Let’s start by considering how we have reached this state of affairs and why architects, urbanists and planners have a role to play in improving the situation.
In the English speaking world, the publication of Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 triggered concern over the ecological side effects and health risks posed by industrial agriculture and agribusiness, resulting in chemically dependent farming techniques. Today, many rural areas have been reduced to biologically impoverished wastelands and in Britain, for example, the domination of industrial agriculture is creating an increasingly depopulated landscape.
The increased disconnection between consumers and producers of food means that urban populations have little connection with food production and thus have a limited knowledge of the issues associated with it.
This process makes the world less comprehensible and reduces the ability of populations to criticise the status quo, due to a lack of direct experience and knowledge. Nevertheless in Europe there is much public concern about industrial agriculture, for example the application of genetic engineering to food production. Research by the European Commission has indicated that the majority of consumers in Europe would be prepared to pay a premium for non-genetically modified food (European Commission, 1998).
A number of recent food scandals in Europe, such as Mad Cow disease in the UK, the contamination of Austrian wine, and dioxins found in Belgian eggs and meat, have resulted in health concerns about industrial agriculture. Some argue that the public is concerned that regulations are not enforced rigorously enough (Aerni, 2000), but we think these concerns indicate a wider scepticism regarding the overall benefits of highly competitive and market driven agriculture managed by a very small group of businesses. In support of this counter argument, Aerni refers to reports noting that Japanese consumers are ready to pay high subsidies to maintain family-based multifunctional farming and that they use protectionist policies to ensure this (Hayami and Godo, 1995).