URBAN FOOD GROWING:. NEW LANDSCAPES, NEW THINKING

Simon Michaels

FOOD GROWING IN URBAN AREAS

Urban areas, especially in the UK, are typified by their organic growth which has resulted in a diverse patchwork of public and private open spaces. The design and management of these spaces depends on many factors. Whilst many areas have been designed and continued to be managed in a posi­tive manner, other spaces are ‘left behind’ in terms of a clear sense of ownership and responsibility. Finding positive uses for these spaces has been one of the challenges for urban planning in the late twentieth century, with an increasing number of projects now including an element of food growing.

The benefits of these urban food growing projects can be multifaceted. They include improvements to the environment and landscape setting of developed areas, as well as significant socio-economic benefits including health and community development.

Despite these proven benefits, the perceptions of the positive impact of urban food growing on the character and quality of the urban landscape, do not appear to be shared by all. The landscapes cre­ated as a result of urban food growing projects tend to share some common characteristics, which sit outside of the dominant approaches to the design of the urban environment by landscape and urban design professionals.

These characteristics include a fine grain, an introverted and often unplanned character, and landscapes which are often in a state of change. To some, they are perceived as detractors to the quality of urban landscape. But to others they are some of the most well loved, democratic, and useful landscapes.

Urban food growing projects tend to be an expres­sion of grass-roots activity, led by local people. They often provide an important source of fresh food for families with poor access to affordable fresh produce, or may be developed in order to meet other social needs. The driver for the develop­ment of these projects is, therefore, often not one of environmental improvement, nor are such proj­ects necessarily developed with the assistance of planning or design professionals.

How can food growing be accommodated in urban areas in a way which is acceptable to those respon­sible for planning and design considerations? What needs to change? Is it in the way in which spaces dedicated to food growing are designed, or does it require a change in the mindset of design and plan­ning professionals?