March 3, 2011

Report Explores Growth of Urban Agriculture

CHICAGO — Urban agriculture activities are now appearing in more metropolitan communities throughout the United States and Canada.Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy, Sustainable Places is a new report published this month by the American Planning Association (APA) and identifies the challenges and opportunities faced by cities and counties of varying sizes, economies and locations.

Urban Agriculture PAS ReportThe report was written by Kimberley Hodgson, AICP, APA's manager of the Planning and Community Health Research Center and a registered dietician; Marcia Caton Campbell, the Milwaukee director for the Center for Resilient Cities and a MetroAg associate; and Martin Bailkey, evaluation and outreach coordinator for Growing Power and a MetroAg associate.

Throughout the last three centuries, planning has alternately worked to promote and prevent agricultural activities in urban areas. Early settlements emphasized food production. Then increasing health and sanitation concerns over animal production and meat processing resulted in tougher urban restrictions. By the mid-20th century, many cities' zoning codes no longer included farming as a recognized land use.

Today, urban agriculture is being recognized for its importance to the overall health and resiliency of communities and regions. But what exactly are the planning implications?

Even with the growth of urban agriculture activities, it continues to be a less familiar land use than traditional land use categories such as residential, commercial, park/open space or public/institutional. Urban agriculture activities may also cause land-use conflicts from noise and odor nuisances to water access and inadequate funding.

Planners can help facilitate its growth and acceptance through a variety of avenues. First, engaging the community, both government and nongovernment partnerships as well as deliberative bodies such as food policy councils. Land use policies can support food production for personal consumption or sale at community farmers markets. Economic development strategies can provide financial and technical assistance to new farmers. Planners also can help facilitate access to public land and other forms of growing space by inventorying suitable land for urban food production. Finally, it is important to increase awareness about the many benefits of urban agriculture activities including the health, social, economic and environmental benefits.

"While urban agriculture is a small component of the larger community-based food system, we expect it to increase over the next decade," said Kimberley Hodgson. "Planners play a vital role in the health and well-being of our communities today. Integrating urban agriculture into the urban fabric will only continue to gain importance and serve to benefit the community as a whole."

The Urban Agriculture report provides numerous examples and case studies of communities currently embracing and encouraging urban agriculture activities, including:

  • Strong community-based food systems (Philadelphia, Toronto, Vancouver);
  • Reclaiming vacant land (Detroit, Cleveland, Ohio);
  • Reusing brownfields for urban agriculture (Kansas City, Missouri; Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto);
  • Economic development (Flint, Michigan; Detroit, Chicago);
  • Community health and wellness (Seattle/King County, Toronto, Minneapolis); and
  • Emergence of community-based or grassroots groups (New Orleans, New York City South Bronx Casitas, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Missouri).  

The report concludes by acknowledging that planners must realize that enabling urban agriculture is more than a response to citizens' demands for opportunities to grow good food in closer proximity to their tables. Urban agriculture is part of a larger, growing movement with the potential to influence the food-related choices of all North Americans, rich and poor. Planners have the opportunity to influence the future of the food system.

Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy, Sustainable Places is the result of a collaborative partnership between APA and MetroAg: Alliance for Urban Agriculture. Funding was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization.

Urban Agriculture: Growing Health, Sustainable Places (ISBN: 978-1-932364-91-0; 148 pp.) is available through for $60 (PAS subscribers $30).


Roberta Rewers, APA Public Affairs; 312-786-6395;