New book highlights Cape Town’s urban social agriculture as catalyst for improved quality of life

A chapter of the new book, Handbook of Quality of Life and Sustainability, highlights the catalytic role of urban agriculture on public land to improve quality of life. Featuring two projects of the SA Urban Food & Farming Trust and co-authored by our executive manager, Kurt Ackermann, this case study looks at the spatial aspects of urban farms in combination with the usability and productivity of those spaces to provide policy-makers, planners and urbanists new perspectives on contributions to quality of life made by urban agriculture.

Key research findings:

  1. Urban agriculture can serve a catalytic role to enable spaces for social capital, social cohesion, identity and local engagement.
  2. Urban social farms contribute to quality of life in cities beyond economic and growth indicators.
  3. Urban social farms are less focused on material-economic prosperity and therefore less demanding on the environment,
  4. Urban social farms share a high degree of multifunctional and flexible use of spaces. (e.g., training sites, educational sites for school children, markets, income-generating practices, allow for composting, & become sites for tourist visits and spaces of gatherings and encounters.)

Highlights of placemaking through urban agriculture:

  1. Resource conservation: contributes to non-resource intensive factors: social cohesion, participation, local engagement. Moreover, resources are preserved through social innovations around sustainable consumption and production
  2. Well-being: promotes the human scale and appropriation of space, increasing a sense of belonging and psychosocial wellness
  3. Emergent resilience: Social farms support one another in various ways. The more there are in an urban area the more support they find from their peers and the less fragile they become
  4. Private resources for public benefit: urban agriculture in public space draws on private resources for social and environmental benefit that otherwise would go to other purposes (e.g., volunteer time, donated funds and services, attention and affinity, etc.), tapping into privileged communities to enhance public spaces for broader community benefit, strengthening of local identity and increasing responsibility for a neighbourhood.

The chapter, Public Usable Space as a Catalyst for Quality of Life Improvement: The Case of Cape Town’s Social Farming Projects, is in the Handbook of Quality of Life and Sustainability, which is part of the International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life series published by Springer. Co-authors are from the University of Stuttgart (Germany), RWTH Aachen University (Germany), Hochschule Geisenheim University (Germany), Ain Shams University (Egypt), Patrimonio y Contexto Association (Chile), and the Integrated Urbanism and Sustainable Design (IUSD Lab) in Stuttgart (Germany).


In academia as well as in the global agenda policy discourse, there is a greater recognition for the need to understand dimensions that contribute to the quality of life in cities beyond economic and growth indicators.

Part of this search for a more comprehensive perspective calls for a new understanding of the role of public space. In the realm of urban studies, there is, on the one hand, a tradition of more spatial-centred research of analysing morphological characteristics of public space. On the other hand, there is an increasing number of studies that focus on the usability and the production of space and are thereby more interested in agency. By combing both perspectives, the aim is to identify key characteristics that could ultimately influence planning and policy-making for improving quality of life through useable public space.

The paper seeks to narrow this reflection by unravelling the role of urban agriculture as one agency to activate public space and public life in the context of the Global South. In order to do so, it will discuss different examples in Cape Town, South Africa. Local government and various civil society organisations are concerned about the continuous social polarisation and fragmentation in the city. At the same time, there is a growing awareness of the need to foster more climate and environmentally sensitive approaches in order to address the unsustainable sprawl. Here, urban agriculture on public usable land is seen to play a catalytic role.

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