentally active piece of urban furniture designed to improve our air quality. The vertical plant display scrubs polluted urban air, dampens noise, and doubles as an unusual eye catcher and meeting point, WiFi hotspot, or e-bike charging station. The free-standing four-meter construct contains special moss cultures, which in turn filter particulates and oxides more effectively than 275 city trees, thanks to 14.5 square meters of surface area and clever, state-of-the-art internet of things technology. What’s more, each City Tree reduces our annual CO2 footprint by up to 240 tons, using 99 percent less space (and 95 percent less expenditure) than regular trees – and these are key factors considering the obvious space and budget constraints in times of increasing urbanization. A marvel of tech and sustainability, the City Tree was developed by an interdisciplinary team of four friends from Dresden. In 2014, they joined forces to launch Green City Solutions – and their budding business already sold several City Tree installations in 2015.

City Tree in the city
City Tree makes the streets a little greener.
Photo: Green City Solutions
City Tree
Photo: Green City Solutions
man sitting infront of the City Tree
Photo: Green City Solutions
City Tree Team
Photo: Green City Solutions

Modern city farming with Plants & Machines

For thousands of years, nature has provided us with everything we need – high time to give something back: with Plants & Machines. The tiny, automated Do-it-yourself hothouse allows any urbanite to grow their own herbs and vegetables. And the simple, fuss-free process meets two goals in one: our timeless yearnings for nature and freshly-grown food. In other ways, Plants & Machines goes with the times. The smart set-up is controlled by a smartphone, tablet, or PC and reduces the hobby gardener’s input to a bare minimum, while remaining highly effective. Thanks to aquaponics or hydroponics as well as optimized nutrient supply, temperature, moisture, CO2 concentration, and light, the plants grow up to four times as fast while producing 50 percent higher yields. The advantages of this fully-automated hothouse: fresh, organic produce, literally within reach of the consumer – hand-to-mouth all the way. But the five minds behind the Weimar-based Plants & Machines are already planning ahead with a lifestyle-oriented design indoor garden and larger systems for restaurants and supermarkets. Bon appetit!

hothouse by Plants & Machines
With this DIY hothouse by Plants & Machines, anyone can grow their own food.
Photo: Plants & Machines

How foodresQ saves food – and then the world

Sounds familiar? There you are, planning a dinner for friends, getting all the groceries – and then people reschedule and all the food spoils. Well, there’s an alternative to this scenario with foodresQ, a smartphone app dedicated to saving food and avoiding waste. After all, figures on the latter are truly shocking: 28 percent of our global fruit and vegetable production goes to waste and 6-10 percent of all greenhouse emissions can be attributed to food waste alone, mainly generated by cities. This is something the three foodresQ pioneers from Frankfurt aim to change – using an app. Via a smart home system (or an additional device), foodresQ monitors purchased food, informs users of sub-optimal storage, reminds them of use-by dates, and supplies tips on optimal storage of different food groups. In this way, the intelligent kitchen aid helps people to avoid waste while also encouraging healthier lifestyles based on plenty of fresh food.

Team of foodresQ
Thanks to the foodresQ pioneers, no more food needs to be wasted.
Photo: foodresQ