Fish tacos, vegan cupcakes, gourmet pizzas, and barbeque ribs, all served from the confines of cramped, idling, and often garishly painted trucks. These food trucks are becoming increasingly common sights in many cities throughout the United States such as Boston, MA, Washington D.C., and Chicago, Ill. Within the past few years, urban dwellers have flocked to these new businesses on wheels to get their fix of food that is inventive, authentic, and often inexpensive. In cities like Portland, OR and Los Angeles, CA, however, mobile food vending is less of a recent phenomenon. In Los Angeles, the Latino/a immigrant population brought with it the street food traditions of many countries, in the form of lonchera taco trucks. And Portland’s relaxed permitting processes have meant that it has a storied history of mobile food vending.
I’m a Senior Scholar at The Center for Humans and Nature which is based in Chicago. Recently, they asked for my response to the question “How is nature critical to a 21st century urban ethic?” I replied that before I answer, I first need to ask the more fundamental question: “What is nature and how is it constructed by people in our increasingly different and diverse urban communities?” Read my full response here
This blog posting is a quick introduction to some research Tufts student Leah Lazer and I are carrying out. The project will focus on policy and planning tools and techniques that cities can use to promote the sale of fresh, healthy food at corner stores in low-income and minority communities in order to increase food access and food security for local residents. Based on a literature review, review of planning and policy reports, news articles and in-person interviews, we will examine which tools work best within city-specific contexts of budget constraints, density and zoning, pre-existing infrastructure, the characteristics of the target beneficiaries, and more.
2013 marks ten years since the publication of Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World, edited by myself, Bob Bullard and Bob Evans. In the book we broke new ground by embarking on a sustainability and sustainable development-based discourse, but one that focused explicitly on equity and justice – on the inextricable links between environmental quality and human equality.
We opened the book as follows: “In recent years it has become increasingly apparent that the issue of environmental quality is inextricably linked to that of human equality. Wherever in the world environmental despoilation and degradation is happening, it is almost always linked to questions of social justice, equity, rights and people’s quality of life in its widest sense.”
Part 2 Opportunities: Designing, planning and maintaining culturally inclusive spaces
Despite the conceptual challenges I mentioned in my last blog Interculturalism and culturally inclusive space I, public spaces can be sites of huge intercultural opportunity. They may be the only sites where various groups interact at all and organised events, such as soccer matches, festivals or youth group events may offer important opportunities for inter-group contact (Dines and Cattrell 2006) and for generating shared experiences (Lownsbrough and Beunderman 2007). People who have emigrated from one country and culture to another tend to use public open spaces and parks to gather and congregate in ways that are reminiscent of their home country, transforming the parks of their adoptive community into familiar spaces. People grow attached to spaces, their aromas, textures and the overall ‘feel’ of a space.
Part 1 Challenges: Contact, conflict, separation, segregation.
In my blog Cities of (in)Difference I discussed Bloomfield and Bianchini’s (2002, p. 6) intercultural dream where “different cultures intersect, ‘contaminate’ each other and hybridise.” Clearly parks, public spaces and streets have a role to play in this. Unfortunately however, culturally inclusive spaces, those designed intentionally around the recognition of difference, diversity, and cultural heterogeneity have neither been a major focus of study in the planning literature nor are they well understood by practicing urban designers, planners and policy makers (Kumar and Martin 2004).
Orientation at NYC’s Flip the Table Youth Food Council (Credit: Mara Gittleman)
“Youth are prominent in the food justice movement today. This isn’t just because they are ‘included’ as afterthoughts to existing projects and programs. They lead and have their own, independent voice.” (Steel 2010). Many food justice organizations, sustainable farming projects or garden based education initiatives are connected to youth development programs. As children and young adults have become increasingly disconnected from their food sources, and as obesity and Type II diabetes become increasingly prevalent in young people, these programs provide a host of benefits for the participants and communities involved. Further, more than just participants along for the ride, young people have demonstrated tremendous initiative and leadership within just and sustainable food movements. However, considering that the food justice movement has touted itself as a diverse, inclusive movement where everyone may have a seat at the table, youth voices have been relatively absent from the food policy discourse.
It occurred to me recently that in the two years that I’ve been blogging, I’d never ‘set out my stall’ as it were, on my take on just sustainabilities. Each of my blog posts explore a part of the whole. So here goes on a broader framework. But be aware this is a teaser! The full version is in my forthcoming book Introducing Just Sustainabilities: Policy, Planning and Practice (Zed Books).