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A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York

Street view of Amsterdam Ave. in northern Manhattan featuring a mix of traditional and advanced agricultural growing techniques. Image Courtesy of Terreform

“In an era of incompetent nation states and predatory transnationals, we must ratchet up local self-reliance, and the most logical increment of organisation (and resistance) is the city.” This is how Michael Sorkin, writing in Aeon Magazine, explains his hypothetical plan to radically change the landscape of New York City, bringing a green landscape and urban farming into the former concrete jungle.

The plan, called “New York City (Steady) State”, produced over six years by Sorkin’s Terreform Research Group, is not designed simply for aesthetic pleasure; it’s not even an attempt to make the city more sustainable (although sustainability is the key motivation behind the project). The project is in fact a “thought-experiment” to design a version of New York that is completely self reliant, creating its own food, energy and everything else within its own borders.

Read on after the break to find out how New York could achieve self-reliance

Street level view of the interior courtyard space in the Figure Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform

The key idea behind the project is to create a sustainable society from the bottom up – rather than relying on government to impose one from the top down – by applying autarky, a political concept which describes a completely closed system. This system resonates well with many established notions of sustainability: ideas such as ‘cradle-to-cradle‘ or ‘net zero’ often demand closed loops or minimal outside influence.

Massing study of the Figure Ground Switch, at 100% production. Image Courtesy of Terreform

After defining the extents of the study (including only the five boroughs of New York City and creating “an almost completely ‘unnatural’ limit” to constrain the study), the first step was to define how a city as urban as New York might be adapted to provide food for its 8.5 million inhabitants. Using a variety of skyscraper farms, and reclaiming streets and under-utilized city blocks, Terreform has calculated that it would be technically possible to produce 2,500 calories per person, per day. Combining this with a sophisticated distribution network would give each resident access to enough food.

Study of the Figure Ground Switch, where 100% of a neighborhood’s food is grown on site. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A plan as dramatic as this obviously brings drawbacks: the first iteration of the design was calculated to require 25 nuclear power stations to generate the energy required to produce all this food, a result that was “somewhat at odds with our larger intentions.” However, this is where the project’s intention as a thought experiment comes into play: the radical design is meant to test boundaries, to take on a seemingly impossible task and see what the implications are of meeting it.

Bird’s-eye view of Midtown Manhattan’s neighborhood food hubs in New York City (Steady) State. Image Courtesy of Terreform

On the whole, we’re sanguine about the differences between the logics of comparative advantage and the politics of self-realisation, and the difficulties of negotiating the territory in between,” explains Sorkin. The truly desirable solution to environmental crisis and social inequality will lie somewhere between our current situation and the designs of Terreform. But without their investigation pushing the boundaries of what is feasibly possible – and showing us just how different our urban environment could be – then our quest for sustainability would be limited, and therefore incomplete.

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Street view of Amsterdam Ave. in northern Manhattan featuring a mix of traditional and advanced agricultural growing techniques. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Street view of Amsterdam Ave. in northern Manhattan featuring a mix of traditional and advanced agricultural growing techniques. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Exterior rendering of a vertical tower designed specifically for meat production. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Exterior rendering of a vertical tower designed specifically for meat production. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Aerial view of the South Bronx and Manhattan, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Aerial view of the South Bronx and Manhattan, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Bird’s-eye view of Midtown Manhattan’s neighborhood food hubs in New York City (Steady) State. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Bird’s-eye view of Midtown Manhattan’s neighborhood food hubs in New York City (Steady) State. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York New York City (Steady) State, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform
New York City (Steady) State, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Street view of 147th street in northern Manhattan where dominance has shifted from vehicular circulation to food production and distribution. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Street view of 147th street in northern Manhattan where dominance has shifted from vehicular circulation to food production and distribution. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Street view of a vacant lot that has been transformed into an urban agriculture education center with modular food growing cells. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Street view of a vacant lot that has been transformed into an urban agriculture education center with modular food growing cells. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Distribution Plan, Master Plan A. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Distribution Plan, Master Plan A. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York New York City streets and blocks with proposed Figure Ground Switch, where the buildings occupy what were streets and the interior blocks are reserved for vertical towers and traditional food production. Image Courtesy of Terreform
New York City streets and blocks with proposed Figure Ground Switch, where the buildings occupy what were streets and the interior blocks are reserved for vertical towers and traditional food production. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York An East-West Section through the proposed Figure-Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform
An East-West Section through the proposed Figure-Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York A North-South Section through the proposed Figure-Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A North-South Section through the proposed Figure-Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Study of the Figure Ground Switch, where 30% of a neighborhood’s food is grown on site. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Study of the Figure Ground Switch, where 30% of a neighborhood’s food is grown on site. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Massing study of the Figure Ground Switch, at 100% production. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Massing study of the Figure Ground Switch, at 100% production. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Study of the Figure Ground Switch, where 100% of a neighborhood’s food is grown on site. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Study of the Figure Ground Switch, where 100% of a neighborhood’s food is grown on site. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Terreform-designed food growing cells and vertical growing surfaces. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Terreform-designed food growing cells and vertical growing surfaces. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Street view of Fulton Street, Manhattan. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Street view of Fulton Street, Manhattan. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Distribution Centers, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Distribution Centers, Master Plan B. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Street level view of the interior courtyard space in the Figure Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Street level view of the interior courtyard space in the Figure Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Bird’s eye view of Steady State’s linear production towers. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Bird’s eye view of Steady State’s linear production towers. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Linear production towers constructed above existing infrastructure, such as highways and railroads. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Linear production towers constructed above existing infrastructure, such as highways and railroads. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Section view of a neighborhood food hub atop existing subway infrastructure for subterranean distribution. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Section view of a neighborhood food hub atop existing subway infrastructure for subterranean distribution. Image Courtesy of Terreform

A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York View of Queens in New York City (Steady) State where a mix of advanced and traditional growing techniques are utilized to satisfy the diets of all New York City residents. Image Courtesy of Terreform
View of Queens in New York City (Steady) State where a mix of advanced and traditional growing techniques are utilized to satisfy the diets of all New York City residents. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Exterior rendering of proposed food tower. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Exterior rendering of proposed food tower. Image Courtesy of Terreform
A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York Plan view of Sunnyside, Queens with skinny, vertical towers and Figure Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform
Plan view of Sunnyside, Queens with skinny, vertical towers and Figure Ground Switch. Image Courtesy of Terreform


Cite: Stott, Rory. "A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York" 27 Feb 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 Feb 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=480220>
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