We’ve mentioned vertical farming a number of times before, and the mighty BoingBoing brought it up earlier in the week; general consensus seems to be that it’s a lovely idea. [Vertical farm image borrowed from VerticalFarm.com]
But lots of things are lovely ideas until you run the numbers on them, and that’s exactly what Futurismic alumnus Tobias Buckell has been doing with vertical farming:
One of the more famous advocates of the Vertical Farm concept, Dickson Despommier, estimates a 30 story farm would feed about 10,000-50,000 people (depending on which article he’s speaking in). Let’s be charitable and assume 30,000 per 30 story skyscraper.
A 30 story skyscraper can cost as much as half a billion dollars. So we’re looking at a unit cost of at least that to build these, and that’s not considering the hydroponic and recycling technology costs!
New York has 10 million people. To feed New York, you’d need roughly 334 of these buildings, with the building cost being at least $150 billion.
That’s affordable on a country scale (10 years of NASA-like budget).
But the fact is, the existing land sprawling out around New York and the US and gasoline to transport the goods from the heartland to NYC is still far cheaper when an accountant crunches the figures.
That’s a whole lot of money, as Toby rightly points out. Which is no reason to abandon the idea entirely, of course, but as with all futurist visions it needs to be tempered with some reality. No plan ever survives contact with the enemy, after all, and economics is the enemy of us all at the moment (with the possible exception of the Wall Street weasels, natch).
One possible solution to Toby’s objections might be retrofitting old skyscrapers with the new kit. Perhaps that would be cheaper than raising a structure from scratch?