Future-proofing urban food systems: Innovations in sustainable urban agriculture

The H2020 EU funding project Cities2030, headed by the Department of Economics of Ca’Foscari University of Venice, explores the development and implementation of innovative urban food systems to address the growing demand for food in cities.

Urbanisation has had an unprecedented impact on the environment, people, and their way of life. According to the World Bank, 56% of the global population lives in cities, and this number is estimated to reach 70% by 2050.

Obviously, with an increasing population comes a growing need for food to sustain it. Yet, traditionally, urban areas have not been utilised for agriculture.

However, this is slowly changing as thoughts turn to the increasing demand for food and the issues that food production presents.

The Cities2030 project, run by Ca’Foscari University of Venice, seeks to remedy the myriad issues threatening the food supply in urban areas.

Urban Food Systems and Ecosystems

The primary purpose of the Cities2030 project is to develop and enhance urban food systems and Ecosystems (UFSE), effectively future-proofing the food supply and putting the consumer at the centre of solutions. This can mean several things, including making existing urban farming programmes more sustainable or creating new ones.

This will also increase the connectivity between urban farming and City Region Food Systems to increase their output and efficiency and reduce environmental impacts.

If utilised properly, these UFSEs will meet the demand for food and reduce the environmental impact of urban agriculture, which comes from sources such as transport and waste materials.

Cities2030 developments

There are many partners with projects in development dedicated to this end, including:

Optimus Garden

This is essentially an experiment in vertical gardening, removing a need for pesticides or even soil.

Located in Valencia, Spain, this project sees gardens and orchards that take up very little horizontal space and can be outdoors or indoors.

The amount of time needed to grow useable crops was also reduced by about 50% and saved 90% of the water required to grow the same in regular agriculture.

Besides using less water and soil and causing less waste, this also shows that the supply chain can be reduced drastically, as the hydroponic system can be implemented within the city.

© shutterstock/AYA images


This is a rooftop greenhouse by INAGRO, located in Roeselare, Belgium. It is intended to research how to best use the tops of buildings (which will naturally receive more relatively uninterrupted sunlight) to create the most ideal and efficient growing conditions through factors such as space utilisation, water usage and recycling, and energy costs.


The practice of aquaponics combines hydroponics (growing plants in water with no soil) with aquaculture (keeping aquatic animals in tanks) by keeping the water used to grow the plants supplied with the nutrients that would otherwise be given through soil, the supply of which is helped by the animals in the water.

Similarly to other projects, this avoids using soil, pesticides, and medicine and cuts down the supply chain by growing crops and fish in the city.


In a slightly different vein, urban beekeeping is being utilised in Bremerhaven, Bremen, Germany. The Seestadthonig project provides both a safe habitat for bees and a honey product for consumers, which is made right there in the city.

With declining bee populations globally and bees being an important part of the ecosystem, this is extremely beneficial to the environment and brings new ideas about what habitats bees require to live.

These are just some of the many projects under the Cities2030 umbrella.

Living labs and Policy labs

Another facet of the programme is the development of Living and Policy labs. While both work towards achieving the same goals, their focuses are different enough to warrant their separation.

Living labs focus on innovating citizen-led action, business-led innovation, and research actions.

On the other hand, policy labs focus on developing and implementing policies and legislation to support the creation of UFSE.

Both Policy and Living labs are a part of different work packages (WP).

WP4, for Policy labs, aims to:

  • Activate UFSE actors, building capacities to facilitate an efficient co-creation process.
  • Deliver policy life cycle assessments within labs, design and pilot at real scale, validate, and deploy sustainable City Region Food Systems (CRFS) policies that meet the EU FOOD2030 and UN-SDG11 policy frameworks.
  • Build competencies at the city level.

WP5, Living labs, aims to:

  • Deliver a structured environment to unlock cities innovation potential;
  • Accelerate innovation processes incorporating the design, pilot, validation, and deployment of cutting-edge food-related technology;
  • Implement pilots on products, services, and mechanisms at the city level and eventually generate sustainable business models; and
  • Identify and activate funding schemes to support the structured and sustainable development of the innovations above.

In conjunction with the others (not listed here), these work packages will work together to deliver sustainable food solutions that can be implemented worldwide.

The future of Cities2030

The Cities2030 project will ultimately secure sustainable food chains for urbanised areas, relieving pressure from the growing food demand by providing healthy food and reducing waste and carbon emissions.

Food supply chains will be minimised as they will start and end where they need to be, in the heart of urban life. They will also provide products and legislation that will help protect the environment regarding wildlife and reduce the human impact.

The labs and projects under the Cities2030 project’s umbrella already operate in several cities, including Bruges, Vicenza, Murska Sobota, and many more. The work undertaken thus far has shown promising results, and the future is bright for urban food production, giving hope and determination to secure the future.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101000640

Nicola Camatti, PhD, is a researcher at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and coordinator of the Cities2030 project as Lead Partner.

His research focuses primarily on business ecosystems, sustainable tourism planning, food systems and regional development. His recent studies focus on the development of decision support systems and big data analysis to manage and promote tourist destinations and the food business ecosystem, as well as to implement territorial marketing strategies.

Please note, this article will also appear in the 18th edition of our quarterly publication.

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