Living labs and research questions 2024

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Living Labs in development

The presented living lab subjects and questions are in development. If you participate in assignment mode, you can also define your own research question or the aim of your assignment. You need to send that in the survey you received before February 16, 2024. After that date, it is only possible to participate in the course in lecture mode.

Montpellier « Changes in a neighbourhood's* food environment with the arrival of a new tramway line » Living Lab /France

  • Neighbourhood under definition, in partnership with INRAE and Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole


Food environments can be defined as the “physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context in which consumers engage with the food system to make their decisions about acquiring, preparing and consuming food”.

In contrast to the ‘consumer choice model’ (founded on the idea that awareness raising and education about better food choices will make people change their food behaviour), the ‘food environment approach’ recognises that the choices we make about food and the impacts they have are, to a significant degree, shaped by the contexts within which they are made. Following from that, it recognises that the most effective and equitable way to change food behaviours is to change the structural factors that drive food choice, among which are aspects of the built environment. As they affect access to food entry points, including the distance to food outlets, and the availability of physical infrastructures, such as public transport networks, etc.

Local players can therefore act on the environment to encourage more sustainable and healthier eating habits, by improving accessibility to the entire food offer: shops, restaurants, markets, and points of sale. Montpellier's tramway network already comprises 4 lines. A 5th line, 20 km long, is currently under construction and will cross the city and serve the neighbourhood cities of Greater Montpellier by 2025. With this 5th line, the Metropole offers a new North/South-West diagonal to its network, linking its transport network even more finely and extensively.

Urban development projects and other public policies (linked to transport or the commercial offer, for example) often modify food landscapes. Their impact on household food supply practices is, however, poorly understood, and may vary according to the social, demographic, and economic characteristics of populations and territories. To better understand these spatio-temporal dynamics, the first step is to describe and characterize food landscapes (or environments) and their evolution.

Assignment questions for local students

In a specific neighborhood of the Montpellier metropolitan area, the idea is to carry out a field survey to determine a diagnosis of food environments and how they are evolving:

  • Define the urban and social characteristics of the area in question
  • Mapping current food landscapes: the neighborhood food offer
  • Outlook on the evolution of these food landscapes with the arrival of the 5th tramway line
  • Recommendations for new developments around the tramway line

This survey is part of a larger project, on a metropolitan scale, being carried out by a research team and players in Montpellier's Agroecological and Food Policy (Politique Agroécologique et Alimentaire).

Assignment questions for remote students

  • Review of literature and case studies on the impact of transport infrastructure projects on the evolution of food environments
  • Depending on the social and urban characteristics of the selected neighborhood: what ways can be found to improve its food environments?

Mastering French to a certain extent is a preference since much of the references and stakeholder responses will be in French, a comparative case study of other countries can of course be carried out in English.

Warsaw “MOST Urban Farm” Living Lab -Poland

Production and collaboration with local farmers

Short video presentation, Short pdf description 2023-01_MOST_LL_en, Extended description

The Warsaw Urban Farm initiative was born out of the need to prepare the city for the upcoming effects of the environmental and food crises. Our goal is to create a local center for agro-ecological education and food production, and to develop and network future leaders in the field of sustainable food planning to contribute locally to food security and a healthier environment. To strengthen the city's resilience, we want to establish Warsaw's first farm (MOST), which will also be an incubator for further initiatives in the area of the sustainable food system of Warsaw and surrounding suburban and rural areas.

Assignment questions for the local students

  • In addition to finances, what are the potential benefits of establishing the MOST farm in the selected location?

(methods: a literature review on relevant examples of urban farms and food hubs in other cities; analysis of spatial planning documents; field trip; spatial analysis; identifying key partners and stakeholders; identifying main problems and challenges faced by farmers operating in the selected area; SWOT analysis for the Warsaw agriculture of the upper Vistula)

  • What should be an economic model of the MOST farm?

