Urban Landscapes

The concept of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes and its relevance to sustainable cities Sheet1
CPULs on a map Source: https://www.foodurbanism.org/v2/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/1057-CPUL-Andre-Viljoen-a-P.jpg

Cities until very recently have functioned as a dependent mechanism. The sustenance of the residents in the city has always relied on its neighbouring rural counterparts; for justifiable reasons. Urban Cities have always experienced a dearth of usable land. When the density of population is a struggle to cope with, integrating agricultural practices within a city takes a backseat. This reliance on the fresh extensive agricultural land of rural areas has made cities extremely unsustainable. Food and produce hence need to be imported from outside city limits in enormous quantities to feed the people residing in the urban. 

This bond between rural and urban has stood the test of evolving times. But now, due to the global concern of resource depletion and overconsumption, there exists a possibility of a collapse of this delicate system. When fuel is depleting, transport will become expensive and gradually inaccessible. This will invariably leave the urban population stranded in the means of nutritional resources. 

Addressing this concern, Andre Viljoen introduces the concept of CPULs (pronounced Sea-Pulls) in his book Continuous Productive Urban Landscape: Designing Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities. In this book, he has created a visionary idea for architects and designers of future generations. The motivation behind CPULs is a simple question. How will our cities remain well-fed post the depletion of cheap oil?

The concept of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes and its relevance to sustainable cities Sheet2
The connectivity diagram Source: https://www.foodurbanism.org/v2/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/1057-CPUL-Andre-Viljoen-c-P2.jpg

We in the present day exist with the concept of our rural areas being food growers and cities as primary consumers. But how relevant is this system in the age of expensive transportation? A self-sustaining city should also be equipped to be a productive space, not unlike a village. The notion of the City as a Farm is too fanciful. Cuba underwent oil peaks causing the government to creatively rethink and reinvent food production in the urban. Havana now produces half of its fresh vegetables within the city, from a series of community gardens, balconies, and rooftops. These gardens supply food to the city while creating employment opportunities. They improve the climate of the city and also aesthetically improve the city.

In an attempt to keep productive land use as the center of urban design, our cities should be farms. Permaculture or continuous productive urban landscapes as a concept and a theory is a series or green spaces networked to each other by cycle paths and walkways that combine urban agriculture, recreation, and other miscellaneous public utilities and services.

The concept of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes and its relevance to sustainable cities Sheet3
CPULs as a concept explained graphically Source: Illustrated by Kriti Shivagunde (author)

CPULs are essentially a coherently planned and designed combination of Continuous Landscape, and Productive Urban Landscape.

It is an open urban landscape that is productive in economical and socio-cultural and environmental terms.

They are placed within an urban-scale landscape strategy and constructed to incorporate living and natural elements. CPULs are designed to encourage and allow urban dwellers to observe activities and processes traditionally associated with the countryside, re-establishing a relationship between life and the processes required to support it.

The precise terminology for this was initially co ined by Bohn and Viljoen Architects and this revolutionary idea communicates a profoundly different way of looking at urban spaces to the designers of cities and spaces. Unusable landscapes as seen today can be replaced with productive vegetation, pushing urban areas to the future where local food is produced abundantly in diverse landscapes, and cities become net producers of food rather than importers.

While Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes is a mouthful term to use, it correlates with the concept of Permaculture. Both these terms are almost synonymous, differing only in the fact that CPULs have defined connectivity to each of the agricultural pockets. 

This idea of Urban Design and Planning can be used to revitalize dead and barren pieces of land in the city. It can also make use of vertical surfaces and terraces of buildings to bring forth productivity in the landscape. Biophilic design is a form of design and natural integration that has taken off in recent times. These are hence solutions emerging from a conversation between humans and their natural environment, and the effects of overconsumption that is so widespread today. 

With Havana as a case study, Viljoen brings to light the need for Urban areas producing and consuming its food. The food is grown under the watchful eyes of its consumers, creating a relationship between the two.

Many Urban regions have started a gradual transformation of remnant negative spaces within the city into agricultural landscapes. In India, many monotonous and dingy railway corridors are being cleared and cultivated. This has increased employment opportunities for the people while allowing locally sourced food to enter into the consumption system. The overall concept of Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes reduces the embodied energy of the food substantially. It also introduces pleasant open spaces where growth is a key theme. CPULs are hence, an extremely green initiative to urban development and undeniably a growing need for the world. 


Kriti Shivagunde is a hopeless list-maker. She makes lists more than she breathes in a day. She writes too much, sings too much, and loves hummus too much. She is passionate about sleeping and helping animals. An architecture student from the unfortunate 2020 graduating batch, she hopes to one day call herself an Architect.