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"We need to make better use of the space in order to make room for real nature"

Belgium: Construction of Agrotopia is progressing steadily

The construction of the new research greenhouse Agrotopia on the roof of REO Veiling’s warehouse is progressing steadily. In this Agrotopia update, the progress is shared through images of the construction.

Kris Declercq (mayor of Roeselare) and Leo Van Broeck (Flemish Government Architect) will also shine their light on the relation between the city and the role professional urban horticulture can play in it.

Progress greenhouse construction
In the recent period, the first steps for the construction of the more technical outside zone were taken. The final preparation of the roof will be further elaborated: the transit of pedestals is ready, and at the moment, the roof edge is being elevated.

The roof greenhouse will be an example of the integration of greenhouse horticulture in an urban environment and will use the residual energy of the city. For the heating of the greenhouse department, for instance, the residual heat from MIROM, the local waste incinerator, will be used. To make this possible, MIROM is currently working on expanding its heat network so that the roof greenhouse can be connected to it.

Mayor Kris Declercq (l) and Flemish Government Architect Leo Van Broeck

"Besides a Government Architect, we may also need a Government Agronomist"
Bringing together Flemish Government Architect Leo Van Broeck and mayor Kris Declercq of Roeselare immediately causes a barrage of high-level opinions, after which they appeared to be on the same wavelength: “We need to make better use of the space in order to make room for real nature and high-quality agriculture.”

Leo Van Broeck: “These days, Flanders consists of 6 percent protected nature reserves. This number needs to be brought up to 25 percent, but how long will this take? Every year, one percent of buildings is replaced, and 60 percent of the buildings in Flanders are not located in the best places. When those become old and worn out, and we make sure we have the equipment to do the replacement properly, within 60 years, everything will be in the right location. Then there will be healthier agriculture and more space for nature.”

4D approach
Kris Declercq: “Space previously was only looked at in 2D: we divide the available surface among a variety of interests. With 3D, we also make use of the height. However, time is the 4th and most important dimension: how will we connect the different interests in the available space in a positive way and ensure all the needs will keep on being met? Agrotopia can play a pioneering role in that. Ecology and economy are, after all, perfectly capable of being united in agriculture and horticulture.”

Leo Van Broeck: “These days, agriculture takes up a lot of space, and ways to improve efficiency can be looked into, but we should not stigmatize the sector. We need to prime the geographical specialties of certain types of soil and food cultures again in order to achieve circularity. Renovating locally leads to a connection with the countryside. Agriculture that uses less space also scores better from a financial point of view. That is why research needs to be conducted in Flanders in how to make agriculture stackable and more compact and viable. Examples of this are always stronger than pointing fingers.”

Government Agronomist
Kris Declercq: “I agree with Leo that, instead of always going for more, we should instead choose to go for better. As a policymaker, we should have the courage to do so and offer peace of mind, and combine this all with knowledge. This is what Agrotopia is based on knowing just where the risks and challenges are and looking for answers out-of-the-box. Maybe that is why we need both a Flemish Government Architect and a Flemish Government Agronomist, who will tell us how we can improve the sector.”

Creating support
Kris Declercq: “By exchanging knowledge between Government Architect, Government Agronomist, and politicians, we are able to provide the agricultural and horticultural sector with a ‘health treatment’. It’s like Leo said, a pro-active approach is better than a defensive one. Agrotopia needs to create knowledge as well as support for the change in both the agricultural and horticultural sectors, but first, we will need to make the sector ‘smarter’. Then there will no longer be a contrast between the city and agriculture.”

Leo Van Broeck: “Urban agriculture is all about looking for spaces where agriculture can take place but where you normally wouldn’t find it. If we were to keep on taking up space as we are doing now, the consequences soon will not be affordable anymore. However, we need to provide the people with enthusiasm during the transition and let them know that it can also bring a lot of good. Support is not something you should wait for. Support is something you need to create.”

Source: Inagro

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