Resilient cities: food and agricultural challenge


Conference “resilient cities”

The issue of sustainability in the urban areas represents a real and living matter. The conference I attended last Tuesday 20th January, entitled “ Food and Agriculture for resilient cities”, organized by Roma Capitale, has depicted the importance of food and agriculture as essential parts of the urban context. It has also underlined the tight relationship between the sustainable development and the resilience, which is the ability to change in reaction to disturbances in an innovative and sustainable way.

During the conference, different experiences of some big Italian cities, which lead to more resilient systems, have been presented.

Food and agriculture, therefore, have to be considered within the urban context in order to be the benchmark to develop a health policy with.

Let’s try to understand more about resilience!


Towards resilient socio-ecological systems

The conference has started with the presentation of some results of the research regarding the resilient cities, carried out by Professor Marino, from the University of Molise.

What is resilience? It is defined as the “capacity of a system to absorb the external shocks, resisting to the pressure which tends to alter the balance” (Folke et al. 1997, Georgescu Roegen, 2006).

In the socio-ecological context the resilience is the capacity of a system, like a city, to modify itself in reaction to a disturbance of various nature and degree, which has caused a change.

In this context, the resilience represents a “functional crisis”, that is the ability of such a system to evolve, as a consequence of a shock, ensuring the “conservation of the essential functions and the identity of the structures which characterize them”[1].

As Davide Marino claims, we can see how “the sustainable development also depends on the improvement of this ability of reaction of the territorial systems to the shocks and on the control of actions and development intervention which can threaten these abilities”. In the resilient systems, the change can potentially create opportunity and development: the resilient systems are able to introduce variations which can constitute important innovations[2].


Conference “Food and Agriculture for resilient cities”

In this context the agriculture is seen as an integral part of the urban context. The agricultural eco-systems and the agricultural production have an essential role in the development of urban systems and they have to be taken into strong consideration in order to create projects and collective actions able to generate innovation processes. The food and agriculture become pillars of a path towards a more resilient city, thanks to the overall relations that the agriculture has with the city.

How can we appease the economic development with the protection of the resources? What can we do to create resilient socio-ecological systems? To create a food planning policy, for example, means to develop an efficient management of the resources, and also to protect the biodiversity and the landscape[3].

The urban context becomes, therefore, essential in order to develop an efficient model of food and agricultural  planning.

Experiences of resilient cities in comparison.

After a short introduction over resilient cities, we have assisted at an interesting description of the experiences of resilience which are in action in different big cities in Italy. In particular, the case of Milan, Turin, Pisa and Palermo have been presented.

A common aspect among all these cities is the willingness of the civil society to rediscover the concept of integration between the territory and their reality. As a matter of fact, there are a great number of experiences of associations of citizens or local communities which want to take control of their urban spaces to regenerate in order to assign them to urban vegetable gardens, for example, or other agricultural destination.

I was quite impressed by the report of Elena di Bella, Manager of Rural and Mountainous Development of the province of Turin, who has presented the concept of “food democracy”, also called food justice.

According to Elena di Bella, the food policies in Italy, considered as a coordinated group of actions which aim at nutrition,  rather than production, and therefore directed to make food accessible to everyone,  don’t exist. The food is not considered a priority in the current political agenda. That’s the reason why it is necessary to develop not only agricultural policies, but also and above all,  to work for the definition of food policies, which are able to overcome the problem of food security in the western societies, facing also the issue of illnesses and pathologies connected to it (obesity, diabetes, illnesses linked to the lifestyle, etc.).

Turin is the forth metropolitan city in Italy and the city which hosts the majority of markets. It is, thus, a very important  territorial basin for the food policies. It’s sufficient to think about the school canteens, which represent an big food incentive.

The Plan for food

The Plan for food

Within the experience of Turin as a resilient city, Elena di Bella has presented an important project of “Eco-responsible nutrition”, of the Piemonte Region, which has the objective of bringing local products in the preparation of the meals of the school canteens and the aim of reducing food waste.

Francesco Di Iacovo, professor at the University of Pisa, has presented the research on resilient cities which has produced an integrated policy over food and the definition of an action strategy for food. This has been adepte by the Consiglio Provinciale of Pisa in 2010, like a Charter of Food, where all the principles for a “plan of food on the territory” has been expressed. It gives also hints and guidelines in order to advice public and private subjects over their choices on food (food democracy)[4].

Rome: agricultural metropolis

Unlike many other cities in Italy, where we can assist to a continuous decrease of agricultural areas in favour of the development of industrial areas, in Rome we can see the opposite phenomenon: there is a great attention to agriculture, from an economic and social point of view. As a matter of fact, Romei s considered the biggest agricultural city in Europe. It’s sufficient to think about the various markets present in every district, or the agricultural areas within the borders of the city. It’s interesting to note that there aren’t many differences between Rome today and the city of thousands of years ago, regarding the agricultural territory, apart from the urban expansion.

Rome, Parco degli acquedotti

Rome, Parco degli acquedotti

Agriculture becomes an important economic driver for the city. Nevertheless, as Marta Leonori, council member of Rome, has claimed: “the approach cannot be only economic”. It ha sto take into account also the service sto ecology and environment in order to guarantee a future to the city, which cannot forget its strong agricultural past.

In the last ten years, the cultivated lands in Rome have been increasing 17%. The transformation of the productive pattern shows a 40% increase of the agricultural farms present in Rome, which go from 1.893  in 2000 to 2.656 today. In total, the urban surface is 43%, the agricultural areas 39% and the wooden area 18%. 28% of cultivated lands lies within the G.R.A.[5]

The image of Rome at the Expo Milan 2015 will be the roman acqueduct, which represents the link among the water resources, which Rome is rich in, the millennial artistic and cultural  heritage and of course the environment and agriculture.

Food and agriculture: essential aspects of the modern cities.

Gandhi citation

Gandhi citation

In the urban areas the agriculture is developing models of services and functions more and more innovative. In 2013 there are around 900 ethical purchasing groups in Italy and 1.360 Farmer’s markets, 44% increase than 2010. 26% of agricultural farms sell their products directly in their farms (Istat, 2011)[6].

That’s why the relationship among food, agriculture and city becomes extremely important within more resilient urban realities. Within this context we can understand how urgent it i sto develop a model of food planning within a sustainable agriculture and food development plan. This should be able to guarantee a better management of the territory, the biodiversità and the natural resources.

During the conference we could notice how the civil society is very active everywhere and more and more interested to more sustainable systems.

Moreover, these experiences have shown how sustainability can bring economic and productive increases, through the development of different fields which offer concrete job possibilities.

The city lacks of concrete policies able to take into consideration the tight relationship between food, agriculture and urban context and this prevent the development of a model of resilient city.

It has been underlined, therefore, the necessity to sensitize the public administration and the governments towards more resilient socio-ecological systems, in order to develop real food policies, besides agricultural policies. This way we could ensure not only a bigger food security, but also the protection of our territory and the resources in it.

We already know it: this is possible only thanks to a completely sustainable and respectful use of our resources!

[1] D. Marino, A. Cavallo,  Agricoltura, Cibo e Città, Verso Sistemi Socio-ecologici Resilienti. CURSA, 2014.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Ibidem, pag.4.

[4] Di Iacovo, Le strategie Urbane, il Piano del Cibo, 2013, AgriregioniEuropa.

[5] Ibidem, pag.43.

[6] Ibidem, pag.14

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