Planning the Future of Food

Food seems to be everywhere these days, including the urban planning community. But this hasn’t always been the case. A little over a decade ago, a small group of planning academics published a paper in the Journal of the American Planning Association entitled “The Food System: Stranger to the Planning Field.” Authors Kameshwari Pothukuchi and Jerome Kaufman identified the food system as a critical, yet completely neglected issue in the urban planning field. One city planning director surveyed for the article was quoted as saying: “If someone in the planning agency suggested we do planning for the local food system, he’d be looked at as if he came from Mars.”

Though food in the urban planning realm is still an emerging field, food systems planning in 2011 is a world away from where it was just a decade ago. It still has a long way to go to gain the same recognition as other, more traditional forms of planning such as land use or transportation. Yet, since Pothukuchi and Kaufman’s 2000 publication labeling food as a “stranger” to the planning field, the attention to food systems by the planning profession has grown significantly.

I wasn’t around to witness this transformation (Pothukuchi and Kaufman’s article came out while I was in high school, back when didn’t have the foggiest idea of what an urban planner did, more-or-less a food systems planner),  but in a recent conversation with Hunter College professor and local food enthusiast Tom Angotti, he remarked at how it seems that interest in food systems planning has emerged virtually overnight. I’ve heard similar sentiments repeated by other individuals involved in food related work. Some of the notable events in this new-found interest in food include the 2004 Journal of Planning Education and Research first-ever special edition addressing food issues in the planning field, the 2007 adoption Policy Guide on Community and Regional Food Planning by the American Planning Association, and the 2009 Planning Magazine food issue. In addition, the annual APA National Planning Conference has seen an explosion of interest in food systems over the past several years, with multiple panel discussions and workshops dedicated to the issue. This year’s APA conference in Boston is no exception, with sessions on topics such as urban agriculture, community based food planning, regional food systems, and using GIS to map the food system.

The national APA attention to food systems mirrors the work taking place at the local and regional level. Official food systems plans are popping up all over the country, such as New York’s FoodNYC and FoodWorks, Philadelphia’s Eating Here, Vermont’s Farm to Plate and Chicago’s Grow2040 Plan, which includes a “Promote Sustainable Local Food” section.   In addition, communities have also been taking food system planning into their own hands through initiatives such as community food assessments and the development of local urban agriculture projects, community supported agriculture, and cooperatives, as well as other food related undertakings.

It is an exciting time to be involved in food systems planning. The task of transforming the food system is daunting. Yet it is one in which planners- both official and informal- can and should play a role- though ultimately it will take involvement of multiple disciplines and sectors, as well as grassroots pressure from communities to get this job done. Still, there is a great deal that planners can, and now are doing, to help us both envision our future food system and make this vision a reality.


Brooklyn Dirt Event: Professor Tom Angotti and Master of Science in Urban Affairs candidate Jesse Alter will be presenting this Wednesday, March 16th on the recent Hunter College Department of Urban Planning and Affairs trip to Cuba to study urban agriculture as part of the Brooklyn Dirt series, sponsored by Sustainable Flatbush and Prospect Farm.  The event will take place from 7-9:30pm at the Sycamore 1118 Cortelyou Rd, Brooklyn. $5 suggested donation to benefit Sustainable Flatbush and Prospect Farm.

Image courtesy of Grist



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