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Forest cities: the new model of human settlements

The dimension of Nature and Human Settlements fused in a unique entity, a continuum among rural, natural and urban dimensions, harmony

Photo of Nicoletta Dicova
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Bellaria SS

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

This project is a personal vision. Contributing it to it are also my partner Stefano, my anchor, and my son Federico, my muse and inspiration, who will be in his 30s in 2050. I hope our generation will be wise enough to preserve the Earth for them, the innocent generation who shouldn't be paying for our mistakes and greed.

Website of Legally Registered Entity ( under construction)

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Chianni (Pisa), Tuscany, Italy

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Bankya, Bulgaria

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I have selected the town of Bankya in Bulgaria for this project as , although I have been living abroad since several years, my roots are there, in Bulgaria, and growth is possible only when the roots are strong and deep. My family still lives there, I pass my summers and Christmas holidays  there each year and I  feel strongly connected to the place.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Bankya is a lovely small town situated in the outskirts of the Liulin mountain in Bulgaria at 695 m of altitude above sea level, 20 km away from the busy and noisy capital of Bulgaria, Sofia. The town is famous as a wellness and health tourism destination: it enjoys one of the best quality air in Europe ( the air of Bankya is remarkably rich in ozone). The town enjoys numerous sources of thermal water- there are a dozen of spa hotels and a large public thermal baths. Situated in  a hilly contest at the outskirts of the Liulin Mountain (1256 m high) surrounded by forests and fertile fields the town of Bankya enjoys a very favourable climatic and envorimetnal conditions.. The climate is continental, with warm summers and cold winters, annual rainfall is 560-600 mm.

Diet: As a large part of the urban population in Bulgaria the diet of the inhabitants of Bankya relies strongly on supply from supermarkets and shops. Self-production of food is limited, although many of the houses in the town do have annexed gardens. Younger generations have lost connection with the land, self-production is practiced in small scale, mostly be retired people ( over 65 years old). Supermarkets provide food at accessible price, but it is neither local neither grown organically. Quality is average. Since 3 years though every Saturday it takes place a Farmers Market, excellent opportunity for the citizens of Bankya to have access to organically grown, artisan food directly from producers with no intermediaries. In the town there are also few small  boutique shops offering high quality organic and artisan products, but at a premium price point. The town gives  access to quality, organically grown food, although many people still prefer to shop in supermarkets not aware of the health effects of regular consumption of low quality, chemically treated, mass-produced food. A big gap is the lost connection with gardening- in the past almost every household in Bankya was using their gardens to grow crops, providing part of their food for their diet, nowadays the majority of the gardens in the town are used just for recreation.

Economics: the town is a quite famous destination in Eastern Europe for spa, health and wellness tourism and part of the inhabitants work in the wellness and tourism sphere. Its proximity to the capital of Bulgaria ( 2 million inhabitants) facilitates its development as a spa tourism center.  Due to the proximity of Sofia ( less then 20 km) big part of the inhabitants of Bankya work there. 

Agriculture: Bankya is situated on a plateau (695 m) surrounded by mountains , Vitoska (2290 m) and Liulin (1256 m) a hilly contest, the soils are very fertile and water resources abundant. Orchards, vegetables, wheat, sunflower are all grown in the surroundings.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environmental: now: Bankya has a healthy ecological situation (no chemical pollution), due to the specific microclimate air is very clean,water abundant. As part of the global picture, B. faces the same challenges we all do: global warming, climate change, plastic pollution, waste management issues.In 2050: According to the IPCC report South- Eastern Europe is among the regions to be strongly impacted by the climate change. Heat waves , droughts and extreme weather conditions are likely to be challenges to face. 

Diets: as majority of urban population of Bulgaria B. relies on  supermarkets as main source of food, access to quality, organically grown food is limited. There is a weekly Farmers Market and few boutique food shops offering organic  products at premium prices. Big gap emerging from the picture is the lack of know-how to be self-sustainable: although many of the houses do have gardens, less then 10% of the inhabitants  practice self-production.Younger generations have lost connection to land, which is one of the main challenges. Typical diet is mixed, meat is consumed up to 2-3 times weekly, dairy:daily, eggs:  3-4 times.In 2050: Climatic change is likely to have as consequence reduction of crops. Intensive cattle breeding will disappear by 2050 ( high CO2 emissions).  Diets in B. by 2050-change, shifting to a mainly plant- based  and to alternative source of proteins ( not meat). Poultry, eggs and diary are likely to remain part of the diet, small portions. 

