Christmas is around the corner, and it seems fit to dedicate some thoughts to the three elements that move the most the (western) societies during the season: food, shopping and travel; the first two are nearly self-evident to any westerner, and the third is related to the fact that most people either gather with their families or get away from them looking for some days in a place that seems better. Even when these holidays have a holy origin, this is no longer a major element in the urban dynamics of most of the western world, so my focus on the issue will only be tangential.
This first post of the season is about food, and more specifically about one of the emergent trends in sustainable urban planning: the relationship between agriculture and cities.
Two approaches can be taken. The first concerns the possibility to use urban spaces for food production. Historical images show that the cores of the city blocks sometimes had orchards, and some place names are a testimony to an ancient agricultural past. The aim to have a more local food (produced at an x distance in miles from the consumer to reduce the impacts derived from transportation) and an increased environmental awareness in cities seem the main goals of a movement that has transformed vacant lots and old sheds in cultivation areas.
Even if the density of the current cities is variable, it seems fit to remember that self- sufficiency in this matter is not equivalent to the one in, for instance, energy, in which there are real efficiency issuses. Settled cities in wars usually fall due to hunger, as it is simply complex in a city to find land surface enough. Despite that, I think there is room for some productions, as long as their impact remains smaller than that of the transportation and management impacts of distant cultivation (it would not be that wise to reduce carbon emissions from trucks and refrigerators by drying up distant wells to water the urban cultivations…). Real estate prices, to begin with, can easily condition the feasibility of agriculture against other uses, but urban planning can specify special districts.
The second approach takes into consideration, always with the local food issue in mind, the land use dynamics concerning quality farm lands. In large dynamic metropolitan areas there is often a competition for real estate in which more profitable uses displace the less profitable ones, and among them agriculture. Several projects in American cities follow the path, and the Institut d’Amenagement et d’Urbanisme of the Paris region has organized an international symposium for the next 6th and 7th of December, “Hungry City”, concerning the wider matter of alimentary governance
The concept of foodshed, introduced by Walter Page Hedden in 1929 (“How great cities are fed“) can somehow be assimilated to that of watersheds; it implies the assessment of the land needed to feed a metropolis.
Food sovereignty is a different concept, not associated to metropolitan areas, but to more political concepts. Both ideas can be found in specific literature.
Some references to be developed in next posts: