Thursday, March 11, 2010

Carolyn Steel: How food shapes our cities

Here is the brief description and link to the video I shall review in this post:

Cities have lead to mankind distancing itself from nature. As more people move into cities more land is turned to grain fields. Feeding the 6 billion people in the world has lead to 19 million hectares of rain forest being destroyed to make way for farming. even then we do not spread the food around properly. About 1 billion people are obese while about 1 billion starve. Not a good ratio. About half the food in the U.S. gets thrown out rather than eaten.

How did this come about? Well according to Carolyn Steel about 10,000 years ago in a far eastern area called the fertile crescent (due to the areas shape). Here two world changing inventions cam about; Agriculture and urbanism. The discovery of grain as a high yield and stable food source lead to the establishment of permanent settlements possible. These settlements revolved around grain and the harvest. An example of how large settlements in ancient times were able to feed themselves is Rome. Access to water allowed for food to be transported over vast distances quickly so that food would not spoil.

17th century London was built around food routes. The area of the city by the river Thames was all docks and grain and fish markets. Once food routes are established in cities they rarely ever move. Meat is the exception as in pre-industrial time animals literally walked into the city. In any pre-industrial city plan you can see how they were built around food routes by streets named after food an so forth.

ironically some of the first passengers on when trains came about were pigs, sheep and poultry as railways allowed for food to be transported across land very quickly. This allowed for cities to be built almost anywhere and grow to any size. The picture at 9:00 shows how with the coming of the railway between 1840 and 1929 London grew to three times its original size (fires not withstanding).

The final emancipation of man cities from any relationship with nature came with the advent of the car. Now people didn't need to live near markets or near any smell associated with food. they could drive to market and back home again. This has lead to mankind alienating ourselves from nature and losing respect for food. We no longer smell or examine food to see if its fresh, we look at the label. if it does not look or seem right to use we simply throw it away. We are now dependent on system run by companies to access food, so while they promise easier access to food, it has actually become more difficult via the systems we have to go through. Ironic.

An author 500 years ago named Thomas Moore wondered what we could do about mankind separating itself from nature. In his book Utopia he gives and example of a series of semi-independent city-states that were within walking distance of each other. Everyone grew food in their backyard and hand community dinners. The problem with this example and others is that they are Utopian, a Greek word meaning either "good place" or "no place". These examples are not real, only imaginary and only in concepts. Carolyn Steel has come up with an alternative: Sitopia or "food place" (from the Greek word for food sitos, and place topos). This is because she believes (and I agree) that we live in a world shaped by food and we can use food as a powerful concept and design tool for shaping our cities.

One project mentioned is a greenhouse in Toronto where kids are taught about food and how to grow it. This helps reconnect people with nature. Once we start doing this on alarger scale we can turn cities from crowded unproductive areas into a balance of metropolis and nature. A main concept behind this is If the City looks after the Country, thr Country looks after the City.

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