Urban farming is emerging as one of the solutions to sustainability issues and space constraint in dense urban areas. For a few years now, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield has been launching urban farming projects and scaled them up in different assets. How is the urban farming market evolving and what are the opportunities for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield? How can the Group go further and imagine even more ambitious projects in the future?
The growing market of urban farms: an opportunity to seize
Urban farming is emerging as a solution to sustainability issues and space constraint in dense urban areas. According to a report presented by “Research And Markets”, urban farming accounted for $210 Bn of revenues worldwide in 2017 and $6.9 Bn revenues in France the same year. And it is expected to grow fast: it is forecasted to reach $289 Bn in revenues by 2026.
This growth is driven by an increasing awareness on sustainability and responsible consumption, the general public will to integrate more nature in urban environments: while global urbanization is still rising – the UN expects urbanization to go from 55% today globally to 68% by 2050 – an internal study showed that 77% of respondents wanted to be surrounded by more green spaces and trees. This trend obviously creates tensions as cities and nature are hardly compatible, urban areas often lacking spaces for green spaces.
In the perspective of a more responsible consumption, two factors seem to have propelled the urban farming market growth: the increasing demand in short distribution channels for food products (e.g. demand in the city of Lyon rose from 24% to 41% over 2012-2017) and in local production (77% of French consumers say they try to buy local products as much as possible, and for 10% of consumers the production country is the first purchasing criterion – source: LSA Conso).
In this favorable market context, many players have engaged in urban farming projects, among which retail (mass distribution food chains, department stores) and real estate companies (commercial real estate, hotels, offices). These projects are very diverse in terms of technical models (green roofs, containers, open ground, aeroponics, permaculture, etc.) and they usually involve specialised companies that provide services, especially early stage start-ups that can tailor their offer for each client and project.
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s ambitious vision for its assets
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield has been a pioneer in the field of urban farming, integrating it in its standing assets and development projects, by using efficiently and innovatively square metres and rooftops. Besides, most of the Group’s assets are located in very dense and urban areas, which makes them very suitable for such urban farming projects.
Indeed, as demonstrated with the Group’s CSR strategy Better Places 2030, urban farming is a solution that can have a positive environmental impact. It is a solution to produce local and seasonal products and thus have low-carbon footprint and short distribution channels. It is also a way to produce with responsible methods (permaculture…), to encourage biodiversity in cities and to have greener spaces available.
And it goes beyond creating Better Spaces – one of the pillars of the Better Places 2030 strategy –, urban farms contribute to creating Better Communities, as they are really anchored in their territories. Indeed, these urban farms can create synergies with retailers, for instance by using and selling the products grown. This is the case with FarmHouse So Ouest, a 600 sqm rooftop farm operated by Sous Les Fraises, that sells the fruits and vegetables grown there to local restaurants and supermarkets. We can imagine going further with this approach: restaurants partnering could, in turn, recycle their organic waste in compost for the urban farms, hence recovering waste and creating a circular dynamic.
These spaces are also a new way of attracting and interacting with visitors. These dedicated spaces answer a customer need for green spaces in urban areas, and can offer a new user experience thanks to the organization of events and workshops open to the public. Finally, urban farms should benefit local communities, for example through the rental of farming space to local residents, as it is the case at Westfield Parly 2 in its 1,n000 sqm rooftop farm, Peas&Love, available for rental to locals.
And Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield is going further by thinking of new models of urban farms suitable to test on development projects, such as hydroponics with greenhouses, plain greenhouses, aeroponics in columns, soil containers, etc. Other urban farming projects for development assets are ongoing and planned to open in the coming years, starting with Paris Expo, which will welcome a 14,000 sqm rooftop urban farm in 2020, the largest one in Europe to date, and SHIFT, where Sous Les Fraises should open a farm on the 2,600 sqm rooftop in 2020 as well. Innovation with urban farms has led the Group to think more widely on how to include more usages around nature and green spaces.
More projects are still under discussion for standing assets and development projects – SHIFT will offer spaces with trees and vegetation, the Majunga and Trinity towers will have open pergolas – with the same ambition: adding value to the centres, the retailers, the visitors and the local communities by ensuring a long-lasting positive environmental impact.