Food in the New Urban Agenda

The question of how food and nutrition should be positioned within the New Urban Agenda was the subject of a meeting of experts at the United Nations on May 12, 2016 that resulted in a detailed set of recommendations. On June 18, 2016, a Habitat III preparatory committee released a revised zero draft of the New Urban Agenda that included some, though not all of the expert group’s suggestions. The following are excerpts from the draft that address food security, hunger, nutrition, and urban and regional food systems. Comments on the zero draft are being accepted until July 4, 2016:


Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All


Shared Vision

We envisage cities and human settlements that: 
(a) fulfill their social function, including the social function of land, ensuring the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing, as well as equal access for all to public goods and services, food security and nutrition, quality and accessible public spaces, livelihoods and decent work.


Sustainable Urban Development for Social Inclusion and Poverty Eradication

We commit to ensure equitable and affordable access to basic physical and social infrastructure for all, including affordable serviced land, housing, energy, safe drinking water and sanitation, nutritious food, waste disposal, mobility, health, education, culture and information and communication technologies. We further commit to provide that these services are gender-sensitive and responsive to the rights and needs of children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, and other people in vulnerable situations such as refugees, displaced persons and migrants, with no legal, institutional or socio-economic, nor physical barriers.


Environmentally Sound and Resilient Urban Development

We commit to promote the creation of well-connected and well-distributed networks of open, multi- purpose, safe and green public spaces, including the creation of ecological corridors, to improve the resilience of cities to disasters and climate change, reducing flood risks and heat waves, and improving food security and nutrition, physical and mental health, household and ambient air quality, and attractive and livable urban landscapes.


We commit to give particular consideration to urban deltas, coastal areas and other environmentally sensitive areas, highlighting their importance as ecosystems’ providers of significant resources for transport, food security, economic prosperity, ecosystem services and resilience, and integrate appropriate measures to factor them into sustainable urban planning and development.


We commit to support local provision of basic services, leveraging on the proximity of resources, recognizing that a heavy reliance on distant sources of energy, water, food, and materials pose sustainability challenges, including vulnerability to service supply disruptions.


We commit to strengthening the of resources like land, water, energy, materials, food, oceans and seas, freshwater resources as well as the production and environmentally sound management of waste, minimization of hazardous chemicals, and the mitigation of emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, taking into consideration urban-rural linkages, functional supply and value chains in the full-range of resource requirements vis-à-vis the environmental impact and sustainability, striving to a progressive transition towards a circular economy.


Planning and Managing Urban Spatial Development

We will implement polycentric and balanced territorial development policies and plans, strengthening the role of small and intermediate cities in enhancing food security and nutrition systems, providing access to housing, infrastructure and services, and facilitate effective trade links, ensuring that small scale farmers are linked to larger supply chains. We will also support urban agriculture and farming as an option to contribute to food security.


We will promote the integration of food and nutrition needs of urban residents, particularly the urban poor, in urban development planning, contributing to the elimination of hunger and malnutrition. We will promote coordination of food security and agriculture policies across rural, peri-urban, and urban areas to facilitate the production, storage, transport, and marketing of food to consumers. We will further promote the coordination of food policies with energy, water, transport, and other policies in urban areas to maximize efficiencies and minimize waste, recognizing the food-water-energy nexus. 


Calorie Labeling Regs Finalized


On Monday, December 1, 2014, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) published its final rule requiring nearly 300,000 retail food establishments and approximately 9,000 operators of food vending machines to post calorie counts at the point of sale, and provide additional nutrition information. The regulation, required by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, is designed to enable consumers to make better decisions about their diets by giving them calorie information about the food they consume away from home at the moment they make decisions about what to order.

The regulation is an effort to stem the health problems associated with overweight and obesity. In the US, 34% of adults are obese, and 34% are overweight. Among children and adolescents (2-19 years old), nearly a third are overweight or obese. Targeting restaurants (and cafes, grocers, vending machines and other places to buy ready-to-eat food) is critical because Americans consume an increasing percentage of their daily calories away from home — up from 18% in the 1970s to about 1/3 today. Moreover, the meals we buy ready-made away from home are higher in calories than those prepared from scratch at home (134 more calories/meal for those purchased by non-overweight consumers and 239 more for those purchased by obese consumers). (For sources see the Regulatory Impact Analysis of the rules.)

An article published by Reuters today noted that in assessing its costs and benefits, the FDA included the estimated loss of benefits to consumers as they switch from higher to lower calorie foods. FDA estimated that disclosing calorie information would mean lost benefits (or “consumer surplus”) in the range of $2.2 billion to $5.27 billion because there would be a reduction in food dollars spent as the posted calorie information encouraged consumers to switch to lower calorie menu items. This dollar value of reduced consumption of higher calorie food is considered a “cost” in the analysis because the shift in spending is attributed to lost utility (or value and pleasure) to the consumer reflected by our purchasing choices, rather than a gain in satisfaction, taste, pleasure, mental health, and estimated future life benefits that consumers may derive from lower calorie options (or by not purchasing an order of fries at all).

