When surveying participants from different urban rooftop farms in Hong Kong, Pryor found the majority of respondents (77%) perceived social values to be the most important benefits of urban rooftop farming, compared with environmental values (58%) and economic benefits (10%). Within the range of social values highlighted by respondents, personal health, education and recreation came up as the top answers, while wider social communities where also acknowledged.
Pryor highlights the beaming smile of most interviewees when describing their time spent on the rooftop urban farm they frequent. He also describes how for some segments of the Hong Kong society, such as low- or middle-income elderly people, rooftop farms provides a much-needed alternative place to visit to congested streets, in order to find fresh air, social contacts, and things to do.
Although project profile, initiator and physical set up might vary significantly, Pryor points out that it is the ability for urban rooftop farms to deliver valued social benefits that motivates their creation. Pryor’s research has identified three broad categories of urban rooftop farm projects: those initiated by private individuals and community groups, those initiated by charities and those launched by corporations. Private individuals and community groups typically seek access to outdoor space for their own wellbeing and that of others, with opportunities to rent planters. Charities sees urban rooftop farming as an opportunity to fulfil their objectives, whether related to access to food such as for Feeding Hong Kong, facilitating intergenerational activities and supporting ageing in place, such as the Hong Kong Jockey Club, or enabling learning as well as cognitive and emotional development, such as the Caritas Foundation, which runs schools for disabled children. Corporations, such as Sun Hung Kai Properties, see the value urban farms can bring to their business model, in strengthening their sustainability credential and/or providing an area for their workforce to relax, informally meet co-workers and enjoy themselves, all of which can provide a boost to office productivity.
While urban rooftop farms are perceived positively by city planning authorities, “they don’t really know how to describe them or how to codify them,” explains Pryor, “they exist in a grey area in between formal city planning and informal community action.”