Economics- the town enjoys a relatively good economical situation. The proximity to the capital permits to many of the inhabitants to work there. Considering the USP ( Unique Selling Points) of the town ( healing thermal waters, exceptionally clean air, good climate, preserved environment) it is surprising  the fame of B. as a wellness destination is limited to Eastern Europe. In 2050:  Preserving its natural assets- key for the economy of B. in the future. Its vocation as spa  destination should be enhanced, as its agricultural potential (  surrounded by uncultivated fields of fertile land, B. has potential to be food autonomous ).

Culture: local education system has points of weakness.  Problem for the Food vision is the limited knowledge of regenerative agriculture practices and the lack of awareness of the effects on health of regular consumption of chemically treated food.  In 2050: We believe the next decades will see a big cultural revolution, the paradigma will be changed otherwise the survivor of humanity won't be possible. in 2050 society will be guided by a new culture, based on symbiotic relationships among entities instead of competition. 

Technology: being situated in Eastern Europe, B.  enjoys a relatively advanced tech situation. All citizens have access to internet/ smartphones.In 2050: Tech revolution, with advancement of AI and robotics is likely to take place in B. as in the rest of the world. The challenge will be, as elsewhere, to learn how to best integrate this new knowledge and tech.

Policy: Administration of B. now: major  Markov. In 2050: for our Food Vision we have proposed the creation of Water and Food Independence Institute

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our Vision for Bankya in 2050 sees it transformed in a Forest City ( FC). Inspired by the work of architects as Stefano Boeri, we see the  FC as the future model of resilient and sustainable settlement. Below are listed our ideas on how to address the above listed challenges:

 Environmental: an FC will represent a continuum between Nature and human settlements,  with no boundaries to divide the two entities. All the buildings will be covered by vertical gardens, using plants suitable to the local climate and with low needs of inputs and water. Gathered grey waters from the buildings and rain water will be used for water provision of the vertical gardens, optimising available water resources. The abundance of plants of different species and groups in the FC will solve several environmental challenges: CO2 capturing, repristinated biodiversity, mitigated climate related heat waves etc. 

Diets: Self production of food will become the new norm in our Food Vision. Gardens of the houses will return to their initial function to grow crops, furthermore each citizen will have access to specially assigned to him Urban Garden Area ( UGA). Only natural and regenerative agriculture techniques will be permitted. Self production of naturally grown food will be beneficial for the health of the citizens, furthermore environmental challenges as plastic pollution due to food packaging and CO2 emissions due to food transportation will be largely eliminated. Food will be acquired only occasionally, the households will rely on the crops they grow. Supply or diary products and poultry will be managed by a division of the WFII ( Water& Food Independence Institute) 

Economics: The FC will remain part of the global economy. The food and water independence will be considered as a Priority and will be supervised by the WFII which be financed through taxation on the citizens and supported by a National Food Security Fund ( NFSF)

Culture: natural and sustainable self production will become the new norm, education will be reformed introducing studies of agricultural techniques as a mandatory subject at school. Education and workshops on innovative, regenerative agricultural techniques will be constantly provided to citizens by the WFII. Bees breeding will also become a mandatory school subject.

Technology: use of AI to support the work of the WFII.

Policy: Our Food Vision model encompasses the creation of a special entity with multiple functions: the WFII Water&Food Independence Institute which goals will be to guarantee the food and water indecency of the city. Financed through taxes on citizen and the NFSF it will educate citizen in self-production, support them with material, plants and know-how, supervise the poultry and the diary production which will take place in AP ( agroforestry parks).

