Urban Nourishment


2014 Masters in Architecture Design Research Project
Joseph Laughlin
Advisors: Jeana Ripple and Suzanne Moomaw

Urban Nourishment:
Addressing Problems in Shrinking Cities Through Systems of Local Food Production

Research Statement
This project seeks to address the problems of shrinking cities in the United States by looking at them not as places of desolation, but rather as places of opportunity. While many of the causes of shrinking extend beyond the control of the city, there are reasons to act. First, potential energy exists in these cities as a product of their industrial history. Unused pieces of the built environment can be repurposed. Unused pieces of the landscape can become productive. Secondly, the quality of life of citizens is at stake, some of whom have no means of leaving. While the exodus of people can lead to negative urban fragmentation, a restitching can happen. In any case, addressing these issues requires the inertia of a new force acting on the existing system.



With the necessity of intervention established, the nature of such change is critical. This research explores using the various aspects of the local food system to address multiple problems inherent in shrinking cities. Among others, these include poor access to healthy food, poor education, and urban blight. In this way, a framework of interventions is established, each varying in scope and scale. As a whole they aim to strengthen the city by both addressing problems and providing new opportunities. In this way, the strategy aims to surpass and even address the “band-aid” solution of urban farming in shrinking cities.Laughlin_Petersburg

Lastly, focusing on a particular place was of importance. While the above method seems to generalize shrinking cities, the research looks at how tapping into local assets of a city can produce powerful, effective solutions. In this regard, Petersburg Virginia was chosen asa nearby shrinking city. In examining Petersburg, leveraging its assets involved addressing its history, strong transportation network, and proximity to Virginia State University. In addition, looking at the placement of vacant lots and buildings in relation to current institutions and city uses was important. From this research, a menu of physical interventions as well as social systems was developed. Architecturally, the designs of the physical solutions may be further developed to fit within this larger system in a powerful way.Laughlin_Interventions

Joey Laughlin, 2015 MArch candidate

Research Guides

  1. How can one turn negative qualities of shrinking cities such as vacant lots and vacant buildings into assets?
  2. How could shrinking cities apply a framework of solutions to address multiple problems inherently linked with a decline in population? These include poor education, poor health, and urban blight.
  3. How could these benefits begin to reshape the city and draw entrepreneurs or businesses to the city?
  4. At what scale and with what method should the city be addressed?
  5. Can a stereotypical band-aid solution such as urban farming be used in a more radical, effective manner?
  6. What is the system of forces at play and how should these be directed?