It seems to be a mis-application of the concept of consumer surplus to treat a shift to healthier eating as a consumer loss rather than an indication that consumers derive greater benefits — psychic, gustatory, and health-wise — from eating lower calorie items rather than higher calorie items. Willingness to pay for high calorie food in the absence of information about the caloric content of that food doesn’t indicate consumers are deriving “consumer surplus” by eating that food.

Despite the inclusion of this measure of consumer surplus loss in the cost-benefit analysis, the estimated benefits of the calorie labeling requirement still exceed their costs by $477.9 million over 20 years (at a discount rate of 7%). The regulations are set to take effect a year from now.


NYS Legislation to Help Beginning Farmers

In 2012, the average farmer in the was 58.3 years old. Farming is a difficult and often unprofitable business, and transferring farmland can be complex and costly.  These and other obstacles, like the high capital costs of farm equipment, prevent young people from entering farming, making regional food systems vulnerable as existing farm operators retire.

To address the problem of farmland access, the NYS Assembly and Senate have passed legislation (A. 7002/ S. 5377) that would: (1) require state agencies to identify state land that is viable for farming that could be sold or leased for that purpose; and (2) require the state’s Agriculture Advisory Council to provide advice to state agencies on tax, financial assistance and other programs that could address the needs of beginning farmers.  The National Young Farmers Coalition, American Farmland Trust and Agrarian Trust are lobbying to ensure that Governor Cuomo signs the legislation into law.


Report on Double-Up Food Bucks Program

The Fair Food Network released a new report on the five-year growth of its double-up food bucks program, which provides a one-to-one subsidy for consumers who use their SNAP benefits at farmers markets (and now select grocers). More than $5 million in SNAP + double-up benefits have been spent at Michigan markets as a result of the program, enabling 10,000 Michigan residents who rely on SNAP benefits to begin shopping at farmers markets for the first time in 2013. The concept has expanded nationwide with the support of other NGOs and city health departments.

New Report on NYC’s "Public Plate"

A new report by the NYC Food Policy Center analyzes the processes by which NYC sources and serves the 260 million meals and snacks served annually in schools, jails, and various social service programs.  This “public plate” (c.f. Kevin Morgan) could provide better nutrition, help reduce food insecurity, create jobs, and support a more resilient and robust regional foodshed. Among the report’s policy recommendations are:
1. Strengthening the Office of the Food Policy Coordinator by providing more staff to monitor public food procurement and provision;
2. Updating food standards;
3. Improving data collection and reporting on the city’s compliance with existing nutrition standards and providing procurement information to better track how much is being spent to purchase food;
4. Expanding participation in federal child nutrition programs by using a federal option to provide school lunch free to all children in low-income neighborhoods, and by implementing breakfast in the classroom across the school system;
5. Advocating for improvements to and expansion of the Federal Child Nutrition programs scheduled for reauthorization in 2015;
6. Assessing the meals provided by various food vendors;
7. Scrutinizing the costs of prices obtained by contractors.
8. Involving those consumers of public food in menu planning and program delivery,;
9. Strengthening the capacity of foodservice workers;
10. Expanding procurement of local food by building menus around what is produced in the region rather than establishing menus and then searching for available local food;
11. Advancing food education;
12. Supporting mission-driven community based catering and food processing organizations; and
13. Identifying the need for new kitchen capacity to support an improved foodservice program.


FoodWorks Update

On September 4, the New York City Council Speaker (and Mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn released an update toFoodWorks, the Council’s food policy platform. The update reviews recent accomplishments and recommends new policies to improve the city’s food system. Here are a handful of highlights, some related to City Council laws, some Council-funded projects run by non-profits, and others initiatives of the Bloomberg Administration:
  • Pursuant to Local Law 48 of 2011, which required the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to create an online, public database of vacant city-owned property that includes an assessment for urban agriculture, more than 100 properties have been identified as potentially suitable for food production.
  • Local Law 49 of 2011 and the City Planning Department’s 2012 “Zone Green” zoning
 text amendments waived floor area and height limits for certain rooftop greenhouses, making it easier for building owners to install rooftop farms.
  • The New York City Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) green infrastructure grant program has funded the construction of three green roof projects that include food production and education.
  • City funding has enabled the number of farmers markets to increase from 120 in 2010 to 136 today.
  • The number of Greenmarkets accepting electronic benefits transfer cards for SNAP recipients has increased from 6 in 2006 to 51 (of a total of 54) Greenmarkets and 11 Youth Markets. Greenmarkets now sell $800,000 worth of produce through the EBT program.
  • In 2012, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) bought
 an estimated $25 million worth of regional products, 14% of the City’s total food budget.
  • The Department of Education has nearly doubled the number of salad bars in schools, from 586 in 2010 to 1043 this past year.

