Food is always on the minds of Americans – and urban planners.
- They use traditional tools such as community plan updates and zoning;
- They assist with economic development incentives to attract food growers by providing financial and technical assistance to new farmers.
Vacant land can be an asset. Farmer’s markets, community gardens, and new grocers can help with the nationwide issues of getting healthy food in underserved neighborhoods by coordinating food deserts. Food is not typically a comprehensive planning topic in most communities, but it should be stated as if it were as important as the air we breathe and water we drink.
There are many obstacles to converting unused open space into food accessible space including:
- Legal issues such as zoning restrictions against raising chickens and or having other farm animals;
- Aesthetic, like objections to loosing conventional grassy lawns.
Americans in general have lost their familiarity with growing seasons and planting.
I heard a little girl mention once when she saw her first banana in a garden “Where is the Chiquita sticker?”
In Highland Park, Los Angeles, which happens to be my neighborhood, there was an empty lot that was becoming a trash heap. Some neighbors, with the help of our city council, were able to get a garden started there two years ago. Not only has the garden produced vegetables, but it beautified the area. This helped engage people of all ages in the community; including being able to give kids the opportunity to see where food comes from and a place for education on healthy eating. It also started “LA Sprouts” with collaboration from UCLA and USC, which teaches third graders and their families the wonders of planting, as well as healthy eating.
So, when we are wondering what to do with vacant land in neighborhoods or foreclosures have turned communities into ghost towns, the city government needs to catch up to the community. Urban farming is encouraged by urban planners and through the partnerships with food policy city’ councils, environmental non-profits and education institutions can provide support. There are also land use policies that can support food production for personal consumption or sale at the local community farmers markets.
Several cities have examples of how to do this. Case studies in San Francisco, Detroit and even Los Angeles have found that adopting new food agriculture guidelines promotes better land use planning as centers of vacant land are growing. My thought is that it is going to be up to the urban planners to provide incentives and promote growth by gaining acceptance through a variety of avenues.
Planners can help facilitate access to public land and other forms of growing space by keeping track of suitable land that can be used for urban food production. Finally, it is important to increase awareness about the many benefits of urban agriculture activities which include health, social, economic, and environmental benefits.
I am certain you will find a place in your city where fresh food is being accessed and harvested near a city skyline.