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Urban farms are lovely but they aren’t actually green says environmentalist

A small farm in Woodside, Queens, grows vegetables along the right-of-way of the Long Island Railroad. Photo by Richard B. Levine.

New York doesn’t need more farms to be sustainable, it needs more apartments, more offices, more factories, more skyscrapers

By Will Boisvert
New York Observer


Consider some iconic acre of Brooklyn vacant lot. You could grow food on it—or you could throw up a 30-story apartment complex housing 600 people. That’s 600 people who won’t be settling in low-density exurbs where they would be smeared across 60 acres of subdivision; in turn, those 60 acres of vacant exurb could remain farmland or forest. Using communal laundromats and lacking basements to put junk in, those new Brooklynites would lead lives of anti-consumerism. And because they would use mass transit instead of driving everywhere, their carbon footprints would be roughly a third as large as the average American’s.

That fundamental land-use equation is the key to understanding how cities promote global sustainability. By concentrating high-density housing, business and lifestyles inside its borders, New York lifts enormous burdens from the ecosystem outside its borders, but that potential is squandered when we consign pristine brownfields to low-density crop-growing. We may root for the community gardeners in their eternal battle with real-estate developers, but it’s the developers who are, despite themselves, the better environmentalists.

Read the complete article here.


1 Nevin Cohen { 06.24.13 at 9:00 am }

The writer ignores the multi-dimensional benefits of urban agriculture and suggests that proponents of urban agriculture believe it can supplant conventional agriculture. In fact, we need a mix of local and distant food production and we need cities that have productive open space, not merely high rise apartments. New York City is an example of how urban agriculture can address many civic needs, from nutrition education to stormwater retention, while fitting into the urban fabric in creative ways. Look at Via Verde, in the Bronx, an affordable housing project with a rooftop community garden and orchard; Corbin Hill Road Farmshare, a CSA for very low-income residents; and East New York Farms, whose farmers market is a distribution channel for both Brooklyn-grown and regionally-grown produce.

2 Randy Chatterjee { 07.01.13 at 4:28 pm }

What kind of leap of faith does one have to make to assume that 600 people who might choose to live on this particular lot in the city will otherwise live in suburban sprawl? And will this new 30-story tower be built with no carbon footprint of its own? The US is so overbuilt with housing that these 600 people would most likely find the cheapest and lowest carbon footprint living in a home that is already there. Urban living imposes a huge cost, footprint, and unresilience associated with imported food, high public safety and schooling costs, and localized natural disasters.
What does it say that global climate change really began to accelerate once mankind became urban. To be sure, industrialism was the root cause, but cities are more dependant on imported everything than anywhere else. City residents also use vastly more resources than those in the country, and even many suburbs.