A new term is introduced in this article: “urbaculture”. Based on the idea of permaculture (a neologism created by the combination of “permanent” (as in sustainable) and “agriculture”, created in the 1970s to encourage sustainable agriculture developments), “urbaculture” is the permaculture for the city dwellers. Observing how climate change and population growth are dangerously increasing the resource consumption, the article covers various solutions as to what can be done to prevent this from happening.
Approach One of the main issues related to this topic is the lack of knowledge of where food comes from, and the lack of interest. Made worse by climate change, population growth and serious resource consumption, there is a need to reconnect with what we eat and where it comes from. It has been proved many times that it is unsustainable for the world to continue growing and consuming at the current rate. Unfortunately, as Richard Eckersley says, the reaction of people in this situation can manifest itself in three different ways: nihilism (“it is all hopeless so let’s enjoy ourselves while we can”), fundamentalism (falling back on religion), and activism (“there is hope if we apply ourselves to the problem with sufficient urgency”).
Scale Rob Hopkins introduced the concept of Transition referring to the radical change we are going to have to make in wealthy countries in our lifestyle to respond to these issues. The Transitions Town Initiative sets out strategies for regions, countries, cities or even neighbourhoods to transform themselves and become a carbon-neutral society. Hopkins sees it as a “catalyst for community-led responses”.
Program One of the main suggestions made is that we should eat less meat. As pointed out by Geoff Russell in his recent CSIRO research, “Australia’s meat industry generates more greenhouse gases than the transport sector”. The other suggestion is to create a green revolution, promoting the idea of organic-vegetable growing and urban agriculture.
How Some actions have already started to take place. San Francisco established a Food Policy Council in 2009, with representatives from the mayor’s office, members of the parks department, local restaurants and retail food industry. The Department of Recreation and Parks coordinate urban agriculture, food production and horticulture education within the city. Examples within Australia: Brisbane City Council has a vision for creating “Food in the City” by providing grants for community gardens across the city, and they are considering a new policy for street trees where they can be productive food trees. One of the best examples here in Australia is the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, teaching primary-school students how to grow and use vegetables as part of their school education.
Challenges and Opportunities In order to make a difference we have to change our way of doing things, and we have to act at community level. The article specifies it very well: “We need to learn how to live locally, to eat less meat, and grow our own fruit and vegetables a lot nearer to home than we do at present”. Virginia Balfour suggests bringing food production and food education into our cities by using part of the public parks and gardens. The same way as Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens were originally set up as experimental gardens to determine the suitability for crops and plants for the local climate, she proposes to use public spaces to grow food and educate the communities on how to grow their own organic vegetables. Conscious that it is a small action compared to what really has to be done to address climate change; she considers it a first little step that can be done not only to try and solve the problem, but also to educate the people in the process.