Summary of London’s Capital Growth urban ag project

Styles House allotment, on land owned by Transport for London above Southwark tube station.
(Source: The Telegraph
A new report by the NGO Sustain (Growing Success: The Impact of Capital Growth on community food growing in London) describes the progress of Capital Growth, a partnership of London Food Link, the Mayor of London, and the Big Lottery’s Local Food Program to create 2,012 new community food growing spaces across London by the end of 2012. The project involved making new land available for gardening spaces, providing materials, technical assistance, and a support network for growers, and influencing policies to support the expansion of urban agriculture.
Among the accomplishments described in the report are:
  • The creation of 124 acres of new food growing spaces;
  • Establishing 20% of these urban agriculture sites on housing estates and 35% on school sites (with 700 schools growing food as part of the project); and
  • Ensuring that two-thirds of the gardens/farms were on land that was unused, derelict, or inaccessible.

New policies are often driven by projects that require legal, administrative or procedural changes. One of the accomplishments of the Capital Growth effort was the generation of policy changes to accommodate the expansion of urban agriculture in London.  Key new policies include:

  • Including the Capital Growth project in 
the London Plan, the city’s 20-year strategic framework, so that it encourages local planners to create and protect land for food production;
  • Getting the Greater London Authority to include food production in the city’s green infrastructure plan;
  • Getting local borough strategies to include food growing as an important land use;
  • Challenging perceived legal barriers to growing food; and
  • Working with Transport for London on ways to access transportation sites and developing a template lease agreement for these sites.


Vancouver’s New Food Strategy

Sole Food Farms, Vancouver BC
On Tuesday, January 29, the Vancouver City Council will consider [UPDATE: PASSED UNANIMOUSLY BY THE COUNCIL] a comprehensive food strategy crafted through collaboration between city staff and the Vancouver Food Policy Council, with substantial input from members of the public.  The strategy document responds to a June 2003 mandate from the Council for the creation of a just and sustainable food system and elaborates on goals and objectives from the 2007 Vancouver Food Charter, the 2011 Greenest City Action Plan, and various laws, regulations, advisory documents, programs and grants that have, over the past decade, established Vancouver as a leader in food policy.
The Vancouver strategy addresses all phases of the food system, from production to disposal.  It emphasizes five areas that are by now common to the urban food plans that have been produced over the last few years:
  • support for urban agriculture and connections to the rest of the food system;
  • increasing public participation in the activities of neighborhood food networks and community based programs;
  • improving access to healthy, local, affordable food;
  • addressing the needs for food processing, storage and distribution infrastructure to increase the production and distribution of local food; and
  • reducing food waste and increasing the beneficial reuse of discarded food
Several aspects of the strategy distinguish it from other city food plans and policy platforms:
The strategy emphasizes the value of promoting commercial urban agriculture through clarification in the city’s zoning of where commercial food production is appropriate, what limits or mitigation strategies are needed, whether and to what extent farm gate sales are appropriate, and through the creation of a new urban farming business license. The strategy also mentions the need for alternative food retail and distribution models, including community food markets, food distribution hubs and pre-approved Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) distribution sites in public locations to help urban farmers sell their produce.
The strategy calls for the integration of food production into the streetscape including growing vegetables and fruit and nut trees in residential boulevards, traffic circles and other marginal spaces. This includes switching from ornamental to edible landscaping in residential, commercial, institutional and parks landscaping plans, and the planting of food-bearing trees as new trees are planted in parks and on other public land. Cities are just beginning to experiment with urban orchards (e.g., Seattle) and urban farms as stormwater management infrastructure (e.g., NYC), but city engineers still resist vegetation that requires increased management and maintenance.
Throughout the Vancouver Food Strategy there is a strong emphasis on neighborhood-scale solutions.  This is expressed in support for neighborhood-based food networks (“coalitions of citizens, organizations and agencies that work collaboratively in and across Vancouver neighborhoods to address food system issues”) and neighborhood-scale food infrastructure.
City officials are often resistant to policies that extend beyond the municipal boundaries, particularly those addressing rural farming. The Vancouver strategy is notable in its discussion of the regional foodshed. The document recommends that Vancouver should strengthen alliances with other municipalities in the region and advocate for the enhancement of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which protects farmland in the agriculturally productive Fraser Valley region.
The Vancouver strategy recognizes that food system governance includes a wide range of entities, not just conventional government officials. It acknowledges that effective governance of the food system involves individuals in government, in non-governmental organizations, as well as ordinary citizens and people from different sectors, companies and organizations.
Finally, the Vancouver food strategy emphasizes integrating food policies with other municipal priorities, by “putting a food system lens on plans and policies at all levels of government.” The document calls for aligning Vancouver’s food systems goals with other municipal functions, highlighting the potential for food policies to add value to conventional city activities like housing development, land use planning, public health and transportation planning, which often are not perceived as food-related. The strategy recommends a “food system checklist” to help city staff pay attention to food system needs as they review development applications, rezoning applications, or community plans.


