Urban agriculture is a hot topic in sustainability, food, and planning circles. From roof and deck gardens to community gardens to urban farms, urban agriculture has captured the imaginations of activists of many stripes as well as gardeners and eaters. When I mention that my academic work focuses on food access in urban areas, the most common response I get is “oh, you mean like urban ag?” As this interest in urban agriculture grows, some are asking whether food sovereignty – the ability for a population to produce enough food to feed itself – is a feasible goal for American cities.
One of the ways we identify places is by foods for which those places are known. Baltimore – crab. Maine – lobster. Cincinnati – chili. San Francisco – sourdough bread. Vienna – pastry. Even for a city to which you’ve never been, chances are that in your mind that city has some food association.
Returning to San Francisco from a trip to New York City, I ruminated on my first experience of staying in midtown in the city in which I was raised. The city is different, of course. Times Square has fulfilled its Blade Runner destiny, and blue Grecian “Greatest Coffee in the World” cups have been supplanted with those from Starbucks. What stayed with me, however, was a brief exchange with another attendee of the same conference for which I was in town. “Everything is so expensive” she lamented. “I see people with yogurts and sandwiches and other things that don’t seem to cost too much, but I don’t know where they get them.” “Oh, there’s plenty of stuff around here” I replied. “You just have to look.”
A comment I hear frequently from planners is that the focus on food and planning is “trendy”. I must admit that this puzzles me quite a bit. Professional planners in rural areas have concentrated on planning for agriculture – food planning – for decades. Before we had professional planners, human populations planned their communities around food, whether they were planning how best to follow herds for hunting, structuring early agricultural societies, or developing the first cities where food proximity and trade were central considerations.
As a lifelong urbanite, I’ve always felt comfortable learning cities “by Braille.” I put on my walking shoes and wander, making mental maps as I go. I experience serendipity, yet can generally intuit where things are likely to be – the CBD, the government center, nightlife.
This summer our family spent time in Berlin, Venice, Florence, and Paris. Of the four, Paris was the only one I’d been to before. By the time we got there, it was like greeting an old friend.
Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a transportation planner. At the points where transportation planning shares borders with engineering, I tend to zone out and start doodling in the margins. I do, however, have a lifelong interest in transportation, which is why I share the excitement of some of my more transportation-focused colleagues about potential changes in how California measures transportation impacts of projects.