FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Building stronger cities and communties through stronger urban food systems
Cities are growing fast. The speed of growth often outpaces the response ability of governments (national, regional and local), planning systems and traditional infrastructure systems.
Opportunistic settlement, development and expansion, places enormous strains on natural and man-made systems. Urban areas can very quickly become hostile environments that are home to great social and economic inequalities whilst also being highly susceptible to a host of major risks associated with water pollution, inadequate waste management, heat islands and heat shocks, inabilities to properly deal with storm water, poor utilities and so on. Cities are polluting importers where once they grew from self-supporting simple rural communities.
But perhaps here lies a clue to helping communities to help themselves to a more resilient, more optimistic and more robust future. Can we bring back food production to urban areas as part of an integrated strategy to manage, reduce and reuse waste? can we develop strategies to clean up urban waterways and create valuable green spaces for nature, people, food, storm water, heat island mitigation? Can we embrace circularity so that food production and consumption happens within a closer and better connected network? Can we integrate renewable clean energy as part of a local community economic and environmental strategy?
When we look to make a difference in challenging urban areas, a primary objective is to engage in a constructive and beneficial way with the most vulnerable groups in society so that they can become part of the necessary changes that may be implemented to secure a more robust and resilient future. Properly engaging with such groups can be challenging and it is essential to find the correct mechanisms to make people paid-up positive contributors to their own, and their cities future.
When considering such mechanisms it is essential to engage directly with those affected in order to test ideas, explore potential routes and sow the seeds of what needs to happen in the minds of those who will be affected so that they also have an opportunity to consider how they can become involved, what they might want to offer or be able to offer and what they might accept or might have to accept. Only when such a basis for discussion, design and planning is formed, is it possible to develop convincing, realistic and achievable / implementable solutions. When this is done well it is to the benefit of all involved. Furthermore, well-thought out and holistic proposals should result in maximum benefits; every intervention should have a clear focus to resolve a specific challenge but also contribute to improving several other challenges.
An important component of grass-roots and bottom-up interventions is to allow people to partake in the design and implementation process so that the obstacles for realizing improvements have a low threshold and so that benefits are less likely to be limited to the communities who are fortunate enough to receive specific funding or project focus.
The following principles can help to focus thoughts:
• For every challenge there should be low-tech, low-skill, quick-win solutions proposed wherever possible;
• Hi-tech and / or more complex, costly interventions should also be proposed but should be part of a clear business case;
• Education and training programs should be attached to every intervention to allow residents opportunities to gain useful skills in construction, implementation, planning, maintenance etc.
• Local skills, crafts and artistry should be taken into the vision to create a platform for residents to showcase their skills and traditions whilst also contributing to an enthusiastic and contextual future.