Urban Agriculture

Urban Agriculture

--MelanieKuxdorf (talk) 16:30, 26 September 2017 (PDT) Case Study 2: Rooftop Gardens

How to use this Case Study

1. Read the Introduction section.

2. Watch the Roots on the Roof video below.

3. Read through one or many of the Pathways below.

4. Visit Roots on the Roof garden.

5. Return to the pathways, read the material, and answer the questions.

"Case study: Exploring the multi-functionality of urban agriculture on university campuses"

Case study location: Alma Matter Society Roots on the Roof, rooftop garden on the top of the new Student Union Building (The Nest) at UBC Vancouver.

Case study timeline: Check The Nest's hours, or check ROTR's Facebook page for upcoming events or volunteer opportunities.

Case study topics: Visual Art, Education, Social Science, Environmental Science, Biology, Urban and Environmental Design, Civil and Environmental Engineering.

In 1911, the UBC Vancouver campus was established. The Faculty of Agriculture was amongst its founding units. The UBC peninsula has come a long way since rural-looking fields of tractors and wheat. Yet, walk the UBC Vancouver campus and you will notice signs of food production: edible landscaping, community gardens, a peri-urban farm. These certainly provide food for the UBC community but:

Is urban agriculture at UBC a realistic model to feed a growing campus population?

This case provides an opportunity to explore this question. Through an examination of the role of UBC community gardens, we learn to identify and understand the opportunities and limitations of urban agriculture. The geographic centre of this case study is the rooftop garden at the Student Union Building (The Nest) at UBC, run by the Roots on the Roof club and should be centre-of-mind when engaging with the materials below. Further, it is important to keep in mind that the components of this case study have significant overlap with rooftop gardens and community gardens around North America.

Roots on the Roof site on top of the UBC Nest. Attribution: Picture from @UBC under CC BY 2.0

Urban agriculture's primary purpose is defined by the City of Vancouver; “fresh food is grown primarily for sale, or the food produced is primarily consumed by someone other than the growers” (City of Vancouver). Yet, urban agriculture is also seen as a tool to promote all pillars of sustainability: economic, societal, and environmental. For example, while many residents can benefit from the food production ability of community gardens, these space can also be powerful community food asset and gathering place that can promote and enhance sustainability, neighbourhood livability, community ownership, innovative design, and biodiversity and ecosystem services. A fundamental planning concept, engendered by Jane Jacobs, states that successful community spaces must exist beyond their primary use (Lowcock 2017).

In 2010, the Alma Matter Society challenged students to propose a design for the inclusion of a rooftop garden in the new Student Union Building. A group of Land and Food Systems students crafted the original business proposal, which highlighted the rooftop garden’s potential to enrich students’ learning experiences and promote sustainability awareness. Roots on the Roof (ROTR), a club of dedicated students, was created to manage the space. ROTR now operates a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, a rooftop garden, community garden plots, and a variety of community engagement events around food, culture, health, and sustainability.

There are strong social and collective dimensions of urban gardening that help leverage many rooftop gardens as a vital community asset. As inclusive, cultural spaces, urban gardens can serve as a venue and vehicle for interactions between diverse users and stakeholders and can build connections across social and cultural divides. As democratic spaces, urban gardens serve as a vehicle to engage individuals and communities in efforts toward other social and environmental initiatives. As resilient spaces, urban gardens function as social safety nets and provide for the community in time of calamity and struggles.

Trends have emerged in the challenges that urban gardens face. They are often sites of confrontation between city-backed developers and local residents fighting to preserve these spaces in the face of gentrification (Aptekar 2015). Further, inclusive, democratic or resilient community gardens are challenged by a heterogeneous urban context where there is a complex web of intersecting categories of race, ethnicity, and language. In Vancouver, such cases of conflict and angst between gardeners and neighbours have occurred (Hager & Lee 2013). In response to the challenges between the gardeners and developers, the City of Vancouver had laid out guiding policies and principles in 2015 to help mitigate these tensions, which were before unaddressed.

Social and cultural struggles within the garden are difficult to address on a policy level. While community gardens typically boast a low barrier-to-entry with regards to the cost of a membership or garden plot, Aptekar (2015) suggests that social hierarchies and exclusivity in urban gardens do arise. In his research on New York City community gardens, people drew on their privilege and resources to leverage support from institutional actors and successful maintained their vision. Despite this, Aptekar (2015) found that conditions of diversity in the urban gardens occasionally helped create spaces of resistance to larger power structures.