(methods: a literature review on relevant examples of urban farms and food hubs in other cities; academic papers review; field trip; identifying main problems and challenges faced by farmers operating in the selected area; SWOT analysis for the Warsaw agriculture of the upper Vistula, developing an economic model )

  • Who are the stakeholders (municipality, neighbor community, involved institutions, and farmers) and what are their needs and influence?

(methods: field trip; analysis of land ownership; identifying key partners and stakeholders; mapping all actors and their needs and power; define potential partnerships and alliances)

  • What is the attitude of local farmers towards urban agriculture initiatives, particularly MOST?

(methods: field trip; mapping local farmers; interviews and questionnaires; designing a food hub)

  • What edible plants are the best to cultivate in MOST farm? Considering climate factors and socio-economic factors (production feasibility, retail).

(methods: literature review; field trip; consultation with an expert)

  • What is the Warsaw municipality's attitude toward biodiversity? Is it only a cost of maintaining vacant lands or a food production opportunity?

(methods: analysis of Municipality planning documents; interviews and questionnaires)

  • What are the regional rituals associated with agriculture and how to transfer them to an urban context?

(methods: literature review; field trip; mapping local farmers; interviews and questionnaires; developing a proposal for an urban harvest celebration)

Assignment questions for the remote students

  • What should the coop urban farm include in its programme? What are the potential benefits (social, economic, environmental, others), and how to increase them?

(methods: a literature review on relevant examples of urban farms and food hubs in other cities; academic papers review; field trips)

  • What are the models of coop urban farms around the world? (Economic models, inner organization structures).

(methods: a literature review on relevant examples of urban farms and food hubs in other cities; academic papers review; field trips)

  • What are the city's policies towards vacant lands considering its biodiversity and food production opportunities?

(methods: a literature review on relevant examples of urban farms and food hubs in other cities; academic papers review; analysis of Municipality planning documents; interviews and questionnaires)

Ghent "Agroecological Urbanism Future Heritage" Living Lab - Belgium

Ghent University in collaboration with De Stadsacademie*, STA.M, ILVO De Stadsacademie is a collaboratorium dedicated to transdisciplinary research and teaching on complex and urgent sustainability challenges faced by the city and the University of Ghent. De Stadsacademie works on several ‘trajectories’ that define the thematic scope of its work over a series of years.

Starting with the Kitchen. Rethinking neighbourhood food systems from an agroecological perspective

To rethink and transform urban local food systems, the kitchen is a good place to start. Even in the highly commodified urban food system of a city like Ghent, the kitchen entertains a strong relation of proximity to the places of eating. That is true for the individual kitchens at home but is true for collective kitchen infrastructure. The kitchen is not only the place where food is prepared, It is also a place in which logic of consumption and production meet. This also makes the kitchen a place of potential solidarity between producers and consumers. In this year’s working cycle of the Living Lab, we will explore the agroecological transformation of neighbourhood food systems through the perspective of the community kitchen in the Bloemekenswijk in Ghent. While the Bloemekenswijk is historically part of the periphery of Ghent, it is today subject to new dynamics of urbanization that reposition the neighbourhood within the urban agglomeration and set up a new dialogue between local and supra-local relations. This gives an opportunity to think about the role of neighbourhood infrastructure in general and food infrastructure in particular. The neighbourhood contains an array of existing food initiatives that can be the starting point of an agroecological transformation of the food system. The focus will be in particular on the Bloemekenswijk, however, will include the documentation of initiatives in other neighbourhoods as well.

We will be exploring different transformative pathways together with actors within the neighbourhood.

  • the possible connection of neighbourhood initiatives to farmland owned by the Public Center for Social Welfare (OCMW)
  • the possible coproduction between the existing social economy cluster (VZW Ateljee & Balenmagazijn) with social economy initiatives active in food production (De Loods in Aalst)
  • the possible creation of a food hub, supplying food to existing neighbourhood restaurants, institutional canteens, school kitchens, etc.
  • the transformation of the existing market (Van Beverenplein) as a public site of local food supply in co-creation with neighbourhood food initiatives
  • the reactivation of the bakery on the psychiatric campus Dr. Guislain

Assignment questions for remote student

Students can choose between track A (literature review) or B (case study)

A. Literature review on neighborhood food systems and what makes them transformative

  • What are the main drivers behind the creation of neighborhood food systems?
  • How can place-based initiatives be used to define solidarities that don’t remain limited to the local (and move beyond the local trap (Purcell 2006))?
  • How do local initiatives cope with the tension between ecological and social goals?
  • How can neighbourhood infrastructure be retooled to link up with local producers? What are the organizational and infrastructural implications of relying on direct supply?
  • How dependent are food support initiatives on surplus food and how do they seek to break that dependency?

