Room to Grow: Participatory Landscapes and Urban Agriculture at New York University


By Adam Brock
September, 2008

A research paper I (Adam Brock) wrote under supervision from NYU professor Natalie Jeremijenko in Summer 2008. The conclusion? It’s not lack of land that’s preventing us from growing food on campus – it’s the politics of centrally-controlled space.


Urban Agriculture presents a promising means of addressing at least three critical issues facing cities: food security, ecological health, and community development. As an urban research university with an increasing commitment to sustainable practices, NYU is in an ideal position to contribute to this emerging discipline. Although the neighborhood around NYU’s core is uncommonly dense, the University owns several acres of under-utilized outdoor space within this core that could potentially be suitable for cultivation.

Techniques such as edible landscaping and distributed gardening further add to the physical potential for urban agriculture on campus. The greatest challenge to cultivation at NYU comes not from the landscape itself, but rather from social forces such as centralized ownership structures and historic preservation. Several options are suggested for conducting further research in addressing these issues.


Urban agriculture has the potential to provide many mutually enhancing benefits – not just for the goals of urban sustainability, but for public health and community development as well. Yet the adoption of urban agricultural techniques in Greenwich Village is hindered by significant social pressures to maximize the economic value of public space and preserve existing functions. With further evaluation, techniques such as edible landscaping and distributed gardening may prove to be viable footholds for introducing urban agricultural techniques into this dynamic cultural ecosystem.

Yet even if successful, these techniques would exist at the margins of a landscape that is fundamentally heterotrophic and inequitable. In the long term, developing a more ecologically and socially robust built environment will require reconceptualizing the way public space is managed, and producing more than a token amount of food within city limts. New models are needed that combine the financial resources and design expertise of centralized planning offices with the community agency of participatory landscapes. Meanwhile, the development of a sustainable food system entails much more than merely growing it (Barrs, DeLind); further research is needed into techniques for processing and distributing the yield of urban agricultural projects in ways that are ecologically restorative and socially just.

See complete paper ‘Room to Grow: Participatory Landscapes and Urban Agriculture at New York University’ here.

Also see ‘Why Cityfarming? Because It’s Fair – Where urban agriculture meets social justice.’ By Adam Brock, January 16, 2008