Biourbanism is a complex concept. The “bio” part of the word refers to the living city or town itself. The “urbanism” part refers to the design and layout of an urban, suburban or other community.
In the near future, increasingly more agricultural production will be carried out in urban environments. As modern life advances, agricultural producers, large and small, have to focus on the needs of increasingly urban and enlarging populations. New methods of integrating agricultural production into urban life are needed.
My wife Marilyn and I met Sara and Stefano outside our Rome hotel in early May in what became one of the most interesting days my wife and I have ever spent. Pursuing shortcuts on Italy’s busy roadways, we scooted in our hosts’ automobile some 28 miles to the ancient country town of Artena, in the Apennine Mountains that stretch along most of the Italian peninsula.
Sara Bissen, the managing editor of the Journal of Biourbanism, and I had been working for several months on an article about how rural and agrarian experiences influence people who reside in urban environments. Dr. Stefano Serafini, her husband, is the general secretary and research director of the International Society of Biourbanism (www.biourbanism.org).
Two mules with burlap saddles and their handler, Emilio, were waiting for Marilyn and me when Stefano parked the car in a small asphalt lot a couple hundred feet above the base of the mountainside village where the road ended. The animals stepped cautiously as they carried us up steep cobblestone walkways, for there are no streets that cars and bikes can negotiate, only many steps and winding 5-foot wide paved paths in old Artena where Sara and Stefano live.
It’s no wonder the residents here are in good shape and live long – they walk everywhere. In so doing, they develop close affiliations with everyone, animals included, and come to know their fellow thousand or so residents in ways few people in modern urban and suburban habitats experience.
Sara feeds the mules carrots whenever they thump the front door with their muzzles, whether they are accompanied by their owner or not. The mules probably don’t consider Emilio as owning them, but as fellow neighborhood residents.
There is a newer Artena less than two centuries old with some ten thousand residents on the more level plain at the base of this volcanic mountain range (Mt. Vesuvius is 100 miles southeast). Our destination was old Artena, known as Montefortino before 1873, which traces to the 13th century AD, and a few even older farms on the 2,500 foot mountain slopes above the town anywhere the terrain isn’t so steep that farm equipment would topple over.
The town was partially destroyed twice by Papal armies in the early 1500s and totally razed in 1557 by troops loyal to Pope Paul IV, mostly because of political rivalries. When political differences finally simmered down, the town was entirely rebuilt.
The fourth and most recent destruction occurred during World War II when Allied bombing missions obliterated old Artena’s main church (one of four) where Nazi soldiers who controlled Italy after Mussolini resigned were thought to be hiding, along with several homes. Almost all of Artena’s structures that were damaged have been reconstructed, including the church that was demolished.
Somehow, Artena has a capacity for survival. Maybe, Artena’s survival can mostly be attributed to strong feelings of community because everyone has to get to know and depend on one another in the village and surrounding countryside. A compelling urge infiltrates everyone to share in mutual survival functions such as production and preparation of food, fuel, crafts that yield clothing, structures, services such as education, medical care and financial management, to name but a few essential ingredients for a self-sufficient community.
Mostly everyone has ties to nearby farms, forests, and the Mediterranean Sea for food in local markets, wood for fuel, and foraging (mushrooms, wild boar, deer, and fowl abound, along with fresh and salt-water fish). There is no local police force. Everyone knows each other’s business; a suspicious person or event wouldn’t go unnoticed or not discussed. An amused town resident commented that the residents looking out their windows are the police.
Sara and Stefano showed Marilyn and me local gathering spots, like the revered Catholic church at the top of the mountain that was spared during WWII, a coffee shop where the locals gather to exchange news and views and a diverse farm above Artena where the family farm operator showed us fine Simmental and Romagnola cattle, geese, chickens, vegetable gardens, olive groves, vineyards, dairy ewes that supply the milk to make fine Pecorino cheese and his prized Percheron stallion.
Sara and Stefano took us to the finest restaurant we visited in Italy, it’s in old Artena. While we dined there for three hours midday on a dozen courses and sampled local wines, the four of us discussed biourbanism and the content for the JBU article to which I contributed.
