Strathcona close to winning $80,000 Aviva Community Fund -BUT

They still need some votes FROM YOU. Before reading further, if you want to live/work/play in or just see a greener healthier Strathcona then click here, then spread the word and make it happen! The deadline for the contest is on the 15th and Strathcona is VERY CLOSE to making the cut. If you want to know what all the excitement is about here’s what the $80,000 would go towards:

  • Edible plants would provide new opportunities for local food production. Using native plants would reduce the resources required for their maintenance thus minimizing the ecological footprint of each garden.
  • By creating micro gardens in Strathcona more green space would be accessible throughout the neighbourhood.
  • This project would also reduce spaces available for criminal activity through the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. A public place that lacks significant ownership interest is often perceived by some as places where criminal activity is supported. By converting underutilized spaces into gardens, the BIA would help reduce areas that encourage crime.
  • The most profound benefit of this project would be the generation of green jobs for individuals with job readiness barriers and inner city youth. The youth will gain tangible job experience

Let’s make it happen! All it takes is a click of the mouse (and sending of a link).

Wes

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A green roof economy: the fourth agricultural revolution?

Whoa Wes! That’s a bit of a stretch now isn’t it? Well, maybe, but who got anywhere by thinking small? (Aside from nano-scientists).

When one thinks of all the arable land that we’ve paved over, or otherwise rendered unusable, it might seem like a staggering amount. Concrete jungles like New York, Mumbai and Tokyo extend as far as the eye can see with parking lots, buildings and freeways, but urban development only accounts for 2% of covered arable land. (Simmonds, I G (1989), Changing the Face of the Earth: Culture, Environment, History, Blackwell, Oxford, UK.) Yes that’s right, I’m actually going to reference books in this post, shocking I realize. When one thinks about how many mega cities we see sprawling over the horizon (over 400 cities with populations above 1 million), combined with the fact that we’re seeing a continued global migration to these cities one might worry that even more arable land will come under threat; but cities are actually a far more efficient and less environmentally damaging organizational structure than many might think. They’re compact, often vertical, and efficiently designed along grids, or with clear pathways and economical correlations of related services and goods.  However, cities also act like a vacuum, sucking in resources and using vast external parcels of land to create food, rubber, clothing, energy and everything else needed to keep them running. This is what we’ve come to consider more closely over the past fifteen or so years, thanks to the creative and groundbreaking concept of the Ecological Footprint (no pun intended).The Ecological Footprint concept originated right here in Vancouver in fact,  through the research of UBC professor William Rees and then graduate student Mathis Wackernagel.

The real challenge with cities isn’t so much the 2% of land they take up, it’s that roughly 40% of the rest of the Earth’s land surface is presently used for cropland and pasture to feed these cities. This is an estimated 1.3 × 107 km2 of cropland and 3.4 × 107 km2 of pastureland. And every day the produce and livestock from this 40% takes a huge amount of energy in the form of fossil fuels (to maintain operations, to fertilize) and then gets carted away (using more fossil fuels) far away, to where an increasingly urbanized population awaits it. So where’s the most efficient place to start solving the problem? The 40% of supporting land or the 2% itself where those resources end up? I think the answer is pretty clear, and this is why the head of campaigns for the World Wildlife Fund, Colin Butfield, stated that “The battle for the environment will be won or lost in our cities“.

In the final analysis, if the reader will excuse my oversimplification of our relationship with nature, what we need from the environment is water, food and shelter (and some would argue its awe inspiring beauty!). I take this to mean that if these things we need from the environment to survive are as such, and the battle for this will be won or lost in our cities then the only battle option we really have is full surrender. We’ve proven that we can’t beat the environment, so we might as well join it. Our cities cannot just take sustenance, they have to give it, becoming the environment itself from which we draw our energy and food. The separation of urban and agricultural spaces can’t likely continue without drastic consequences. And more and more people have come to realize this.

Urban agriculture was once an idea passionately held by a few, now it’s one passionately held by many. And that support is growing fast as the aesthetic value of green roofs and quality of produce and goods grown from urban agriculture has continued to contributed to the increasing livability and enjoyability of city-life. So does this mean another agricultural revolution is brewing? Is this once radical idea now becoming the norm in western society? I’d wager to say that because of the leadership of cities like Chicago, New York, Portland and Vancouver, that is more a possibility than ever. In fact, it has been the norm in many European cities for decades now.

We’ve given a lot of attention to SOLEfood inner-city farm here on the GTIC blog lately, and deservedly so, as urban agriculture is gaining momentum in Vancouver thanks to initiatives like SOLEfood.  The build out of the 2nd SOLEfood farm on the rooftop parkade of 211 East Georgia St. (this Saturday May 8th) will create the second intensive food producing parcel of land in this growing urban network of farms, and this one is  a rooftop project.

Uncommon Ground, a fantastic restaurant in Chicago with its own 100% certified organic rooftop vegetable farm

Rooftop farms in Chicago and other major cities have also become increasingly popular, growing quality fresh food right in the middle of the market. It’s estimated that the urban spaces we’ve created can produce enough food to feed nearly 100 million people  (Simmonds ,1989) but this is a high benchmark, in reality the number would likely be smaller as not every owner of a commercial building or home necessarily wants a farm or green roof, let alone a farm roof, and not every parking lot will be transformed into cropland. It’s estimated that 30% of Vancouver’s urban space is take up by buildings, meaning 30% of its space has a potentially usable rooftop to grow green media or even food, how much brownfield and abandoned lot space can we add to that?  So maybe we can make Simmonds’ number a more realistic 30 to 40 million if we use Vancouver’s percentage of rooftop space (and an undetermined estimate of brownfield/lot space) as a benchmark.  This is a blog post, not a thesis, so forgive some of the speculation but I’m concerned with both facts and the ideas too at this point, the productive capacity of urban farming is only one component or benefit attached to these ideas.

Growing food in urban places has numerous other benefits beyond adding to total food volume on the market, that help to reduce strain on our planet and its resources.

Growing food directly where the market is situated eliminates the need for fossil fuels to be used in transportation, and it encourages growers to use sustainable organic farming techniques as crop yields are smaller, eliminating the need for industrial fertilizers, crop dusting, and other forms of agro-chemical management; which would not be allowed in densely populated areas anyhow (or so we would hope).

Because the food grown is closer to market it also eliminates the need for preservatives, waxes, wrapping and packaging and will drastically reduce spoilage from transportation or storage. Further to this, a mixed media farm roof, just like a green roof, will also reduce noise pollution, filter particulate matter in the air, cool a building in the summer and keep it warmer in the winter and make urban spaces that much more attractive. To what extent though, needs to be studied in a similar way that green roofs have recently been. And if  the transformation of our urban spaces takes place on the level it will likely need to, in order to reduce our footprints and make our cities sustainable, then massive potential for economic activity and job creation exists. Will this be the fourth agricultural revolution? A green roof economy? A new era of utilitarian urban ecology?  Some other fancy shmancy overly academic term?

Only if more people continue to get involved!

So if you’d like to get involved with urban agriculture and join the revolution come down to the SOLEfood urban farm network’s build out of the newest farming space in our city, atop 211 East Georgia Street, the afternoon of Saturday May 8th, 1:30 to 4:30.

For more information on Green Roofs.

More information on urban agriculture. And here too.

More information on green collar jobs.

For more information on Vancouver’s Innner-City