B. Documentation, discussion of existing practices connecting neighbourhood food networks and infrastructures to local suppliers, and questions of access to land?

Examples around public catering within public institutes (schools, hospitals, care facilities…) that make a direct connection between public food provisioning, agroecological farmers, and land management. Examples of neighbourhood-based initiatives around food support and place-based solidarity in connection with agroecological farmers. We are particularly interested in community kitchen initiatives building a food sovereignty agenda together with agroecological producers.

The General Context of the Ghent Living Lab and Earlier Work

The urban food policy of the City of Ghent, Gent en Garde, has been the subject of international attention including several prestigious prizes. At the same time, the systematic sale of public farmland in the peri-urban fringe of Ghent has alienated new and traditional farmers who are upset about the systematic loss of farmland. Farmers are rapidly disappearing from the peri-urban fringe, and new farmers face great difficulty in establishing themselves. Within the context of De Stadsacademie* civil society actors, farmers, urban civil servants, students and researchers have been engaged in the development of alternative policies regarding publicly owned farmland, and agricultural heritage more generally. The land currently being sold off by the city is the fruit of historical investment in urban agricultural heritage that has been handed down over several generations and is part of the permanent improvements (infrastructure, public space, heritage landscapes, drainage systems, etc.) that made farming possible. Contemporary urban constituencies seem to care little for the future of this publicly owned farmland. In the political debate on the sale of public land urban social goals are played against ecological concerns and the protection of local farming activities. The land is presented as ‘fragmented’ and off little public interest, and sold to finance the development of residential care facilities for the elderly. The campaign against the sale of public farmland has led to a moratorium on further sales in the neighbouring municipalities of Ghent. in the meantime, the city is preparing a vision on Agricultural land use in the city and the wider region. Within De Stadsacademie we want to enter into a dialogue with parties that could help to articulate a shared agenda regarding the way in which the public ownership of farmland could be leveraged to accelerate an agroecological food transition. This will happen in the framework of an agroecological urbanism (, which is a way of urbanizing that actively supports the care for soils and the growing of food in an equitable and ecologically sustainable way. We will try to imagine new forms of urban infrastructure and future heritage that contribute to the local support of agroecological farmers and re-inscribe the farming activities within a new urban geography of farming. Last year we worked within the living lab on various fronts, exploring possible connections between local food policy initiatives and public land management. The results of last year’s local work in the living lab were documented in a series of video portraits: In July 2023 ‘De Stadacademie’ hosted the 2nd AESOP4FOOD Intensive Programme. A detailed programme of the IP can be found here: Programme IP Ghent - Future Heritage_Agroecological Urbanism This year we want to narrow the scope of the exercise and go deeper in one of the lines of investigation namely that of the community kitchen and the role of neighbourhood food infrastructure. part of this hypothesis has been explored in a master thesis that was produced in the context of ‘De Stadsacademie’. Master thesis Neighborfood

Madrid Agroecologico Living Lab - Spain

Circular Economy in Food Retail

It is easier to imagine an apple being integrated into a circular system than most of the consumer goods that surround us. It might be easier, but we are still far away from achieving circular loops in the food sector. The reasons are multiple, some of them are related to the global chains in which our current food system is embedded. We propose a Living Lab based on the assumption that with shorter food chains and more direct relationships between production and consumption, a shift into a circularity paradigm would be more feasible. The Living Lab Is conceived as a space for the co-generation of applied knowledge together with the cooperative supermarket LA OSA and with the support of the International Center for Circular Economy (CIEC) of the Municipality of Madrid. The main goal is to boost mechanisms of circular economy, to reduce both packaging and food waste, but also to enhance the recovery and reuse of packaging. The Living Lab responds to an interest expressed by the cooperative and its members, some of whom tried to set up a working group on these matters. We assume that short food supply chains are better positioned to adopt circularity, and the living lab should help the Cooperative Supermarket to have a diagnosis of the situation and to envision ways to transform and improve it, with the support of the CIEC which in turn, provide coaching and support to create innovative ecosystems.

