Urban planning and food (8) Lanzarote

The island of Lanzarote is a volcanic territory in the Atlantic ocean. A large series of eruption in the XVIIIth century destroyed relevant agricultural landscapes. The islanders developed agricultural systems that allowed food production even under such harsh conditions (strong winds, arid land, nearly no water at all). Today some of these productions have earned quality labels (as the wine), but food production is not able to feed the local population and the sizeable tourist presence, so the island imports oil for its water desalting plants (there are plans to substitute it for renewable energies) and food. Geria 1geria2lanzarote1

Urban planning and food (7) La Aldea de San Nicolas

Comida- San Nicolas1


La Aldea de San Nicolas is a municipality in the western part of the island of Gran Canaria, with a population of 8.626. It is surounded by protected spaces related to its arid and volcanic landscape. It has 2.300 hectares of dry farming, divided in 111 farming units, and 381 hectares of irrigated land, divided in 230 farming units. As water is always scarce on the island, it comes from desalting plants, and a large share of irrigated land is under plastic grenhouses. As usual, greenhouses are mounted or dismantled according to the farmer’s profit expectations, and they are a hit in the landscape, creating a haphazard patchwork with traditional agriculture and settlements.Comida- San Nicolas2

Urban planning and food (6) Madrid, potatoes and the Retiro Park


The Retiro park, in central Madrid, as substituted by farmland in the region, at the same scale

After seeing what happens in several cities, a look at Madrid. Data from the Regional Statistical Institute shows that for five crops relevant to the average urban diet (wheat, corn, potatoes and olives), cultivation surfaces have diminished considerably, but for olive trees. Output has also shrinked in several cases, but following more erratic patterns (agriculture being an economic activity, farmers plant according to their benefit expectations). Productions by hectare usually have risen.


Production in metric tons by hectare in the Madrid region for selected crops

Overall, over an hectare (2,5 acres), the average for the last 25 years shows that you can grow:

  • 2,24 metric tons of wheat or
  • 9,75 metric tons of corn or
  • 25,08 metric tons of potatoes
  • 2,56 metric tons of grapes or
  • 0,5 metric tons of olives

The Retiro Park in central Madrid  is slightly over 100 hectares, a figure that I will use to simplify. If the Retiro was to be entirely used for cultivation (this is just a mind game, by no means a proposition…), each of the 1.075.000 inhabitants of central Madrid (area covered by the Proyecto Madrid Centro) could eat, for each harvest:

  • 208 grams of wheat or
  • 907 grams of corn or
  • 2,33 kg of potatoes or
  • 230 grams of grapes or
  • 46 grams of olives

Even if some experiences have shown that urban agriculture can be more productive than current agriculture methods, it is also true that the qualities of the Retiro soils for agriculture should be assessed…

Rephrasing the argument, for each sq meter (some 10 sq ft) of urban farms, and according to these figures, in Madrid you would get:

  • 224 grams of wheat or
  • 975 grams of corn or
  • 2,5 kg of potatoes or
  • 256 grams of grapes or
  • 50 grams of olives

This doesn’t mean that urban agriculture has no sense in Madrid, but that its real production capacity must well assessed, and that it is important to understand that its benefits are not only in food production, encompassing also social and environmental aspects.

Urban planning and food (5). Buenos Aires

comida-bsas-1The article Agricultura familiar periurbana y ordenamiento territorial en el Área Metropolitana de Buenos Aires. Un análisis diacrónico, published in Geografía y sistemas de información geográfica (GEOSIG) at the Universidad Nacional de Luján, analyzes the dynamics of agriculture in the outskirts of the Argentine capital.

The last decades have been marked by the rising metropolitan population as well as by the gradual reduction in the share of small farmers to the benefit of large farms. The authors atribute that to the economic policies at the country level and to a planning law that is focused on urban tissue regulation (with a curious penchant for gated communities, of all things…), but that lacks an integral vision of the land according to its various values, among which agrarian production is clearly one.

Urban planning and food (4). Paris

According to the Note Rapide 605- Quelles perspectives d’évolution pour le marché de Rungis?, published by the Institut d’Urbanisme et d’Amenagement de la Règion Ile-de-France (Paris region), the national market of Rungis is the largest wholesale fresh food produce market in the world. So it is a strategic asset in the food system sustaining a population to reach 12 million on the whole region. Designed in 1962 to substitute the central Paris Halles built by Haussman, and having also substituted the meatpacking facilities of La Villete in 1973, it occupies 230 hectares, with 12.000 jobs in 1.200 firms. 87% of the turnover comes from food products. 56% of products are fruits and vegetables, 21% meat products, 12% seafood and 12% dairy and prepared food.

