What is Cultivating Cities?

Cultivating Cities is the idea that food has an economic and cultural role to play in the continued development of all 21st century cities; but also that food could have a regenerative role in responding to problems associated with deindustrialization. “Food” in the cultivated city should be understood in the most inclusive way possible, but is not focused on the preparation of food into meals for consumption, but rather the production, distribution, and sales of produce, animal products, and value-added foods and beverages that restaurateurs and average residents alike turn into meals. For example, a food truck serving tacos is innovative, according to the Cultivating Cities worldview, not because tacos are delicious (they certainly are!), but rather because the sale of tacos from brightly colored motorized kitchens is largely unprecedented in the history of the city. Similarly, an urban brewery is noteworthy not because because beer is refreshing (is certainly is!) but because that brewery occupies a formerly abandoned factory, and now draws customers to an area of the city previously avoided.

My academic research thus far as focused on what I call ‘urban food enterprises’, an inclusive term designed to include all commercialized urban food production. The term includes four major types of food production:

  • Plant Cultivation (vegetables and fruits, including hydroponic and aeroponic)
  • Animal Husbandry (eggs, meat, fish, shellfish, honey, including aquaponic)
  • Value-Added Production (breads, jellies, cheeses, salsa, candies, etc)
  • Alcohol Production (beer, wine, cider, and mead)

Why Cultivating Cities?

Cultivating Cities is necessary because many of the narratives of how our cities should be organized throughout the 20th century were predicated on the idea of a strict separation between urban and rural spaces. In this separation, most forms of food production are regulated exclusively to rural space. This is separation is largely achieved through a complex set of regulatory, micro and macro-economic, technological, and cultural factors. This separation manifests in a number of ways. Zoning, with one aspect of its history stemming from the need to remove polluting uses from residential neighborhoods, can today act as an exclusionary force against some forms of urban food entrepreneurship. Beyond zoning, many other statutory and administrative regulations assume that certain forms of food production cannot occur in urban spaces. These assumptions are predicated on 20th century understandings of urban food systems, which fails to take into about technological and economic changes of the last several decades. Such assumptions are reinforced by the collegiate education of many of our seniors administrators and elected officials of our communities, which was grounded in the urban Modernism espoused by sociologists from the Chicago School, including Robert Park and Louis Wirth, who argued for strict separation between urban and rural.

Who is Cultivating Cities For?

This blog is intended for anyone interested in encouraging urban food system development. This could be government administrators or elected officials seeking advice on improving their policies. It could be urban food entrepreneurs seeking guidance on regulatory issues. It might included designers, planners, or artists seeking inspiration from examples in other communities. Finally, anyone interested in learning about urban food systems should find something of interesting here.