“Cities have a crucial role to play as catalysts of the system change we need. They can embody a new story about development and progress in which the health of biodiversity, foodsheds and watersheds are key indicators of success. A city is most healthy as a meeting place for change agents, outliers, and shadow networks. The healthy city is about participation, not spectacle. Connecting is itself a form of innovation.” John Thackara*

By acknowledging the city as a living system where things grow organically, offering a new human centered fluidity, we approached its territories as a fertile ground for community regeneration and a healthy (fair, resilient, circular, sustainable) local food system, while understanding ourselves as agents of change by designing and producing genuine urban abundance. This living city is already emerging with new kinds of infrastructures: food coops, collective urban gardening and farming, craft breweries etc. These infrastructures empower different agents to create new hybrid structures for the future city. On the other hand such places of empowerment deliver the ground for negotiating the urban and for self-determination of marginalised actors. We examined them under different aspects e.g. gardening as a social practice or how the urban space can be activated for food production.

Inspired by emerging disciplines like permaculture, transition and regenerative design, the goal of this project was to experience a socially engaged design practice and to establish a systemic understanding of the topic by investigating different scenarios addressing questions like: How to propose new food products & service systems (PPS) that regenerate local economies as well as communities? How to use mobile & lean structures to establish resilient and circular food systems that will not be affected by politics, real estate speculation etc.? How to help people to take back the city by establishing shared food production/transformation/systems?

We kicked-off the semester with a Berlin wide field research, exploring and identifying key elements for local food systems in a community context (production, transformation, distribution, consumption). We visited and interviewed grass roots initiatives, start-ups, farmers, community gardens, local producers etc., cooked and ate together and explored the different set-ups of community. In cooperation with the architects (Prof. Markus Bader), the warm up exercise was to build a futuristic vision around food production and community for the „Haus der Statistik“, a building and space at Berlin Alexanderplatz, whose purpose is yet to be determined.

The product design students then moved on to identify key principles  for clean and sustainable food systems (growing / consuming /wasting /recycling). Aiming to embrace a local-cosmopolitan approach (cf. E. Manzini), the students tackled the challenge from 2 perspectives: Berlin (as representative of the occidental world) and the Nairobi slums (as representative for the global south). They then developed the key principles into systemically embedded, community supporting concepts which ideally can adapt to different cultural contexts. Both the systemic approach and the visionary future excursion helped the students to understand how to share knowledge and resources in a fairer, healthier way.

*John Thackara  Manifesto for utopias are over: cities are living systems