40% of vegetables and fruits consumed in France go through this market, as well as 30% of seafood, 20% of meats and 10% of cheeses. It furnishes 80% of the small retail shops and 35% of restaurants, but its role for big box retailing is just as a complement

The main competitors for this market is the cash and carry segment, mainly the Metro group, as well as wholesale retailers.

According to Note Rapide 535- Nourrir 12 millions de franciliens: un defi au quotidien, also published by the IAU-IDF, this market is at the core of a regional food system with a sizeable productive capacity, but despite that a net food importing region. This food system is biased towards the end user (80% of jobs and bussineses are on the small grocers, as opposed to just over 9.000 bussineses in the agro-food sector). A part of the food production is transformed in other regions. In terms of floor, for instance, the volume produced in the region is close to the total consumption, but the interregional trade creates a deficit.

The competition for land also is relevant in Ile-de-France, as 45% of the former farms have dissapeared in the last twenty years. Developing regional agro-food sectors that can cope with the climatic challenge is a need.

Urban planning and food (3). San Francisco


The Think globally- eat locally – San Francisco Foodshed Assessment study starts by asking if the city of San Francisco (not the entire Bay Area) could feed itself with local food produced within 100 miles of the Golden Gate. It identifies a production of 20 million tons of food per year, as compared to 935.000 tons consumed in San Francisco and 5,9 in the whole Bay Area. But for eggs, citrus fruit, wheat, corn, pork and potatoes, the food produced whithin the 100 miles range would be enough to current demand, altough in some cases seasonality would be a problem.


But it is not possible to know the actual proportion of local food consumed today in the city or the Bay Area. Irrigated croplands into the aforementioned circle are just 18% of total farmland, but produce 3/4 of the agricultural value; these irrigated areas are threatened by urban growth, at a rate of an acre for each 9,7 residents (a bit less than 25 residents per hectare). Food traceability should be encouraged.

Urban planning and food (2). New York

This post is based on two sources:

Infrastructure > Health, Modeling production, processing and distribution infrastructure for a resilient regional food system. It is a stucy by the Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute (Columbia University), developed with a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The result, the New York Regional Foodshed Project, is coordinated with the National Integrated Regional Foodshed Project.

    • The project asumes the high child and adult obesity rates and their social costs for the country, seing obesity as an infrastructural problem as infrastructure plays a role in food costs and has environmental and health implications.
    • The improvement in infrastructure improves access to healthy food, and citizen awareness also helps. The study takes from national scale studies the vision of the agricultural productions on a 200 mile radious around large metropolitan areas.
    • Food production is considered to be agregated at county level, in a structure that is subject to a case study covering the State of New York (only a part of the city’s foodshed). Apple, beef and cider production, slaugtherhouses location, demand location and access time are all studied, as well as the optimal location of new slaugtherhouses and agricultural agregation facilities.
    • The food distribution through grocers in New York City is also studied.

The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City. Growing Capacity, Food Security, & Green Infrastructure. It is again a study by the Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institut (Columbia University), developed with grants from the  New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

  • Study goals are:
    • Quantitative analysis of the urban agriculture potential in NYC, taking into acount land availabity as much as viable crops
    • Appraisal of the potential benefits of the urban agriculture, in a global cost and benefit analysis.
      • Impact of urban agriculture on food security, improving equal access to healty food and improving public health
      • Implications of urban agriculture on water management and sustainable urban drainage.
      • Impact on energy use and urban heath island mitigation
      • implications for solid waste reduction
  • Outcomes show that:
    • Urban agriculture can be a productive urban infrastructure, reducing energy use, managing drainage and conserving soil
    • Urban agriculture can be relevant to social relations, transforming derelict spaces and fostering interaction among neighbours
    • There is a potential of 5.000 acres (20 sq km, roughly three Central Parks) in which it would be possible to develop urban agriculture. Aditional capacities should need better information
    • Bio intensive production can give higher yields per hectare than conventional techniques
    • It is not possible to feed the whole city with urban agriculture, but in some areas it can be a relevant improvement
    • More through cost- benefit analysis are needed.
    • Building roofs are an opportunity for food production
    • Bureaucracy is a problem.
    • Existing infrastructure can help expand urban agriculture
    • Urban farmers can develop feasible businesses with mixed incomes from produce sales to public and restaurants, education and composting
    • Urban agriculture can be inscribed in a wider horticultural perspective adressing urban greening beyond food production
    • Urban agriculture contributes to a sustainable urban food system.

Biblio (18). Urban planning and food, or the idea of urban foodshed

Study on food production at the scale of the New York State

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:

The New York Regional Foodshed Project

San Francisco Foodshed Assessment