Natural rubber is a vital resource for any developed country and is used in over 40,000 commercial products. By 2020 the USA may suffer a supply shortfall of 1.5 million metric tons of imported natural rubber. While the use of synthetic rubber has surpassed natural rubber in quantity, there are particular properties and high-performance applications that make natural rubber irreplaceable by synthetic rubber. The Ohio State College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences plant biologist Katrina Cornish spoke recently at TEDx about her work to establish natural rubber alternatives produced in the United States. Follow this link to learn more. Follow this link to watch the presentation.
If the food system needs water and energy, then food policy should pay attention to these resources. Research into the interconnections, and possible trade-offs, between the three basic resources for human activities has boomed over the last few years. Because resources are flowing from the hinterland to the city, the authors insist that any resource planning should look beyond the city borders. In other words, urban infrastructure planning is no longer about planning for the city only. They highlight that “the impacts of cities outside of their immediate geographies and their relationship with Food-Energy-Water resources must be considered in the planning and policy.” Here, a key point is to pay attention to infrastructure, and, more specifically, to adopt an integrated approach to infrastructure planning. The more integrated the planning, the better. The authors quote Integrated Water Resources Management as a good example of a holistic approach to resource planning. So, to ensure their future food supply, cities should take a double step back, and understand that their urban food strategy is not only about food, and it is not only about the city. Follow this link to learn more.
As of today, 138 cities have formally announced 100% renewable energy goals or targets, while others are actively considering similar goals. Cities have a wide variety of renewable energy procurement options to help them achieve their goals. One such option available to cities is leveraging an electric franchise agreement to partner with their local utility on new renewable energy projects or programs. New National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) research provides the first available analysis of franchise agreements nationwide. The analysis evaluates the extent to which municipalities have the authority to enter franchise agreements, how many have pursued additional energy objectives in or alongside their agreements, and to what effect. From a dataset of over 3,500 franchise agreements, the authors conclude that cities in 30 states have the opportunity to pursue franchise agreements, while municipalities in 20 states may be prohibited or otherwise precluded from pursuing this option. Follow this link to learn more.
Roland Ebel of the Sustainable Food Systems Program at Montana State University conducted a research project to determine the extent to which an ancient Aztec agricultural technique could benefit 21st century horticultural needs. Ebel examined the use of “chinampas” with the hope of discovering their modern utility. A chinampa is a raised field on a small artificial island on a freshwater lake (usually surrounded by canals and ditches), where vegetables can be produced year round. The irrigation needs of chinampas is low and the productivity extremely high. Chinampas provide fresh produce for a megacity such as Mexico City and are conceivable around many of today’s exploding urban areas. Ebel’s findings are illustrated in the article Chinampas: An Urban Farming Model of the Aztecs and a Potential Solution for Modern Megalopolis “Today, many cities face very similar challenges as Mexico City did 700 years ag – a rapidly growing population, and less and less arable land available for food production. Highly intensive production systems with low resource demand are, therefore, a strategic goal of urban agriculture developers. Thus, while most strategists emphasize high-tech solutions such as complex vertical farms, I think it is worthwhile to learn from the achievements of our ancestors,” states Ebel. Follow this link to read more.
Coordinated by graduate student Hannah Whitley in Penn State’s Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, the Female Farmer Photovoice Project explores how socially constructed identities complicate barriers and opportunities for urban growers and connect to broader institutional inequities that perpetuate these problems. This past spring, 18 female urban agriculturalists were given disposable cameras and asked to take pictures that “tell their story” of urban agriculture. After three weeks of picture taking, participants met for a reflection meeting to share their photos, select which ones they wanted to share with the public, create titles, and write narratives for their photographs. These images and stories now are displayed on the project website’s digital gallery, www.thefemalefarmerphotovoiceproject.org, and in an exhibition that will travel across Pennsylvania and the Northeast this year. Whitley said she hopes the project will raise awareness of the importance of this kind of research. Follow this link to learn more.
At the top of a three-story building in Hong Kong, with car horns blasting on the streets below, Jim Fung teaches a dozen students how to thin out choi sum vegetables. “Always use the resources you have,” the instructor said as he placed shredded office paper into soil-filled plastic crates and wound string around bamboo sticks to make support frames. Fung was coaching the first cohort of students in an academy run by social enterprise Rooftop Republic to teach a new generation of urban farmers as demand for their skills soars. The organization is spearheading a movement to turn Hong Kong’s idle rooftops and urban spaces into farms to help residents reconnect with nature and make the finance hub more livable. Follow this link to learn more.
Across the country, local leaders are recognizing the benefits of reaching across jurisdictions to address climate issues. While regional collaborations of any kind can be challenging, elected officials and their staff know that social, economic, infrastructural, and ecological systems transcend city and county lines. Local leaders are partnering with academic institutions, nonprofits, regional planning councils, and other metro-regional stakeholders. Currently, there are at least 17 regional climate coalitions in the U.S. In early 2019, Council Member Lindsey Constance of Shawnee, Kansas, and Mayor Mike Kelly of Roeland Park, Kansas, took up this challenge, initiating The Metro Kansas City Climate Action Coalition with the goal of assembling elected leaders from the bi-state region to “draw down greenhouse gases, improve climate resilience, and generate corresponding economic, social, health, and quality of life benefits.” Follow this link to learn more.
The fingerprints of the digital revolution are becoming increasingly evident in the work of urban planning. Big data, the internet of things, and sensor networks offer new ways for urban managers to make informed decisions. Autonomous vehicles and drones will change mobility infrastructure in cities. The availability of satellite imagery and digital urban maps are revolutionizing the way that city extensions are planned to ensure job proximity for new urban residents and improved transportation. The sharing economy is creating new job opportunities and ways to make business as cities become increasingly dynamic. In recognizing the potential of digital technologies to contribute to urban sustainability, the UN’s New Urban Agenda asks member states to commit to “adopting a smart-city approach that makes use of opportunities from digitization, clean energy, and technologies.” Follow this link to learn more.