Evaluating Corner Store Programs

NGOs and cities throughout the US have launched programs to help the owners of bodegas, convenience stores, liquor stores and other small food establishments sell healthier food.  A concise article published by the Centers for Disease Control summarizes the evaluations of these programs to determine whether they have an impact on food availability, diet, and other factors that influence diet-related diseases.*
Among the findings:
Overall, the foods that were being promoted by these pilot programs were more available in the stores as a result of the pilots.  Where sales data were collected they showed that the programs resulted in significant increases in the sales of the promoted foods.  Produce sales, in particular, increased 25% to 50%.
Seven programs resulted in increased food and health-related knowledge among consumers, while 9 programs found significantly increased purchasing frequency of at least one promoted food.
Of 4 trial programs that assessed impacts on body mass index, no significant changes were observed from pre- to post-pilot.
Price reductions in the form of discounts, coupons, vouchers, and loans were (not surprisingly) found to increase consumer demand for and consumption of healthier foods.
The data suggests that these programs can make healthier food available in communities with limited full-service grocers and encourage the purchase of healthier food. Unfortunately, however, the evaluations have been insufficient to answer whether and to what extent they work, or whether certain interventions are more effective than others. The evaluative methods varied significantly, limiting the ability to compare the program impacts across the different pilots, and did not involve randomized controlled trials that would provide greater reliability.
More systematic evaluative data would help policymakers and philanthropic organizations decide how cost effective corner store programs are and the extent to which this is a viable strategy for increasing food access and improving public health.
*Gittelsohn J, Rowan M, Gadhoke P. Interventions in small food stores to change the food environment, improve diet, and reduce risk of chronic disease. Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110015. DOI: .


Chicago’s Draft Food Plan

In October 2012, Chicago released a draft food systems plan, called A Recipe for Healthy Places that recommends changes to the city’s food environment to reduce obesity and strategies to improve education about food, nutrition and healthy eating habits. Its vision statement calls for creating a “culture that values fresh, nutritious food” through urban farms and gardens and food enterprises, with adequate food retail availability in each neighborhood and a “food safety net” to ensure that the lowest income residents are able to eat well. The draft plan was developed through a process that included 26 public meetings held over 13 months, with more than 400 participants, and it suggests roles for both government and non-governmental entities.
While the plan outlines very general goals and strategies, many of which are included in other municipal food plans, A Recipe for Healthy Places describes several interesting initiatives:
(1) The Green Healthy Neighborhoods project, which involves residents and NGOs in several South Side neighborhoods (Englewood, West Englewood,
Washington Park, Woodlawn and parts of New City and Greater 
Grand Crossing) in developing a land-use strategy to create urban agriculture districts.
(2) An effort to integrate public health issues and strategies into local land-use planning projects. The Department of Housing and Economic Development will incorporate Health Impact Assessments (HIA) in local land-use planning to identify strategies for increasing the healthful impacts of a project, while the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is considering incorporating HIAs into regional planning and project development efforts.
(3) The creation of a “system of farms and gardens,” with the City joint venturing with an NGO or land trust to develop city owned vacant land into urban agriculture sites, including amalgamated scattered farm sites. In addition, the Chicago Park District will identify space within parks for food production.
(4) An effort by the Department of Housing and Economic Development to work with residents and community organizations to identify land in neighborhoods that can be prepared for commercial-scale food production through a local planning process that involves finding suitable vacant land, willing community partners and an organization to maintain and operate the site(s).
(5) The development of a network of nonprofit and for-profit organizations to provide resources and technical assistance for school and community gardens.
(6) Protocol development for site remediation and management for food production.
(7) Work with existing retailers, including drug store chains, to increase fresh produce and other healthy food retail options, especially in underserved areas. 
(8) Developing more-efficient systems to help eligible households obtain and maintain SNAP benefits.
(9) Creating standards for the food served at catered meetings, public meetings, and vending machines in City buildings, and guidelines for healthy food for events that involve public funding or permits.
(10) Adoption as a formal plan by the City of Chicago.
The plan is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) Initiative, which is funded through the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. A number of other US cities, like Los Angeles and Seattle, are using CPPW funds to do food system planning.