Urban Agriculture Design: An Ecologist Approach

In April Phillips’ webinar, Designing Urban Agriculture, she talks about how to realistically incorporate urban agriculture and ecology into major cities. The goal of her research is to “invite food back into our city.” This is done through an “ecologist” perspective that draws connections between all the major actors in ecology including: water, air, flora, and fauna. To investigate how urban agriculture could be done most efficiently, Phillips asks the following questions: How could these garden landscapes be designed on a city scale to become an integral part of the food system? How could designers collaborate and partner with urban farmers, urban ecologists, and city planners to facilitate design of these landscapes? To answer these questions, she draws on a variety of case studies from cities like San Francisco then remarks on how to project them to a global scale. She placed a lot of emphasis on community building through edible urban landscapes like community gardens and the sustainability of rooftop gardens.

Besides the process of incorporating urban agriculture into congested cities, Phillips also shared a lot about how the incorporation of agriculture into urban design could counteract our severely industrialized food system. Our dependence on a globally industrialized food system is currently so significant that in the case of disaster, supermarkets would run out of food in days and we’d have no idea what to do. Also, our food system, as it stands, relies greatly upon oil and other non-renewable resources. This is particularly the case with regards to the meat industry. Urban foraging and farming could pose a solution to this by cutting reliance on fossil fuels and acting as an agricultural safe guard in case of disaster.

A lot of the points Phillips made in this webinar, particularly about the dangers of the industrial food system, relate a great deal to the Political Economy of Food class I took last semester. We spent a lot of time looking into several aspects of the food we eat including energy use, labor involved, how it was grown, how it is advertised and motives for consumption. For our final project, I visited Live Local Organic, an urban basil farm here in Portland. I was impressed by how they used aquaponics to grow immense amounts of basil in such a small space. However, they still wanted to develop as a company and expand to other states meaning that although growing local food is a key value of theirs, they remain within a neoliberal business model. I wonder how urban ecology can be promoted without becoming a neoliberal business in itself or without people trying to capitalize it. We also discussed the effectiveness of locality and urban agriculture a great deal in Political Economy of Food with mixed results. Our class’s opinion on fixing the food system differed from Phillips’ as we thought that change stems from redefining food policy on a grand scale – not from small local farming. Although I agree with most of the points Phillips made, I don’t think urban ecology can be a completely viable solution to our food problems without large scale policy change accompanying it as well.

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One comment

  1. I really like how you related the seminar to the Political Ecology of Food class you previous took. It was definitely nice to see an in person example of the topics that she brought up in her talk. I also liked how you counteracted some of the arguments that she made, and critiqued her idea that small urban farms are enough.

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