The UBC community does not mirror a typical heterogeneous urban environment, but diversity is still present across the university. To battle exclusivity in the rooftop garden, Roots on the Roof promotes a flat management structure. Students can take charge on certain initiatives, especially if they are skilled in a certain area (i.e., knitting or cooking).

Suggested Core Readings:
Neo, H., and Chua, C.Y. 2016. Beyond Inclusion and Exclusion: Community Gardens as Spaces of Responsibility. Retrieved from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24694452.2016.126168

The authors use the concept of responsibility to explore how urban community gardens can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. Through the analysis of four different community gardens, they conclude that there needs to be an emphasis on responsibility to achieve the desired inclusivity.

Lowcock, A. Inclusive Community Gardens: Planning for Inclusive and Welcoming Spaces in Vancouver. Retrieved from: https://sustain.ubc.ca/sites/sustain.ubc.ca/files/Sustainability%20Scholars/GCS%20reports%202014/More%20than%20vibrant%20green%20spaces%3A%20Improving%20access%20to%20community%20gardens%20as%20a%20source%20of%20healthy%2C%20fresh%2C%20and%20low-cost%20food%20for%20under-represented%20residents.pdf

UBC and the City of Vancouver collaborated on this guiding document for improving access to community gardens. Accessibility, availability, adequacy, acceptability and agency are noted as the five goals of inclusionary design.

Additional Readings:
City of Vancouver Operational Guidelines for Community Gardens: http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/CommunityGardensGuidelines.pdf
Metro Vancouver Park Board Urban Agriculture Policy (2015): http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/park-board-urban-agriculture-policy.pdf


  1. From your perspective, has Roots on the Roof achieved the five goals of inclusion, as outlined in Inclusive Community Gardens (page 39)? How might they improve their practices to promote inclusion?
  2. When have you seen the benefits of inclusion in your daily life? When have you seen the benefits of exclusion? Do you agree with Neo and Chua (2016), when they argue that inclusion and exclusion can and should exist simultaneously?
  3. According to a recent survey conducted by the Vancouver Foundation (2012), the largest obstacle to community engagement cited is that people feel like they do not have much to offer (27% of respondents). Does a platform like ROTR (offers drop-in volunteering, workshops) accessible to those who struggle to be engaged in their community?

Community-based art has been regarded as a powerful vehicle for social change (Creative City 2005). Art and culture can drive creativity and imagination, breaks down barriers, connects across cultural differences, and engages our shared values. There are a variety of perspectives on the practice of community arts and as such, a formal definition does not exist. The Neighbourhood Arts Network in Toronto describes the practice as “a unique and effective approach to community building that fosters relationships between artists and residents, while producing exciting, unique art, and nurturing mentoring opportunities,” (Neighbourhood Arts Network 2017). The Innovation Centre of Art for Social Change in Vancouver adds “art is central in helping people to find new ways to see the world and in developing models that integrate and celebrate imaginative thinking, leading to mobilization and effective action,” (CCMARD 2017).

The American Planning Association recognizes how arts and cultural strategies can enhance community engagement and participation. They note three key points:

  1. Creative tools can strengthen the understanding and exploration of community values
  2. Creative tools can increase stakeholder involvement
  3. Creative tools can better engage people in community and urban design projects

Roots on the Roof uses their rooftop space beyond its primary use as a garden and hosts community-based art events and installations. On their website, ROTR note “a qualm we have with certain “local”, “sustainable”, and “organic” food movements is that it often caters to certain types of communities, and those who cannot participate in these food movements due to income or systemic barriers are not acknowledged as having valued experiences/knowledge for how they view their own food system.”

Roof-Time Stories, a community art installation at Roots on the Roof. Attribution: Image from Roots on the Roof under CC BY 2.0

Rooftime Stories, a 2015 community-art installation at Roots on the Roof, explored how different people with different identities connect with and through food. Storytelling has two major points of appeal according the American Planning Association (2017). First, it appeals to the participants because it enables them to share in their own voices. Second, it has benefits for planners because it results in personal feedback and can be conducted with minimal materials. Through the Rooftime Stories project, organizers at Roots on the Roofs were made aware of the needs and interests of their community. These lessons can drive future community engagement projects.