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Forest City B., April 2050 

A. woke up and watched  from the window. The view of her neighbour's house entirely covered by blossoming jasmin was calming.  The smell of the blossom made her full of joyful thoughts. She took a glass of tea of the herbs grown by her and a fresh, aromatic apple, gathered  the previous evening. The taste was delicious. Since she graduated and moved to live in the FC 5 years ago her life has changed a lot. As a copy writer she was working from home. When a place for FC inhabitant  became available, she sent her candidature and was approved. When she moved they assigned her a unit in the UGA ( Urban Garden Area) and was enrolled in a NAP ( New Agro Paradigma) course. It was an enlightening experience. She loved what they teached her about the soil, the microbial life, how to grow her food. It was fascinating to see how wisely everything was interrelated. And she loved to get her hands dirty. She loved the smell of the soil, the feeling of touching it. And she has never been healthier and more energetic. The migraines A. used to have before disappeared since she started gardening. 

She decided to go for a jog. The parks of the town were all AP ( Agroforestry Parks), while jogging she was smelling the blossoming apples and peaches and watching the hens wandering around. It was peaceful. In summer time after jog she liked to pick an apple from the Food Forest, free to citizens. The eggs of the hens were managed by the WFII and she was receving each week a box of fresh eggs&diary included in her citizen tax.

On the way back A. was enjoying the view of the spring blossom in the streets, the plants were virtually all around.On the roof of her building she had her own bees. When she moved to live in the FC she was enrolled also in a bees breeding course. At the begging she didn't like it, but with the time she started to love them. They were so wise, organised and altruistic, perhaps a superior species then us, humans..

Yes, A. loved her life. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

" And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul" John Muir

" The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams" Eleanor Roosevel''

Forest cities ( FC) - the new model of human settlement 

Forest cities will represent a continuum between Nature and human setlements, a wholistic entity with no boundaries between the two. Plants will be grown in every possible angle of the town- the buildings will be covered by vertical gardens ( using grey water of the buildings and collected rain water for irrigation). Plants with low water needs and adapted to the local microclimate will be chosen. Flowering perennials will be largely planted aimed to encourage the bees presence( will be examined later).The benefits of living in a FC immersed into a natural, living, plant-rich environment  will be multiple: huge reduction of CO2 emissions, absorption of  air-polution, mitigation of heat waves, mitigation of noise, psychological wellbeing of the citizens ( Shinrin-Yoku practices with important health benefits:  immune system stimulation, anti-age and anti-stress effects) 

Self- production of food, food independency 

Self-production will become the new norm. As nowadays everybody cooks his own food, in 2050 every citizen unit ( family or single individual) will be enabled to grow its own crops and be self-sustanble.  Each forest city will have an FWIP index: Food and Water Independence Potential, depending on the natural environment ( availability of water and fertile cultivable land, climatic circumstances) in which the town is settled. Once reached the maximum number of potential inhabitants based on the index, people will be redirected ( and financially supported) to establish in a new settlement with higher FWIP index. New settlers will need to apply to the WFII ( Water&Food Independence Institute) for a permission to settle in the FC.

NAP: New Agricultural Paradigma 

A synthesis of  best practices of multi-discplinal natural agricultural techniques including ( regenerative agriculture, syntropic agriculture, mulching, no-tilling, microbiome agriculture) best meeting the needs of the single settlement in combination with Permaculture Design Approach will be at the base of the NAP, a New Agricultural Paradigma aimed to guarantee the food independency of the city by producing an abundant, genuine, high quality crops with minimal inputs while enhancing soil fertility and mircrobiology.

Education System Reforms

NAP agricultural techniques will be introduced in the education system of the International Forest Cities Guild ( IFCG) at a very early stage: starting from the nursery and the primary schools. NAP techniques will become a mandatory school subject. Everyone will be provided with the needed tools and knowledge  to grow his own food and guarantee his self-sustainability. Seeds and plants will be freely distributed to all citizens by the Water and Food Independence Institute (WFII)


 The diet in the FC will be largely vegetarian and seasonal. Meat production is not excluded but will be limited. Poulty and diary products will be provided by the WFII through the UAP ( Urban Agroforestry Parks).  The citizens will have access to eggs and diary through supplies by the WFII. ( to be explained further) 

Urban Garden Areas (UGA) 

 Certain areas ( fertile fields, close to water source) surrounding the city will be assigned as UGA ( Urban Garden Areas). They will be divided in units and every citizen will have access to a unit assigned to him. Facilities ( working tools, seeds, plants) will be shared and managed by the WFII which will also provide technical support, education and know-how to the citizens ( currently around Bankya there are many abbandoned fields, in the new model no land will be wasted, every resource will be optimised ). Grey waters of the town treated with phytodepuration and collected rain water will be used for the irrigation of the UGA. The application of the NAP techniques will enable the achievement of large and healthy crops with a minimum input and effort. 

