Urban agriculture green cities evolved some time ago for me in a conversation with a group of colleagues about the future of cities and my longstanding professional interest in the resilient cities narrative. There was a time when the notion of resilient cities was an obscure concept (admittedly it still is for some), and now it has become a highly attractive proposition for governments, policy makers, investors, politicians, urbanists, futurists, environmentalists and a host of others.
One of the main drivers behind resilient cities is the need to create cities that respond better to disruptions such as natural disasters – meaning a better ability to withstand disasters, recover and continue to grow as a city. Concepts such as disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery are well entrenched and proven processes that form an essential part of education and training in disaster management in Australia and globally. However, they are still evolving and catching up with the rapid developments and complexities that affect (read: disrupt) urban communities.
It is a bit ironic that my participation in a green cities discussion took part around the time that Australia was hit by a major cyclone and the ensuing media interest seemed to generate fodder for all kinds of policy ideas. Most of these are pretty well rehearsed and we hear similar things year in year out. One notable omission in the discussion was the consideration of emerging global trends whereby cities and peri-urban communities commit resources to infrastructure that fundamentally adds value to the resilience of urban communities through food sustainability drivers. Enter urban agriculture green cities – or urban farming as some prefer to call it.
There are several features of urban agriculture that lend themselves perfectly well to city resilience and sustainability. Apart from the obvious link to food and the fact that it is possible for urban communities to commit themselves to consumption of a percentage of food produced on their doorsteps, hence reducing pressures and costs associated with long and expensive transport networks, there is a salient and critical feature of urban agriculture that is not well appreciated: social capital. Food grown in cities is grown by communities that produce enormous amounts of social capital, an essential ingredient of a resilient city.
Furthermore, the link between urban food growing and biodiversity must be appreciated in a new light. While traditional agriculture functions largely on the basis of having land dedicated for food production as the primary focus, urban agriculture is about a balance of food production, environmental outcomes (urban farming can enhance biodiversity) and social outcomes (social capital, safe communities, liveable and inclusive communities). Urban agriculture and green cities is about the long-term resilience of communities whereby food production integrates a complex set of factors that resonate with the urban population.
The link that I detect is not directly via biodiversity conservation, but through the relevant use of land in cities and the way people get in contact with nature. Fruit trees, for instance, are for many ordinary citizens, a part of the whole ‘nature experience’. While there is an increasing focus on this emerging phenomenon, it may be worth reflecting on one recent study (2018) conducted by a collaborating group of senior researchers, which indicates that when urban agriculture is properly assessed, its value (including ‘ecosystem services’ such as energy savings, avoiding urban stormwater runoff, reduction in urban heat effect etc) amounts to over $230billion annually on a global scale.
What I find of relevance in this connection is that urban agriculture and green cities will be a defining driver in the overall cityscape/urbanscape. Globally urban agriculture is a growing industry. Urban farms are springing up in cities like New York and Paris as often as they emerge in lesser known cities. The appeal is universal and lies in the simple fact that the total benefit of urban agriculture is not measured in food produced (as much as it is increasingly becoming a significant portion of total output), but rather in the inclusiveness of the entire enterprise which reflects on the uniqueness of urban life.
In another conversation with the president of ISOCARP at its 2014 World Congress in Brisbane, I detected a strong interest among urban and regional planners in the whole dynamic between urban agriculture green cities. The interplay between food sustainability, environmental concern, economic/entrepreneurial opportunities, urban resilience and social wellbeing are very exciting. Moreover, urban farming brings together people who share an interest in the liveability of urban communities. One does not have to be specialist food grower to be part of a larger project; urban farming speaks a universal language: better futures.
Jelenko Dragisic – Bite The Land