Lantern, wreath, and other art workshops are also organized at Roots on the Roof as a part of their on-going efforts to engage with the community. While these workshops focus on the use of natural materials, community-based art projects vary from environmental art projects. The City of Vancouver has welcomed environmental art projects throughout public spaces in the city that range in size and scale. While both disciplines often focus on projects created with natural materials, collaborative processes drive community-based art. These collaborative processes strive to be inclusive and barrier-free to welcome diverse community members.

In an interview with the Young Agrarians, Lucas Chan, president of Roots on the Roof 2016/2017, reflects that one of group’s biggest challenge is “finding ways to continue to engage our community beyond just normal garden drop-ins or attending events” (Allaby 2017). Community-based arts can contribute to the growth of their community and allow personal expression.

Check it out: ROTF uses Instagram introduce their club to the UBC community, to promote their events and to share pictures and images which help tell the evolving story of ROTR.

Suggested Core Reading:
Freire, C. 2001. Considering culture in development : the art of Capoeira as a vehicle for community mobilization, empowerment and non-formal education in Recife, Brazil. Retrieved from:

The author explores how art helped to facilitate social learning and community mobilization in Brazil. The geographical context varies from that of UBC, but the story of community engagement and empowerment can be translated to the university context.

Additional Readings:
agriCULTURE: A Plan for Cultivating Arts and Culture in Seattle’s Urban Agriculture Sites. Retrieved from:

This plan highlights eight Guiding Principles which establish the role that the arts play related to urban agriculture. Project activities, precedents, strategies and examples can benchmark ROTR against other projects.

Dig Art! Cultivating Creativity in the Garden at Cornell University. Retrieved from:

A project guide for educators that integrates gardening and the arts. Activities for various age groups are provided.


  1. Rooftime Stories is completed – or it appears to be completed. What are some examples of community-art projects or installations that are evolving? What are the benefits of an evolving or growing art project?
  2. For you, is the community-art installation a single entity or a collection of separate art pieces? Try and see it the opposite way from your initial reaction. Does the message of the art piece change?

Green roofs are novel ecosystems that are increasingly common in cities. In some municipalities, incentive programs promoting green infrastructure have resulted in thousands of square meters of green roof installed per year (e.g. Toronto, Canada; Basel, Switzerland). Green roofs are installed on new buildings or retrofitted to existing ones for environmental, social or economic purposes (GSA 2011) and are actively promoted by climate change adaptation and storm water abatement policies (Carter & Fowler 2008). Until recently, the design of green roofs focused on engineering considerations, and how the spaces could affect building performance, especially energy consumption and storm-water retention. Researchers (Frédéric 2014, Lundholm and MacIvor 2011) have recently begun to explore the biodiversity conservation potential of green roofs.

The rooftop garden at the SUB is an example of a green roof. Green roofs can range in shape and scale, from a park on a privately owned building to a small installation on a single-family home. While many cities have created strict municipal requirements for green roof installation on new buildings, there is the need to further examine ecological evidence supporting the conservation benefits of green roofs. Williams, N., Lundholm, J., & MacIvor S.J. (2014) evaluate six hypotheses that describe the purported biodiversity conservation benefits of green roofs. Their hypotheses are as follows:

Hypothesis 1: Green roofs have greater organism abundance and species diversity than conventional roofs.
Hypothesis 2: Green roofs can support species diversity, composition and abundances of organisms comparable to ground-level habitats.
Hypothesis 3: Green roofs designed specifically to support native organisms support greater species diversity and abundance of organisms than standard, green roofs.
Hypothesis 4: Green roofs can aid rare species conservation.
Hypothesis 5: Green roofs can replicate ground-level ecological communities.
Hypothesis 6: Green roofs can facilitate movement of organisms through urban landscapes.

Green roofs have been surveyed for bee diversity and abundance to determine their potential as quality habitats in an urban area (Tonietto et al., 2011, MacIvor, Ruttan & Salehi, 2014). Substantial declines in both wild and managed bee populations have been documented in North America (Berenbaum et al. 2006; Colla & Packer 2008). Despite this finding, bees and wasps are often seen foraging on green infrastructure. Studies have investigated the factors influencing bee diversity (Schindler, Griffith & Jones 2011) and the nesting activity of bees on green roofs (MacIvor 2014). The above hypotheses from Williams, Lundholm, and MacIvor suggest that few studies with adequate replication, controls and sufficient duration have been carried out to determine if bees and other flora and fauna can be supported through green roofs. While research has not yet concluded if green roofs are comparable to ground-level habitats, they are yielding successful crops that would only be around with the help of pollinators.

