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Cultures, Communities and Design

What does it mean to see cows grazing in American cities?
T. Sanyal & G. Thün
10:00 am - 12:00 pm


Until the 19th century, urban dwellers in American Cities co-habited with cows and other livestock. In the book Animal City: The Domestication of America, Robinchaud (2019) discusses how American cities were historically “ecologically diverse spaces, invariably made up of a multitude of domesticated, semidomesticated, and undomesticated species.” With the rapid increase in the urban population in the 19th century, a series of urban livestock policies were introduced in metropolitan cities. These regulations were predominately concerned with the health and safety of the environment, animals, and urban dwellers. These regulations inevitably drove livestock to urban fringes or restricted them to rural settings or the ‘countryside’. Thus, radically altering human-animal relationships and local businesses and industries that relied on animal husbandry within cities. As many post-industrial cities, like Detroit, grapple with urban shrinkage and vacancy, there is a historical drive towards the adoption of urban farming initiatives at various scales of operations. Urban agricultural movements in Detroit have led to the formation of the Detroit food policy council and Urban Agricultural Ordinance (2013) to manage land and resources and provide guidelines and specifications for urban farms and gardens. As policymakers continue to deliberate on urban agriculture and livestock ordinances in Detroit, it is imperative to speculate alternatives to food-based development in Detroit, aligned with the principles of food sovereignty and justice that have been advanced by actors such as the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. The paper will discuss an urban design proposition for Riverbend Farming Cooperative. The model assembles an extensive formerly residential superblock and proposes a courtyard-based cooperative farming development adopting permaculture and animal husbandry. While this model may appear foreign in the context of urban planning and design, it offers an alternative for development in high vacancy. The paper will reflect upon the social, economic, and ecological considerations needed while cohabiting with livestock and illustrate opportunities and challenges for urban designers and planners in balancing social and economic interests.


Tithi Sanyal is a Ph.D. student in the Constructed Environment at the University of Virginia. Her research inquiry is on the topic, The Landscape of Food Systems in Deindustrializing Shrinking Metropolises. She was previously a Research Associate at RVTR, a research-based practice at the University of Michigan. She received a Master of Architecture from Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Bachelor of Architecture from Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, Mumbai. At RVTR, Sanyal had undertaken design research work on sponsored projects examining the applications of complex systems theory to urban design, focused on increasing urban access and the food-energy-water nexus. Before moving to the United States, Sanyal was a Junior Designer at Anukruti, a non-profit organization developing community play spaces in the slums of Mumbai. Her design research work at the organization and on community play design has culminated in an exhibition, Mumbai Lets Play: Children as Creator of Informal Playspaces, exhibited at Studio X Mumbai (a Columbia GSAPP initiative) and published in Plat 8.0: Simplicity.

Geoffrey Thün is Professor of Architecture at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan (U-M). He is a founding partner in the research-based practice RVTR. Thün currently serves as Associate Vice President for Research: Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts at U-M’s Office of the Vice President for Research where he works across a range of campus units and disciplines to catalyze new transdisciplinary research efforts oriented to address pressing societal, environmental, and cultural challenges of our time. Thün holds a Master of Urban Design from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Waterloo. His work ranges in scale from that of the regional territory and the city, to responsive envelopes that mediate energy, atmosphere, and social space. These operational scales are tied together through a complex systems approach to design questions. His work has been awarded, published and exhibited widely. He is a recipient of the Architectural League’s Young Architects Award and the Canadian Professional Prix de Rome in Architecture. Thün is co-author of Infra Eco Logi Urbanism (Park Books, 2015), and represented Canada at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.