What will we eat? Why Habitat III needs to rethink urban food systems

Mmm. Tasty. Image: Getty.

The year 2016 is crucial for both food and cities. In October, UN member states will convene for the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, to discuss guidelines for sustainable urban development for the next 20 years.

In relation to food, 2016 has seen increased interest in bringing food to centre stage of many non-traditional domains. For example: this is the International Year of the Pulses; food waste is getting more attention, such as the announcement of the first global standard to measure food loss and waste; and food and agriculture lie at the very heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At the 2016 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:

Ensuring that everyone in expanding urban areas has access to nutritious food is critical to achieving the goal of zero hunger set out in the 2030 [SDG] Agenda.

Sustainable diets are gaining traction, and many governments are demonstrating high-level commitment.

Will the new urban agenda put food on the table?

But on the road to Quito, the zero draft of the New Urban Agenda bears only oblique references to food systems.

Food (security) has been “sprinkled” over physical and social infrastructure, natural resources and ecosystems, sustainable consumption, resilience, urban planning, land and mobility. It is conspicuously missing from urban basic services and altogether from heritage and culture.

This omission has occurred despite common knowledge of food’s profound impacts. It shapes rural landscapes, provides spaces for buying, selling and eating food in cities, and is integral to everyday individual and collective identities.

If the New Urban Agenda carries a promise for change, sustainable and equitable food systems in cities will perhaps only be a side dish at Quito.

Cities' role in food systems is growing

The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact is testament to the increasing realisation of the need for urban planners to make food systems central in city planning. More than half of humanity lives in urban areas.

According to the UN, nearly 70 per cent of the global population will live in cities by 2050, making urbanisation one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends.

Increasing recognition of the multiple dimensions of food in cities is driving the urban food debate. It encompasses nutrition, ethics and social justice, and sustainability.

In Canada, the US, South America, the UK and a few cases in Australia (notably Melbourne), municipal governments are increasingly seeking ways to promote synergistic relationships between food consumers and producers. But this process remains sporadic and non-systemic.

Australian cities are complacent about food

Australians are predominantly urban dwellers. More than 80 per cent of the population lives in the 20 largest cities.

As well as the horde of other issues for urban food systems, Australia has one of the most concentrated food retail sectors in the world dominated by the supermarket duopoly, significant health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and a serious and growing issue of food waste.

All of the SDGs have targets that are directly or indirectly related to the daily work of regional and local governments, the closest administrative units to communities. In 2015, there were 571 local governing bodies across Australia. This is the level of government best placed to link the global goals with local communities.

It is at the municipal level that the socioeconomic and environmental problems associated with food systems first become evident. In Queensland, for example, the 2011 floods showed the potential impact of disaster on urban food systems.

Despite a renewed national focus on cities in Australia, food systems remain a secondary consideration. Neither the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) nor the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) has food for the cities in their strategic plans. Researchers such as Paul Burton and Meg Montague allude to the “complacent attitude” to urban food systems in Australia.

The City of Melbourne is notable in promoting integrated local government planning on key factors that influence food systems – transport, housing, economic development and land use. Several local governments have trialled micro-level initiatives to improve health and reduce inequities, or reduce ecological footprints. Most cities are lagging, though, when it comes to food systems.

Battle will be won or lost in cities

Food systems are perhaps not as visible as other areas of urban development. They are, however, an essential element that involves many aspects of cities. These include:

  • transport and infrastructure (connecting consumers, retailers and producers);

  • housing (access to affordable nutritious food);

  • recreation;

  • economy (food sector businesses and employment); and

  • culture and identity.

Food is a new policy arena for city governments, but cannot be separated from housing, water and sanitation, energy, employment and all the other rights related to a life of dignity that local governments promote. Urban food systems are poorly understood, though. Often there is no clear jurisdiction or mandate by which city planners can manage these systems.

The challenge is to broaden the scope of policy debates beyond food supply chains and urban agriculture, to include strategic plans and reforms to tackle food systems.

This could help to identify strategic leverage points that can affect the way food business is done in cities and have significant impacts on diet-related diseases, large urban carbon footprints, food waste, social injustice and the negative impacts of supermarket power.

Indeed, the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in cities.The Conversation

Grace Muriuki manages the food systems programme at the Global Change Institute, and Geoffrey Lawrence is emeritus professor of sociology, both at The University of Queensland.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.

In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.