The University of Bristol is investigating the pollinator biodiversity potential in urban areas and what humans can do to increase pollinator diversity and abundance. Their Urban Pollinator Talks on Youtube features academics from a variety of disciplines: urban planning, policy and biology.

Sugested Core Reading:
The Nature of Cities. Global Roundtable: Can cities save bees? How can urban habitats be made to serve pollinator conservation? How can that story be better told? Retrieved from:

A group of scientists and researchers weigh in on the potential of pollinator conservation in urban areas. There is no consensus on this issue at present time, but the authors insist on further research to better assess the potential of urban pollinator conservation.

Additional Readings:
Green Roof Bylaw in the City of Toronto (2013):

Toronto is the first City in North America to have a bylaw to require and govern the construction of green roofs on new development, which includes all new commercial, institutional and residential development with a minimum Gross Floor Area of 2,000m2.

Pollinator Homes on UBC Campus (2017):

A student SEEDS project that offers various prototypes for “pollinator houses” to increase bee habitat in urban areas. These prototypes are often small-scale and could be housed on a rooftop garden.

UBC Food System Project: The Importance of Bees for Global and Local Food Security (2009):

A student SEEDS project that investigates how bees as pollinators in the farm landscape can help the UBC Farm achieve its goals of proving climate-friendly food. The authors include strategies to increase native bee populations at the UBC Farm.


  1. After reading the Global Roundtable from the Nature of Cities website, what components of ROTR and the rooftop garden as desirable for species? Pollinators
  2. How might ROTR encourage more pollinator species in their space? Or on other satellite spots on campus?
  3. From your perspective, how can story of urban pollinators be better told to propel the conversation about urban pollinator conservation and their critical services? On a small scale (on campus)? Large scale (federal policy)?

Typical community garden design, as seen at the Burrard Community Garden in Downtown Vancouver. Attribution: Burrardgarden from City Farmer News under CC BY 2.0.

Best design practices in community gardens typically look at design in terms of the most efficient use of light, soil quality, and water access. Plot design is focused almost exclusively on physical accessibility for seniors and those with accessibility constraints; wide, well-graded paths between plots are standard in community gardens. In a study of the landscape elements (paths, plots, benches, fruit trees, children’s play area, gather spaces etc.) within community gardens, paths occupied on average 39% of the spatial allocation, while the community plots occupied just 27% of the space (Bradley et al. 2014).

Plots in Vancouver have become prescriptive in design: occasionally raised, rectangular plots, arranged in rows. Although well designed for physical accessibility, this type of design is conducive to an allotment style of gardening, where the primary purpose is personal crop cultivation (Lowcock 2015) . Personal use is only one aspect of community gardening in Vancouver and communal plots, where gardeners plan and grow crops together, are becoming more common.

At Roofs on the Roof, a large communal garden plot is the centrepiece of the garden. In addition, ROTR manages five community garden plots on the roof of the SUB beyond their main fenced garden. Each year, club members who sign up for the external community garden plots are grouped with other community gardeners and get direct hands-on experience and support with planning, growing, and harvesting their own plants and produce over the course of the growing season (ROTR, 2017). These smaller communal plots offer a space for longer-term experiences and knowledge sharing.

An overview of residential green roof design and one method of installation.

Suggested Core Reading:
Delgado, C. 2013. Contest urbanism: Meaning and manifestation in community garden design: A case study of the Black Rock Heritage Garden, Buffalo, NY. Retrieved from: https://search.proquest.com/docview/1415434952

Delgado explores how the morphology of urban places is a result of larger socio-economic and political forces. She offers that the competing interests of citizens and public officials are reflected in physical design of community gardens.

Additional Readings:
MIT OpenCourseWare. Design for Sustainability (2006).

This open education resource is of course content from the Design for Sustainability course at MIT in 2006. The course used life cycle assessment (LCA) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) methodologies to explore sustainable building design.

Bradley, L. K., et al. 2014. Design Matters in Community Gardens. Retrieved from

The authors analyze landscape elements of 10 professionally designed community gardens, and make recommendations to help professionals work with garden designers and volunteers.


  1. Is the rooftop garden at The Next designed to be accessible for the UBC community at whole?
  2. What type of features are utilized to make it welcoming and accessible?
  3. Which features of the rooftop garden at The Nest act as a barrier? Do you think they were done intentionally?

source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Documentation:Case_Study_4:_Rooftop_Gardens