103rd Street Community garden in New York City. Photographs courtesy SCAPE.
An amazing movement toward urban agriculture and eating locally grown food is underfoot which may precipitate a move toward bringing back the agropolis.
The term agropolis, combines two Greek words, agriculture (agro) and city (polis), and loosely refers to an agricultural food system in town centres or cities which provides food security.
An agropolis essentially lessens food prices, minimises the distance food travels to the table and reduces the carbon footprint during its production.
As more and more rooftop gardens and community veggie patches pop up, it appears landscape architects, horticulturists and community advocates are in some ways bringing back the agropolis.
During World War II, Victory Gardens were planted by nearly 20 million Americans to provide food for their families and troops at war. The gardens accounted for 44 pervcent of the vegetables produced in America at the time.
Community gardens date back to the early 20th century school garden movement which aimed to transform unsightly urban spaces. Francis Griscom Parsons created ‘Hell’s Kitchen,’ the first children’s garden in New York City.
“In 1906 there were over 75,000 of these gardens across the country, created primarily in urban schoolyards, but also in parks, vacant lots and backyards,” says Central Park Conservancy historian Marie Warsh.
Landscape architect Mia Lehrer sees urban agriculture as much more than just vegetable gardens and understands the associated implications. She says there is much more involved, including the urban environment, scale, distribution systems, partnerships and policy.
Lehrer says policy has a huge affect on urban agriculture and associated health issues.
“The rate at which US children are contracting chronic health conditions due to obesity and other risk factors doubled from 12.8 per cent in 1994 to 26.6 per cent in 2006,” she says, attributing the rise to industrialisation and urbanisation.
The popularity of farmer’s markets is an indication of society’s dire concern about health, nutrition and locally grown food.
“Los Angeles, Detroit and San Francisco have adopted citywide food policies. Everything from the regional food distribution system to zoning regulations regarding backyard chicken coops is being evaluated,” Lehrer says.
There is no doubt urban agriculture is transforming cities, both large and small. Projects in urban areas are about more than just gardens; they bring communities closer, makes use of abandoned urban space, and help eliminate health issues.