Artena demonstrates biourbanism at its best. It retains its reliance on the surrounding agrarian community and centuries-old structures but has added electricity, water, sewage disposal, and communication facilities (e.g., WiFi). Artena integrates what I call the agrarian imperative into their biourban environment.
There is much more to explain about biourbanism that is important for future survival. By 2050 it’s estimated that 70 percent of the world’s 9.5 billion humans will live in cities.
New Methods Of Integrating Agricultural Production Into Urban Life Are Needed
Although biourbanism is new to most people, it has important implications for agricultural producers, scientists and everyone seeking to live best in an increasingly metropolitan world. Given the current rate of urban expansion, population forecasters say that within three decades well over nine billion people will inhabit our planet and 70 percent will live in cities.
Biourbanism is a complex concept. The “bio” part of the word refers to the living city or town itself, including its people, animals, gardens, parks, insects and all forms of life that are indigenous to its environment.
The “urbanism” part refers to the design and layout of an urban, suburban or other community, such as its roads, residences, commercial buildings, actually its entire ecosystem. A major aim of biourbanism is to facilitate optimal quality of life in metropolitan communities.
Biourbanism is a new field that combines many disciplines. Biourbanism integrates architecture, engineering, biology, and behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology, sociology, and economics) with art, literature, and any other relevant disciplines to design modern communities so that all the residents can live together optimally, sustainably and indefinitely.
The International Society of Biourbanism encourages scientific investigations that explore these interconnections; it also conducts workshops for city planners and anyone interested in these matters.
How does agriculture interface with biourbanism? The agrarian imperative theory helps explain this.
Agricultural producers have an innate drive to acquire territories and the necessary resources to produce food, materials for clothing, shelter, and fuel so humans can survive and procreate. Biourbanism incorporates agricultural activities into its rural-urban continuum.
Agriculture is becoming integrated into urban, suburban and town environments. Consider how farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture–which didn’t exist in the US and Canada 40 years ago–are now available in most North American communities.
In the near future, increasingly more agricultural production will be carried out in urban environments. To illustrate, a person I know is developing a method of hydroponic production of salad greens and herbs in a constantly cycling system housed in a warehouse in Omaha.
He aims to furnish local salad materials year-round for many of the restaurants and groceries in Omaha, and if successful will provide competition for seasonal producers of similar crops on land. A generation removed from a farming background, his agrarian imperative is being demonstrated in his innovations to produce food.
Integrating agriculture into metropolitan settings enhances freshness of products and reduces transportation costs, and increasingly so when available year-round from local producers.
Raising gardens, fruit trees and shrubs, a few chickens, animals or fish for food is popular in urban environments, especially in many European and Asian cities. Everyone has an agrarian urge that contributes to human survival even though its manifestations vary from person to person.
Biourbanism not only incorporates agricultural activities but also sees life as a rural-urban continuum. “Rural” is the life source of a self-sufficient urban community.
Thus, according to biourbanism, a city cannot be designed without integrating “rural” into its landscape, as well as rural social structures like neighborhood coffee shops where people gather to exchange news and views and to affirm relationships.
We also display our agrarian and rural roots when we construct fences, signs, and devise legal descriptions of our urban abodes and work settings. Our rural customs, motivated by agrarian urges, are essential to biourbanism.
As modern life advances, agricultural producers, large and small, have to focus on the needs of increasingly urban and enlarging populations. Farmers who produce specific crops or animals will have to be maximally efficient.
Example: Farmers who produce corn or other materials for ethanol fuel must select seeds that maximize conversion into alcohol, while farmers who raise corn for human food may emphasize different crop traits.
Producers of food, fibers and fuel must focus on what urban producers cannot readily produce within the constraints of their environments. For instance, few urban residents can readily raise grapes, sweet corn and most large animals that require much space.
Future agriculture will become even more specialized, driven by local needs, and biourban.
Dr. Michael Rosmann is the author of the monthly column “Farm & Ranch Life”. Special thanks to Sara Bissen and Dr. Serafini for their assistance with this article for the Journal of Biourbanism (JBU). It was a joint effort; Ms. Bissen is the JBU managing editor. The article was published in the most recent issue of JBU (#1&2/16 Vol. V), which is available at: www.journalofbiourbanism.org