Research questions

  • Is the cooperative supermarket better positioned to reduce the use of plastics in the commercialization of food?
  • What has been the impact of the measures adopted to reduce food waste and packaging waste?
  • What are the bottlenecks of a transition into a (close to) zero plastic and zero waste model? For which part of the food consumer goods would that be easier?
  • Do agroecological projects and short supply chains perform better in terms of circularity? What are their potentials to achieve circularity and how can they be enhanced?
  • What are the implications in terms of spatial requirements and organizational operations associated with a shorter change embedded in circularity?

Research questions for remote students

  • What are examples of good practices to enhance circular loops in the food chain, focussing on the production-distribution linkages?
  • Which are the key factors to replicate practices of regenerative food production embedded in closed loops?

A Living Lab for building a Local Food Strategy for the Bucharest District 6 - Romania


Sector 6 of Bucharest is an administrative unit with diverse quarters like Crângași, Drumul Taberei, Ghencea, Giulești, Militari, and Regie. The sector covers 38 square kilometers, housing a population of 325,759 as of December 2021. It aims to become a smart and green city, with strategic plans for urban development. For more detailed information, you can visit the Wikipedia page on Sector 6 of Bucharest.

Sector 6.png

Bucharest's District 6 is starting a sustainable food strategy aimed at enhancing local production, decreasing environmental impacts, and fortifying community connections. This initiative proposes the creation of a living lab—a collaborative environment where citizens, researchers, policymakers, and businesses unite to tackle complex challenges within the local food system.

Expected Outcomes:

  • A detailed map of District 6's food ecosystem, with key players and their interactions.
  • Defining general objectives aligning with community needs and sustainability ambitions.
  • A shared vision for District 6's future food system, leading to a strategic plan and scalable pilot projects.

Objectives for local students

  • Mapping the Local Food System: To catalog all participants in District 6's food system, including producers, distributors, retailers, consumers, and waste handlers, thereby identifying product flows, inefficiencies, and opportunities for sustainability.
  • Establishing General Objectives: To set comprehensive goals like reducing food transportation distances, improving food security, advocating for local and seasonal foods, and cutting down food waste.
  • Developing a Vision: To formulate a long-term outlook for District 6’s food system that embodies sustainability, community welfare, and economic health.
  • Creating a Strategy: To devise an actionable plan that includes innovative practices such as urban agriculture, food sharing initiatives, and circular economy principles, detailing both immediate and future steps, potential hurdles, and success indicators.

Research questions for remote students

  1. Integration: How can District 6's food strategy integrate with the broader city-region for mutual sustainability benefits?
  2. Formation: What are the necessary steps and key players for establishing an effective local food council at the district level?
  3. Objectives: In a post-socialist capital's context such as District 6, what are the primary goals for a local food strategy?
  4. Engagement: What are the most effective methods for engaging residents in the local food system strategy?

A Living Lab in Tartu -Estonia

Tartu (cultural capital of Europe 2024) is the second biggest city in Estonia and is located in the southeast part of the country. Agriculture is an important aspect of the county's development.

This theme will focus on the expanding interest in Estonia in organic food production within a framework of sustainable farming, together with the Tartu County Food Strategy 2022-2030. The idea is to develop the Agricultural Park concept in the urban fringe of Tartu, which would serve as a place of organic production, agricultural innovation, education, economy, and bioeconomy, but would be also a potential place for recreation and act as a connector people and the city green and blue infrastructure. Two different student groups will focus on practical work, land use analysis, site-specific interventions, and working with different stakeholders, including a marginalised group of people from a care setting. De-institutionalised care is a recent move in Estonia, with people being removed from large care home settings to smaller, cosier groups in the community supported by care workers. However, they are not well integrated into the community, and work opportunities are low.

