Agropolitan Futures

This seminar examines the unsustainable relationship between urbanisation and agriculture. It will focus on Monsoon Asia where urbanisation rates are extreme and where most of the world’s staple cereals are grown (90% of the world’s rice, 45% wheat, and 25% maize). The seminar adopts an ‘agropolitan’ outlook as a means to displace city-centric approaches to urbanisation and to foreground the inter-dependence of future cities and future agriculture. This includes tightening food production-consumption loops across the urban-rural spectrum, improving city-hinterland connectivity and reducing material flows of city-regions. The seminar adopts a transdisciplinary ethos, linking science and design perspectives to shape credible responses to these challenges.

Cities in Monsoon Asia are growing at unprecedented speed, consuming fertile agricultural land and reducing the capacities of farmers to produce food in the process. At the same time, already vulnerable supply chains are increasingly threatened by local and global stresses and shocks —natural hazards, climate change, and pandemics.

Attempts to keep pace with the rising food needs of urbanising populations by industrialising agriculture are devastating biodiversity, natural habitats, and environmental commons. Together, these processes heighten social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities, lock cities and towns into carbon path dependency, and ultimately threaten livelihoods both in cities and rural areas. A future based on these current realities would be disastrous not only for already vulnerable regions in Asia but for the planet.

Scientific and policy responses to this complex challenge have been gathering momentum. The science on urbanisation and food security is developing, and is informing research on climate change, environmental degradation and social equity. At the same time, work on the urban-rural themes in planning, urban design and architecture is developing quickly. Despite progress in these different disciplinary spaces, more concerted transdisciplinary responses are still lacking. Contemporary planning agencies — be they governmental, intergovernmental or civil society groups — lament the lack of plausible visions and credible actions.

The seminar will review a broad range of recent research spanning land-use planning, ecology, technology, energy, agrarian studies, food systems, anthropology, and area studies. It will review empirical case studies from India, China, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia to support transdisciplinary responses to the broader challenge of urbanisation and agriculture.

While our empirical and area focus is monsoon Asia, this seminar intends to model a transdisciplinary approach applicable to a wide range of agropolitan localities, both those currently realised and those yet-to-come.

The seminar will be structured around three elements:
• Readings in science, technology, social sciences and planning
• Virtual site reviews for selected locations in Monsoon Asia (indicated in Figure 1)
• Diagrammatic case studies for credible actions

Evaluation for the seminar will be based on four elements:
• Required reading précis
• Diagrammatic case study: data story, plausible analysis, and credible action prototype
• Thematic report combining selected readings and diagrammatic case study
• General seminar participation