Over at the Boston Globe in a piece titled “The Locavore’s Dilemma”, Harvard professor and author Edward Glaeser makes an argument against urban agriculture. He’s a smart guy—and makes some good points.
There are good reasons to keep large-scale farming farther out from population centers: transporting food isn’t that big of an energy cost, and not every locality is equipped to produce the variety of fruits and vegetables that consumers demand. Keeping people in close proximity to one another is far better for the climate than trucking in produce.
But I think he’s doing a disservice to the local food movement. It’s not about wiping out an inner-city neighborhood to build a full-scale farm. It’s often about reclaiming unused space—rooftops, balconies, corner lots, and sidewalk strips. And it’s about getting people reconnected to their food—with a tomato they’ve grown from seed, not one that’s been shipped overseas.
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Yes, compact, walkable communities are important. Yes, allowing people to live closer together is key in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But in a culture that still prizes a single-family home, creating shared public spaces for activities that would otherwise require a private yard makes city-living more appealing.
The real problem isn’t with local p-patches. It’s with the sprawling suburbs and exurbs that erase full-scale farms serving a city.