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How Mayan civilization can inspire contemporary urban food security

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Urban gardens, agriculture, and water management: Sources of resilience for long-term food security in cities

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Barthel, S. and Isendahl, C. (2012). Urban Gardens, Agricultures and Waters: Sources of Resilience for Long-Term Food Security in Cities. Ecological Economics-in press. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.06.018

Excerpt:

Barthel and Isendahl show how urban gardens, agriculture and water management contributed to long-term food security, and in particular the importance of social memory to uphold such practices.

The idea of drawing on experiences from a civilization with its heyday more than a millennium ago may appear far-fetched, but in a time when skills related to local food and water management are rapidly vanishing, there are things to be learned from the Maya.

Barthel and Isendahl warn that we are experiencing a “global generational amnesia” about how to grow food more locally. Furthermore, agricultural production is not “the antithesis of the city”, but often an integrated urban activity that contribute to the resilience of cities.

“The historical and archaeological record from the Maya civilization offers important insights on urban food systems,” Stephan Barthel says.

Despite two millennia of urban growth, decline and reorganization, the basic building block of Maya cities remained the urban farmstead. These are found consistently throughout the Maya civilization irrespective of city sizes.

The Maya agriculture was highly diverse and spatially complex regionally, sub-regionally, and within each city, all the way down to the neighbourhood and household levels.

Read the complete article here.

Urban gardens, agriculture, and water management: Sources of resilience for long-term food security in cities

Abstract

Food security has always been a key resilience facet for people living in cities. This paper discusses lessons for food security from historic and prehistoric cities. The Chicago school of urban sociology established a modernist understanding of urbanism as an essentialist reality separate from its larger life-support system. However, different urban histories have given rise to a remarkable spatial diversity and temporal variation viewed at the global and long-term scales that are often overlooked in urban scholarship. Drawing on two case studies from widely different historical and cultural contexts – the Classic Maya civilization of the late first millennium AD and Byzantine Constantinople – this paper demonstrates urban farming as a pertinent feature of urban support systems over the long-term and global scales. We show how urban gardens, agriculture, and water management as well as the linked social–ecological memories of how to uphold such practices over time have contributed to long-term food security during eras of energy scarcity. We exemplify with the function of such local blue–green infrastructures during chocks to urban supply lines. We conclude that agricultural production is not “the antithesis of the city,” but often an integrated urban activity that contribute to the resilience of cities.

Highlights
This paper applies a resilience lens on a millennial scale to analyze food security in cities.
Pre-Columbian Maya cities lacked energy-efficient transportation networks of foodstuffs.
In Maya cities the urban farmstead garden was a key device for a resilient food security.
Medieval Constantinople relied on technologies of sea born trade, cut off every 65 years.
Both stimulated social–ecological memories of food production closer to the consumer.

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