Can our cities ever be self-sustaining?
ABC Environment by Sue White
August 30, 2011
"The humble backyard vegie patch is back in vogue in the suburbs of Australia. But can growing spuds and greens in the cities really avert a coming food crisis?
"WE HAVE TWO SETS of needs as humans...sociability and sustenance," says Carolyn Steel, author of Hungry City and lecturer at Cambridge University. "They are in conflict, because the more we cluster together in villages, towns and eventually cities, the further we get from our sources of sustenance."
According to the United Nations Population Fund, more than 50 per cent of humanity now lives in cities and that figure is rising. But while cities are good at generating jobs and providing us with social stimulation, they're less effective at providing food or recycling their energy, water and nutrients.
"The people who plan cities are ignorant when it comes what human beings need for survival...Cities are quite good at providing water; they are hopeless at providing food," says author of The Coming Famine, Julian Cribb.
Rapid urbanisation means the situation needs to change, and fast. "By 2030 there'll be many cities with 30 million people. If those cities produce none of their own food, they're totally dependent on a river of trucks. If that river fails [due to an oil crisis, a local war, or a disaster like the Queensland floods] those cities would be starving within three days," Cribb says.
"If we can get the world's cities back to producing 20, 30 or even 40 per cent of their own food, and only relying on the landscape for the balance, we'll have a more sustainable agriculture and more sustainable cities," Cribb says.
To get there, Cribb believes we need to put in place an array of urban food producing industries and activities. But while governments lag behind, resident of the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, Michael Mobbs needs no convincing. After taking his inner city terrace off the grid in the late 1990s, Mobbs soon realised his house was sustainable but his belly wasn't.
"My house saves 100,000 litres of water a year, but eating the typical Australian diet means there's over 100,000 litres of water in my food every 10 days. I realised I needed to grow or buy my food locally. Living in a small terrace I was compelled to go onto the street," he says.
Mobbs soon found others wanted in. "Neighbours were attracted to it and inspired; it wasn't my plan."
It is now. Chippendale residents have planted out six city blocks with food; provided the suburb's 4,000 residents with community composting; and planted over 200 fruit trees, herbs and plants across the 32 hectare suburb. It's just the start, especially now that Mobbs' local council, City of Sydney, has recognised the value of planting the streets with food. "The General Manager came out and walked the streets and saw it as a no-brainer," he says." Read the Full Article