Justice in city-regional food systems? Start here!

How pleasing it is to see this special issue of Built Environment (Vol 43, No 3) appear on this critical topic: bringing together food planning and equitable food systems at urban and regional scales. Of course you might suggest that I would say that having been thinking and writing on the topic for more years than I care to remember. But leaving aside possible confirmation bias on my part, I do think that the guest editors, Samina Raja, Kevin Morgan and Enjoli Hall, have managed to include a really useful mix of perspectives incorporating relevant theory and ‘in practice’ projects from a lot of different people and places. The opening editorial helps us navigate our way through this wealth of material and flags a strong thematic focus despite diversity of examples.

Image 1: Justice is a key ingredient

One fairly clear point made by both editors and authors is that while there has been some development of understanding that food and planning are closely connected, and applied work to express this in local authority planning, in food access plans and guidance, in food governance systems and processes, and in building and place design, among others, it is equally clear from the papers here that there is still a long way to go to adequately conceptualise and reflect food equity and food justice in plans, policies and processes at urban and regional scales.

It is argued, for example, that in some cases there is a ‘fail to include, plan to exclude’ approach, as in Clark et al’s paper on local government readiness for building equitable community food systems: the authors identify this through examination of a Growing Food Connections research project in the United States. Meanwhile, Food Access Planning Guidance in Minnesota, explored by way of language used, is similarly seen by Burga and Stoscheck to fall short (thus far) in really addressing food justice. Part of the issue may still be to establish more adequately what are the spatial connections and possibilities, as Meenar's paper on urban agriculture and equity suggests.

Image 2: Farmer’s market

What we might describe as subaltern views from below help frame a number of the papers included and are very useful: specifically here in framing the experience of refugees in Buffalo (Judelsohn et al), and family farmers in Porto Alegre (Vasile and Duncan) for instance. A related theme of governance incapacity or failure is the setting for a number of the papers, including Soma’s on infrastructure and food waste in Bogor, Indonesia, and in a different way in Bohm’s work on the unfulfilled potential of urban agriculture and building design in the USA. Through these we can see close up how food inequality operates socially, economically, environmentally and spatially. Given such insights, community based solutions are seen as a way forward, as in Brinkley et al’s USA based work on food deserts.

A paper I found particularly intriguing given the focus on my own work on food planning, design and urbanism was Battersby’s exploration of food system transformation in South Africa where supermarket and shopping mall expansion – within what I'd see as a modernist paradigm for planning, economics and place – is occurring without any food system planning to frame it. The complex interplay between urban economics, spatiality and inequality in influencing food security and the right to food is beautifully teased out. Moreover, there were ingenious approaches to gather 'hard to get' data about what supermarkets actually do and thus understand more about the implications of the spread of these land uses that I thought methodologically notable.

Image 3: Food from sustainable practices

It is perhaps not surprising that the special issue closes with an excellent paper from Nunes which calls for rethinking justice in city-regional food systems planning: a call I think well justified by the evidence presented here as well as other scholarship on this topic. As the editors note, 'food has captured the imagination of planning and design professions and disciplines across the globe...[but] how does this burgeoning work on planning and design of food systems tackle issues of? (p.309). In exploring answers to that question, this special issue of Built Environment is a good place to start.

Susan Parham,  Head of Urbanism and Planning, University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom.


As ever we welcome further Built Environment blogs & tweets on this theme!    


Listing Image/Image 1: Justice is a key ingredient (Source: Jay Walljasper via On the Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/young-people-justice-key-ingredient-good-food )

Image 2: Farmer’s market (Source: Natalie Maynor via Flikr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nataliemaynor/2539111053/ )

Image 3: Food from Sustainable practices (Source: via Flowerhill Farm, CC BY-SA 3.0, http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Fkg-fnjE2v4/TpruSpGZVqI/AAAAAAAAMnY/O90csZN5qB...)