Now though, scientists at Columbia University are proposing an alternative. Their vision of the future is one in which the skyline of New York and other cities include a new kind of skyscaper: the "vertical farm".One of the themes of the burgeoning global warming fight is to try to reduce transportation costs by getting food locally.
The idea is simple enough. Imagine a 30-storey building with glass walls, topped off with a huge solar panel.
On each floor there would be giant planting beds, indoor fields in effect.
There would be a sophisticated irrigation system.
And so crops of all kinds and small livestock could all be grown in a controlled environment in the most urban of settings.
That means there would be no shipping costs, and no pollution caused by moving produce around the country.
Something on the order of 90% of the vegetables grown in this country are grown in California, and the average distance food travels is 1,500 miles, all using fossil fuels of some sort or other. That's a lot of carbon in exchange for a fresh head of lettuce.
Of course, this is necessitated by the fact that you can't grow crops in concrete, and it's hard growing crops in the snowy cold winter. California's ideal climate makes is a place of abundance.
This project would be, in effect, an arcosanti for agriculture: a nearly closed system that would produce little if any waste, recycling the waste into either heat or feed. You wouldn't need pesticides, since there would be minimal contact with the agricultural environment, and besides, what self-respecting weevil would hop the #2 train to get here?
In effect, it would be a nearly wholly organic growing system in the middle of a city. Whoda thunk?
The question becomes, could it be profitable enough to justify a square foot cost in the hundreds (if not thousands) for the land?