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Cultivating an urban food future

01:35pm March 12 2019

Industry experts discuss urban farming and sustainability for the launch of the second Cultivate space at Westpac’s Sydney headquarters. (Josh Wall)

Imagine driving in to work to find your usual carpark has morphed into an urban farm? It might not be that crazy an idea as cities respond to changing technology and social preferences. 

“If you imagine a world ten years hence where we don't need cars, carparks, because we're taking autonomous vehicles where we go. Then it begins to get us thinking about how we might repurpose those spaces,” says Kate Cooper, Westpac’s head of innovation. 

For many cities, how to respond to population growth and sustainability concerns is getting increasing attention after the world’s urban population in 2008 surpassed the population in rural areas for the first time in what The World Bank dubbed a “critical event” in history. More than a decade on, as experts forecast the world’s total population to rise from around 7.2 billion to almost nine billion by 2030, the growth in cities is showing little sign of slowing down. The flow-on challenges are many and often worse in developing nations: infrastructure, housing, and social and health issues, to name a few.  

Another is food supply.

“As the world continues to grow and the population edges past nine billion, food will become a burning platform,” Westpac’s national manager of agribusiness Steve Hannan said ahead of this week’s launch of a new Cultivate space, a pop-up urban farming experience.

Developed by property giant Mirvac and start-up Farmwall to educate innovative ways for growing food in urban settings, Cultivate’s second space on the ground floor of Westpac’s Sydney headquarters at 275 Kent Street (next to Sussex Lane) will run from March to May and is open to the public every day except Wednesday to purchase fresh produce and take part in various offerings. It builds on other measures in recent years from the public and private sector, The City of Sydney in 2017 launching its “City Farm” in Sydney Park to foster learning about urban agriculture and sustainable food production.

“Urban farming, it’s not necessarily going to feed the world but what it does do…is educate us and hopefully inspire us about making better decisions about the food we consume,” said Serena Lee, the co-founder of Farmwall.

Urban farms take on various forms, but typically have the common trait of utilising unused city space to produce food, according to a paper from the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which claimed it was gaining traction in cities across the US. 

Campbell Hanan, head of office and industrial at Mirvac, which owns and manages a range of properties across the office, retail and industrial sectors, said the Cultivate project could be rolled out beyond central business districts where there is under-utilised space. 

“We would certainly love to see this rollout broadly through Mirvac's portfolio of office buildings but also it's something to consider in shopping centres. Things you can see in residential developments. It is not something which is isolated to the concept of an office building,” he said. 

Josh Wall is the Head of Video at Westpac Wire. Prior to joining the team, he spent 10 years as a video journalist and documentary filmmaker, most recently as Head of Video for the Guardian Australia. He also worked across numerous News Corp mastheads in Sydney as a presenter, producer, writer and video journalist. Josh is originally from Perth, Western Australia where he began his career by co-creating a video magazine that focused on music and the arts.

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