Healing garden, healing food

In her book " The hidden half of Nature" the author Anne Bikle speaks of the correlation between our microbiome and the soil microbiome and of the benefits of naked handed gardening permitting an interaction between the microbes on our skin and the plant we grow for ourselves. Although this is not fully understood yet, we are confident that in the future it will be proven scientifically that growing our own food, with our own hands means much more that nutrition: it becomes an individually targeted nurturing and healing entity meant specifically to meet the needs of our own microbiome. Reason for which we believe self production and self gardening should become an integral part of the lifestyle of the future.

AP: Agroforestry parks 

AP will become the new model of parks and public gardens- Food Forests in Agroforestry. Following the principles of Permaculture, AP will have several functions: not only entertainment and refreshment, but also habitat for the city's free range poultry.  The fruits trees grown will  provide additional food for the citizens. All the parks and city gardens, including abandoned fields surrounding currently Bankya will be transformed in Agroforestry Parks. Large size AP will be assigned to breeding of free range livestock, production of dairy products will be managed by the WFII.

Bee's home: Bees were declared in 2019 as the most important living beings on Earth by the Earthwatch Institute. In our model of Forest City bees are of primary importance. Their presence in the FC will be strongly ecouranged, as already explained above, trees, plants and flowers for bees will be widely planted virtually in every possible space. Beehives will be situated on the roofs of buildings, in public gardens, in every suitable spot. Like NAP techniques, bees breeding techniques will be studied as a mandatory subject in school and will be an integral part of the daily lifestyle of the citizens. Bees products will be largely used by the citizens for their healing properties and for prevention. Propolis is among the most potent immune boosters, we believe by integrating bees breeding in the lifestyle of the FC the health of the population will dramatically improve. 


The WPII ( Water & Food Independence Institute) will have a central role in this Vision. Encompassing a group of highly educated  and motivated professionals including researches, agronomists, climatologists, nutritionists, botanics they will have an important mission: to ensure the water and food independence of the town. Their role will be to provide education, technical support, and constantly updated and upgraded knowledge on advanced, regenerative agriculture techniques. Use of AI to support the mission of the WPII is possible. WFII will also manage its own  fields and the CFR ( CityFood Reserve) aimed  to ensure food supply to the town in case of emergency. The WPII will also approve candidates of new settlers based on the resources available. WFII will supervise the UGA and the AP ensuring their proper management, as well as managing through a special division dairy transformation for the town ( the free range livestock in the Agroforestry Parks). Each FC will have its own WFII, FC will be interconnected in a global network FCG ( Forest Cities Guild) enabled to interchange resources in case of need. 

The self-production sustainable model of the Forest City  Food Model will provide viable solution to current ecological challenges related to recycling packaging, CO2 emissions for transport of goods. The Zero Waste Objective (ZWO) is essential part of the Food Vision with collective composting units part of the model of the FC. Dairy and eggs supplies to the citizens by the WFII will be executed through multi-use glass containers. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gene Yllanes

Hi there! Your submission is similar to our submission for Free.Tree,

Although our vision is more focused on development of an open-source database for learned growing, perhaps we can collaborate, as we both aim to change the way we build the cities of the future.

The best way to contact me is email at

Thank you again for your contribution and I hope to hear back from you!

Photo of Nicoletta Dicova

Hello Gene, thanks for writing! I haven’t read your Vision, but glad to hear we think in the same direction ! Hope we both will pass the Evaluation phase and that we may cooperate in a second stage to develop further our ideas, will be glad to! All the best, Nicoletta

Photo of Nicoletta Dicova

Hello Gene, thanks for writing! I haven’t read your Vision, but glad to hear we think in the same direction ! Hope we both will pass the Evaluation phase and that we may cooperate in a second stage to develop further our ideas, will be glad to! All the best, Nicoletta