CHICAGO and PHILADELPHIA — Urban agriculture support systems take different forms and promote diverse priorities in different U.S. cities. Some treat farming and gardening as a public good—public spaces that are valued for their community-building, environmental, public health, and other social benefits. Others have sought to extract more economic and redevelopment gains from urban agriculture. The specific ways cities support urban agriculture—and the outcomes city governments, support organizations, and funders expect from it—have significant impacts and implications for social equity and justice.
In a new article from JAFSCD, “’The highest and best use of land in the city’: Valuing urban agriculture in Philadelphia and Chicago,” Domenic Vitiello explores these divergent, often opposing expectations of what urban agriculture can yield, and what it should be. Reflecting on over a decade of research and practice, he traces the evolution of urban agriculture activities, support, and policy in Philadelphia and Chicago since the end of the twentieth century. These histories reflect broader tensions among different approaches to governing, supporting, and practicing agriculture in cities.
Philadelphia and Chicago’s urban agriculture policies and support systems started from a similar place in the 1990s, but Chicago increasingly treated community gardening and farming as a public good, while the place of agriculture in Philadelphia remained more contested, unstable, and inequitably distributed and supported around the city.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POLICY, PRACTICE, AND RESEARCH
Cities that treat urban agriculture as a public good—as public space with secure land tenure—have more efficient, equitable, and sustainable systems of community gardens and farms. Cities that treat urban agriculture as a redevelopment strategy and interim use continue to pit gardeners and farmers against other interests, producing unstable, contested, and inequitable access to land and food production.
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University of Pennsylvania
Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development