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The hidden potential of urban horticulture


Urban areas offer considerable potential for horticultural food production, but questions remain about the availability of space to expand urban horticulture and how to sustainably integrate it into the existing urban fabric. We explore this through a case study which shows that, for a UK city, the space potentially available equates to more than four times the current per capita footprint of commercial horticulture. Results indicate that there is more than enough urban land available within the city to meet the fruit and vegetable requirements of its population. Building on this case study, we also propose a generic conceptual framework that identifies key scientific, engineering and socio-economic challenges to, and opportunities for, the realization of untapped urban horticultural potential.

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Fig. 1: The city of Sheffield.
Fig. 2: Conceptual framework for the expansion of urban horticulture.

Data availability

The datasets generated from GIS analyses using OS Mastermap for areas of green space and flat roofs potentially suitable for urban horticulture identified in Sheffield are available via Mendeley Data (


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This work was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under grant nos EP/N030095/1, EPSRC GCRF IS2016 and EPSRC EP/P016782/1, the ISCF Transforming Food Production Award and a University of Sheffield PhDT studentship.

Author information




All authors wrote the manuscript. N.M., D.R.G. and J.L.E. designed the spatial analyses. J.L.E. and J.R.L. designed the SBH research. M.C.D., P.H.W. and J.L.E. investigated the labour involved in allotment-based urban horticulture. D.D.C., G.K.P. and A.J.R. researched CEH foams. V.S. advised on water use. D.O.D.T. provided expertise on building structure. H.C., D.D.C., A.J.R., J.L.E., N.T.B. and J.N. researched CEH.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jill L. Edmondson.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Edmondson, J.L., Cunningham, H., Densley Tingley, D.O. et al. The hidden potential of urban horticulture. Nat Food 1, 155–159 (2020).

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