PlaNYC and Urban Agriculture

Posted: October 29th, 2009 | Author:

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What is PlaNYC’s vision for Urban Agriculture?


PlaNYC 2030 was issued in 2007 on Earth Day setting long-term goals for sustainability of New York City. PlaNYC¬†should be required reading for all New Yorkers. ¬†No one can read PlaNYC without hoping for 100% implementation in our lifetime. ¬†It’s all good stuff. ¬†And, It happens to be a pretty good read too — loaded with color, charts, graphs, maps and photos. ¬†Never has urban policy seemed so lively.


To my disappointment, however, PlaNYC has no explicit plans for Urban Agriculture.  Below, I analyze PlaNYC identifying the junctures where Urban Agriculture might be included in its scheme of possibilities.




The otherwise excellent chapter dedicated to “Open Space” (p. 29-49) does not mention any opportunities for Urban Agriculture in its program to expand parks, playgrounds and green spaces. ¬†¬†PlaNYC aims “to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park by 2030.” (PlaNYC, p. 31). ¬†


So, I am left wondering about an alternative vision . . . What if every New Yorker lived within a 10-minute walk of an Urban Farm?  How would that change the way that we live and eat?  Could parks and playgrounds produce food too?  What if street trees bore fruit?   Could GreenStreets become FoodStreets, Block Beautiful become Harvest Bountiful?




But wait! ¬†PlaNYC proposes to “introduce 20 cubic meters of ribbed mussel beds” ¬†illustrating this practice with a cool underwater photograph of “Long-Line Mussell Farm, Valbodalen, Sweden.” (PlaNYC, p. 58). ¬†The “Water” section goes on to harks to an era when New York Harbor was home to half of the world’s oysters, a major source of food and commerce.


Despite some maritime nostalgia, the fine print of this section tells a different story. The mollusks would not be introduced as a source of food but used to clean the water “one of nature’s finest filtration systems.” (PlaNYC, p. 59). ¬†


The “Water” chapter goes on to plan for “vegetated ditches (swales) along parkways,” “greening of parking lots,” and “provide incentives for green roofs.” ¬†Nowhere is there a mention that any of these green spaces could be used for food.


As to “green roofs,” PlaNYC cites a study by Riverkeeper: “[A] 40-square-foot green roof could results in 810 gallons of storm water captured per per year.” ¬†The impact of green roofs on city sewage treatment costs could be enormous. ¬†Green roofs could be a major resource for Urban Agriculture.




Green roofs were promoted once in the “Water” chapter. ¬†PlaNYC does not mention, however, that green roofs also help defeat heat gain caused by ordinary roofs, lowering energy costs associated with electricity for cooling.




PlaNYC’s chapter on “Air” calls for reducing emissions from trucks. ¬†Urban farms have no need for long-haul trucking and delivery, eliminating a major source of emissions. ¬†¬†




PlaNYC does not outline any plans to reduce or re-use sewage or organic waste. ¬†Organic solid waste disposal is costly and often a source of environmental problems, like water contamination and landfill. ¬†All cities — like Portland, Oregon — should consider sanitation reforms aimed at collecting organic waste and converting it into compost. ¬†Urban Agriculture can play an important role in reducing the costs of processing and transporting organic waste by using local compost as fertilizer.¬†




PlaNYC addressed health issues arising from air, water, transportation and open space.  An important benefit of Urban Agriculture would be changing the priorities of individual consumers by creating ready access and availability of local fresh food.




PlaNYC left me wondering about the places where Urban Agriculture could fit in.  Amendment anyone?  Please share with me your reactions about the nexus between Urban Agriculture and PlaNYC.  Thanks.


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