Urban food hub/living lab in Tartu

According to the Tartu County Food Strategy 2022-2030, Tartu county in Estonia is well known for its various public or private initiatives regarding food production at different scales. It is also known for its research on organic food, collaboration networks, and multiple food industry businesses. However, there is a lack of a common and consistent food strategy for the region. The authors of the report aim not only to consider organic farming principles but also to shorten product cycles in accordance with the ‘farm to table’ principle; localising production; strengthening networking activities; cooperating with local research and development units; and creating of a common brand, that would bring recognition to the county’s products. These aims should be done within EU frameworks in a socially, economically, culturally, and ecologically sustainable way, taking into consideration site-specific conditions and the complicated past of the Baltic countries and land reforms connected to it (such as the soviet era collectivisation process, re-establishing of the family farms as well as commercial agricultural farms and its impact on current approaches to agriculture). Following on from that, the aim is to understand the landscape spatial planning and design implications of the above-mentioned strategy. Understanding of local needs and conditions, and the values that local inhabitants hold on in the environment, culture, and economy. Participants will choose to work on the area of Mahekeskus (Organic Farming Centre) of the Estonian University of Life Sciences or find additional suitable spaces or spatial approaches for the topic.

Local challenge: to understand the potential of Tartu city and county to become a food hub, including social, economic, cultural and ecological spatial challenges, namely, creating a joint food collaboration network in its social, cultural, and spatial dimensions. Promotion and marketing of locally produced food. Integrating people in care into the community through healthy activities or work based in the agricultural park.

The students of the comprehensive planning course are collecting and preparing information to analyse the possibilities for creating a Food Hub close to Tartu town at and around the sustainable farming centre of the Estonian University of Life Sciences. They are aiming to collect existing legal land use data and analyse land use possibilities and limitations in them. This aims to result in initiating and discussing some ideas for the content of the Food Hub together with the Living Lab, that will be developed. It will have a follow-up in the Landscape Forum Tartu 2024 workshop on Foodscapes. The plan is to develop a further research project application for the Food Hub.

Assignment questions for local students

  1. What can be learned from the history regarding agriculture and urban agriculture in the Tartu region?
  2. What are current municipal food and agricultural policies and how they are connected with spatial planning and management documents? How do these documents influence or suggest the potential to develop (peri-)urban agriculture in Tartu?
  3. What are the ownership conditions of farmland around and within Tartu? What are different agricultural land-use types and practices (formal and informal)?
  4. What are the social and cultural conditions and potentials to develop a (peri-)urban food hub or agricultural park in Tartu?
  5. Who are the existing and potential stakeholders? What are their characteristics?
  6. What is the potential for inclusion for those in care in the community placements

Summary of analysis in the form of land-use and strategic limitations and possibilities, report of stakeholder mapping and/or interviews/questionnaires as well as an overview of initial ideas about food hub or landscape park based on Mahekeskus and other areas.

Assignment questions for remote students

  1. What is the current situation of urban food production in an EU country, comparing the Baltic countries with other areas? What influences it?
  2. How can urban agriculture in small cities such as Tartu be strategically planned and promoted?

Summary of analysis in the form of SWOT analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as stakeholder mapping and/or interviews/questionnaires.

Spatial planning and design strategy across both student groups

  1. What are the existing spatial solutions unifying and enhancing food production in urban and peri-urban areas as well as connection with rural areas (such as the concept of agricultural parks).
  2. What solutions can be adapted or implemented in Tartu county? How and why?
  3. How can these areas be governed and managed in a sustainable, inclusive, and multifunctional way?
  4. How can the interests of all defined stakeholders be strategically connected?

Summary in the form of the strategic plan description and/or drawings/maps/plans