Urban Farming for Everyone / La Agricultura Urbana para Todos

Francois Mancebo, Paris. 
4 September 2017

Many voices. Greener cities. Better cities.

A review of: Agricultura Urbana – Espacios de Cultivo para una Ciudad Sostenibles / Urban Agriculture – Spaces of Cultivation for a Sustainable City by Graciela Arosemena. 2012. 128 pages.  ISBN: 9788425224232.  Buy the book.

The material presented in this book not only considers the merits of urban agriculture, it also provides insight, knowledge and techniques to make urban agriculture an activity accessible to everyone.
Urbanization has gone hand-in-hand with agriculture from the beginning. Even in medieval times, when walls and defensive structures left most of the farmland outside the city perimeter, agricultural patches were available inside the city and next to the city walls. Jane Jacobs assumes that agriculture was initially within the first human settlements that can be considered as primitive urban places, and migrated to the countryside only later. But while cities and agriculture have long been inseparable, everything changed during the twentieth century. Increased mobility and progressive globalization made pointless the previous need for geographical proximity between the farmers and the urban consumers. Farming was then more or less banned from the city under the combined forces of urban densification and planning regulation. This period could be qualified as the great rupture.

In her short book Urban Agriculture, Graciela Arosemena, gives an overview of urban agriculture’s history until the great rupture and asks a question: Now that agriculture has moved outside the city, is it time to bring it back again? Her answer is “yes”, for many reasons which she associates with the idea of making cities more sustainable. In her vision, urban agriculture can stop the vicious circle of real estate speculation, provide a healthy leisure, foster social cohesion, support a new management of organic waste to reduce city’s ecological footprint and provide food security—if not complete self-sufficiency—by allowing citizens to consume locally grown vegetables and ripe fruits.

She relies on Ebenezer Howard’s interest for self-sufficiency in his garden cities and the philosophy of ruralizing the city—which she improperly attributes to Ildefons Cerdà, when in fact it was the idea of one of his followers, (the linear city of Arturo Soria y Mata)—to legitimize her vision of urban agriculture. As everybody knows urban agriculture has become trendy in recent years. Does it still need to be legitimized? Maybe not, but this book is a lot more than a pro domo plea: this short, bilingual book (English and Spanish, on facing pages) is a kind of “Swiss army knife” about urban agriculture. Its material is not only made of considerations on the merits of urban agriculture, it also provides insight, knowledge and techniques to make urban agriculture an activity accessible to everyone. Graciela Arosemena shows how parks and public spaces, gardens, terraces, roofs, and balconies can be converted to cultivating different types of vegetables and fruits. She also shows how organic waste can practically be used to grow fresh food while reducing the ecological footprint of the city. The book is full of photos displaying the different places and techniques for the introduction of agriculture in the city.

This publication can thus be considered as a clear, well-structured and conceptually attractive handbook about how to reintroduce agriculture in the city. But there is much more to it than just that: it also gives insight into how agriculture can transform the practices of urban planning. Indeed Urban Agriculture – Spaces of Cultivation for a Sustainable City summarizes Graciela Arosemena’ doctoral thesis, in which she considers that urban agriculture should be a key element of planning within the urban system. Different examples—in Vienna, Toronto, Havana, Rosario, Barcelona and Gerona—display how gardens and farming lots may penetrate the smallest nooks and crannies of the urban fabric, materializing an emergent movement that the author coins as “global social”.

Now that the urban agriculture is getting so “à la mode”, it is time to move forward and include it officially into urban policies. From this perspective, this book provides us with very valuable seeds for reflection and action. It provides a set of criteria and strategies for intervening in the realms of urbanism and construction that can be helpful to architects, landscape designers and city planners, but also to everyone interested in urban gardening.

François Mancebo

On The Nature of Cities

Click here to buy the book at Amazon. Part of the proceeds return to TNOC.

Francois Mancebo

About the Writer:
Francois Mancebo

François Mancebo, PhD, Director of the IRCS and IATEUR, is professor of urban planning and sustainability at Reims University. He lives in Paris.

Francois Mancebo

Francois Mancebo

Director of the IRCS and IATEUR Paris, France François Mancebo is the director of the International Research Center on Sustainability (IRCS) and of the Institute of Regional Development, Environment and Urban Planning (IATEUR). Full professor of urban planning and sustainability at Rheims University, he is at the origin of the Rencontres Internationales de Reims en Sustainability Studies, an annual event (www.sustainability-studies.org). His research aims to determine the conditions of urban transitions to sustainability. He considers planning as an adaptive process subject to continuous adjustments which address primarily governance and policy making. He points out that, while sustainability policies are supposed to simultaneously fulfill environmental justice and intergenerational equity (preservation of the resources and protection of the planet for the generations to come), usually it doesn’t work. He considers that the more adequate framework to address this antagonism is boundary work and participatory joint fact-finding, associating scientists, staff advising relevant policy makers, local communities and other stakeholders. This issue is the backbone of a longer-term endeavor: building a consistent theoretical framework for sustainable development. François Mancebo is senior research fellow of the IHDP Earth System Governance. He held the Chaire de la France Contemporaine at the Université de Montréal. He also was science adviser to the LCPC (French National Public Works Research Laboratory). He holds HDR (post PhD capacity degree to supervise research programs) on sustainable development from the Sorbonne university, and a PhD from Toulouse university. He started his academic career as associate professor at Paris Sorbonne University in 2000. He was then full professor at Grenoble 1 University from 2004 to 2009, when he joined Rheims university. His book ”Le développement durable” received the Logerot prize of the French Society of Geography, in 2006. He is member of the planning section of the French CNU (National Universities Council) and holder of the PES (French Scientific Excellence Premium).

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