Food Access: The Missing Sustainability Planning Topic?

This summer, the American Planning Association will publish a policy report that outlines the results of a 3-year research study of how local governments in the U.S. are planning for food access and the greater community-based food system.

Of a sample of 888 local governments across the U.S., the study identified 105 jurisdictions that explicitly addressed food access and other food systems issues in their comprehensive or sustainability plan. The top most-cited food system strategies included:

  • preserving rural agricultural land;
  • supporting new opportunities for the agricultural production of produce;
  • improving access to farmers markets and community gardens; and
  • supporting new opportunities for urban agriculture.

For more information about this study and a summary of results, click here.

Healthy City for All

On Friday, June 22, 2012, the City of Vancouver, British Columbia held a special event to announce the development of a new planning process: the Healthy City Strategy. The half day, public event (Healthy People, Healthy City – Making Vancouver a leader in urban health) featured local and national speakers, including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver City Manager Penny Ballem, Vancouver Coastal Health Chief Medical Health Officer Patricia Daly, and The Globe and Mail Reporter Andre Picard. Local leaders highlighted their work through short, pecha kucha style presentations and panelists discussed the need to address diversity and income equity as central components to the strategy.

“Inequity is the root of all health problems,” said Andre Picard in his opening keynote address. Some of the healthiest cities in the world have the smallest gaps between the rich and the poor.”Good health doesn’t happen by accident.” But rather cities need to to recognize that every public employee is a “de-facto public health official”, particularly planners. Healthy people are only as healthy as the city in which they live, he explained.

The Healthy City Strategy is one of three city-wide plans that make up Vancouver’s recent sustainability planning efforts. This plan will focus on creating a long-term strategy to create healthy people, healthy places, and healthy communities, and will be based on a robust and comprehensive framework (see graphic above). The other two plans focus on the ecological and economic pieces of sustainability: the Greenest City Action Plan and the Vancouver Economic Action Strategy.

This ambitious planning process is a collaborative effort of the city and the health authority (Vancouver Coastal Health). The strategy will address a range of urban health issues such as affordable, healthy housing, food access, employment conditions, accessible health and social services, community engagement, fear and violence, active living, healthy childhood development, and much more.

NYC Zoning Amendment to Accommodate Rooftop Agriculture

In built out cities, like San Francisco, Vancouver, Seattle and New York City, land is difficult to come by for urban agriculture. However, many cities are discovering an untapped resource: rooftops. In December, New York City’s Department of City Planning proposed a zoning amendment that would exclude urban agriculture operations, such as greenhouses, on commercial buildings from certain height and floor-area restrictions. On April 30, 2012, the New York City Council approved the Zone Green Text Amendment. The amendment allows greenhouses to be “exempt from floor area and height limits, provided that it is located on top of a building that does not contain residences or sleeping accommodations. These greenhouses must not exceed 25 feet in height, must set back six feet from the roof edge, and must include practical measures to limit water consumption.”

According to a recent study by the Urban Design Lab at Columbia University, there is over 3,000 acres of rooftop on commercial and industrial buildings in New York City that is potentially suitable for urban agriculture. For more information, visit the links below:

Reclaiming our Food Systems: Policy and Practice

BC Food Systems Network 14th Annual Gathering

Mark your calendars…this July 5-8, 2012, the BC Food Systems Network will be hosting their annual gathering at Camp Fircom on Gambier Island (just outside Vancouver, British Columbia). The focus of this annual gathering will be policy and practice. From workshops and presentations, to a wide range of structured and unstructured activities, the gathering aims to bring people together from across British Columbia, and beyond, to share and learn from one another about how to create healthy, more sustainable food systems.

SOPHIA: Society of Practitioners of Health Impact Assessment

A group North American health impact assessment (HIA) practitioners and researchers recently launched a new coalition called SOPHIA: Society of Practitioners of Health Impact Assessment. SOPHIA promotes “a thorough and systematic consideration of health in decision-making”. Officially launched in late 2011, SOPHIA connects individuals and organizations who are actively conducting HIAs, interested in conducting HIAs, or have an interest in supporting the concept of HIAs. Membership is currently free, as long as you sign a statement pledging that you will conduct HIA in a manner that aligns with SOPHIA’s core values:

“As Health Impact Assessment practitioners, our work will reflect the following core values:

  • Democracy: emphasizing the right of people to participate in the formulation of decisions that affect their lives.
  • Equity: emphasizing the reduction of inequity that results from avoidable differences in health determinants and/or health status within affected populations.
  • Sustainability: emphasizing that decisions should meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • Ethical use of evidence: emphasizing that transparent and rigorous processes are used to synthesize and interpret evidence, that the best available evidence from different disciplines and methodologies is utilized, that all evidence is valued, and that recommendations are developed impartially.
  • Comprehensive approach to health: emphasizing that health and disease are determined by a broad range of factors from all aspects of the physical, social and economic environment.”

For more information about SOPHIA, visit hiasociety.org.

Child Friendly Communities Transportation Toolkit

Child-friendly transportation is an essential component of a healthy, sustainable community. The Community Action Toward Children’s Health (CATCH) developed a toolkit for individuals, organizations and municipal partners to determine if a community includes child friendly methods of transportation. For more information and access to several practical resources (e.g. a self-assessment check list, child friendly transportation information for young children, and information for parents and municipal officials), click here.

Investing in Urban Agriculture

Historically in the United States, discussions about urban agriculture have focused  primarily on private gardens and community gardens. Today, urban agriculture is  much more than private gardens and community gardens, and many communities  are beginning to see the promise of other forms of urban agriculture. In addition to producing fruits and vegetables for home consumption, the definition and vision of urban agriculture is expanding to include not only growing plants and raising animals for consumption, but also the processing, distribution, marketing and sale of food products and food by-products, such as compost. A more holistic systems definition acknowledges the intimate connection between urban agriculture and the larger food system, as well as its influence and dependency on a variety of economic, environmental and social resources.

This new report (authored by Cultivating Healthy Places‘ founder, Kimberley Hodgson, and published by the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities) explores how foundations are supporting and encouraging urban agriculture as a public health, social enterprise, environmental stewardship, and/or economic development strategy. For the full report, click here.