Hot off the press: New Book on Political, Transformational and Territorial dimensions to bring forward an Agroecological Urbanism

In News by Chiara Tornaghi

Building on state-of-the-art and participatory research on farming, urbanism, food policy and advocacy, this new book changes the ways food planning has been conceptualised to date, and invites the reader to fully embrace the transformative potential of an agroecological perspective. It argues for moving away from a “food in the city” approach, and to rather fully consider (and transform) the economic and spatial processes that drive current urbanisation. 

Resourcing an Agroecological Urbanism. Political, Transformational and Territorial Dimensions – access selected parts here
By: Chiara Tornaghi and Michiel Dehaene (editors), and 26 authors (including Chiara Tornaghi, Barbara van Dyck and Priscilla Claeys from the AgroecologyNow! collective)

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In autumn 2017, the Centre for Agroecology, Water and  Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, hosted the 8th International Conference of the AESOP Sustainable Food Planning Group. Titled ‘Re-imagining sustainable food planning, building resourcefulness: food movements, insurgent planning and heterodox economics’, the conference aimed to steer the attention of the AESOP Sustainable Food Planning community (AESOP is the European Association of Schools of Planning) towards the radically transformative message of political agroecology and its value system. 

While the field of sustainable food planning has been growing over the past two decades, with a lively interdisciplinary community working on food charters and food policies, the organisers felt that the field has grown largely detached from the reality of farmers and farm workers who have been involved in the food sovereignty and agroecology movement. The most prevalent approach to food system transformation does not sufficiently question the way we have been and we are urbanising, the ongoing degradation and destruction of urban and peri-urban soils, the loss of agricultural land, speculative land markets, the progressive isolation and marginalisation of periurban farmers, the gap between farmers’ wages and living wages.

The great energizer of the sustainable food planning community – urban agriculture – has been growing largely in the frame of ‘retrofitting food in the city’, without a full unpacking of the way urbanisation and urban lifestyle continue to undermine farmers livelihoods and disable the reproduction of food knowledge.

The conference aimed to bring to the fore the instances and learnings of the agroecology movement, and in so doing, inspiring radical approaches to rethink sustainable food planning. Bringing together some of the contributions to the conference, integrated with some additional works, this book aims to offer an overview of the diversity of transdisciplinary works, including activism and action research, that are needed to build a resourceful, reproductive, agroecological urbanism.

Inspired by a seminal paper from MacKinnon and Derickson (2013), we used the term ‘resourceful’ as a particular way of intending the concept of ‘resilience’: an urbanism that creates the conditions for its inhabitants to control the means of their social reproduction, to have a say on, or direct control of, the resources for their own survival; a space where land, water and nutrients serve the needs of the people (rather than profit) while respecting the ecosystem. A ‘resourceful’ urbanism creates living conditions that enable people to be resilient while at the same time challenging the root causes of the crisis that require us to look for resilience. 

By ‘agroecological’ we explicitly referred to practices aligned to ‘peasant agroecology’ and the agroecology movement: a way of cultivating the soil, managing ecological relationships and disposing of the produce that respects the environment and is based on cultural and social arrangements inspired by solidarity and mutuality.

By ‘urbanism’ we referred to more than just buildings, zoning or planning, and more than just urban contexts. We referred to ensembles of the built environment and its regulation, the material infrastructure and the collective arrangements (for food provision, waste collection, land management, urban design, housing, energy and so forth) that are in place and reflect a specific ideological, social and economic arrangement that is historically specific. In the context of planetary urbanisation and neoliberal capitalism systems, in which rural and urban realms are ruled by the same socio-economic and ideological visions, we aimed to reflect on the urban, the peri-urban and the rural realm simultaneously, and to reflect on their mutual interconnections and dependencies. 

While food entered the planning agenda more than a decade ago, a resourceful and agroecological urbanism, which is more than closing metabolic loops through urban agriculture, is yet to be conceptualised. An urbanism in which food is not the latest ‘fix’ to be added as a new way to market but rather a key and long forgotten component around which new and just social arrangements, ecological practices and ways of life must be reinvented. 

The selected contributions in this book valorise and bring to the fore a multiplicity of heterodox experiences, policies, concepts and practices that are creating new worlds in innovative and socially just ways, and bear the potential of becoming building blocks of sustainable food planning for a resourceful, agroecological urbanism. They also include critical reflections on how current mainstream approaches to food production, food strategies and urban agriculture can be/are being radically transformed into tools for resourcefulness. 

Tornaghi, C., Dehaene M. (eds.) (2021), Resourcing an Agroecological Urbanism. Political, Transformational and Territorial Dimensions. London: routledge. (250pp.; ebook £31.49; Paperback: £34.99)