Up on the Farm
Vancouver, British Columbia, hatches a program that brings food cultivation into town.
By Linda Baker
Metropolis Magazine May 2008
Locally grown food has become a mantra among urban dwellers, fueling farmer’s markets, community-supported agriculture services, and, in select cities, backyard chickens. Now Vancouver, British Columbia, is raising the bar. Under the city’s ground-breaking new “urban agriculture” program, developers of an emerging downtown neighborhood, Southeast False Creek, will be required to include edible landscaping and food-producing garden plots for rooftops and courtyards. Planners have also crafted a set of voluntary guidelines for all-new multifamily projects in Vancouver (the city council was scheduled to vote on them in April)—possibly the first city in North America to launch such an initiative.
“If we can make this happen—and make it successful—this is going to be big,” Devorah Kahn, Vancouver’s food-policy coordinator, says of the urban-agriculture plan, which is part of a broader city effort to strengthen green-building standards in private developments. An 80-acre mixed-use community, Southeast False Creek will help illuminate the way forward by modeling high-density food gardening and other practices, such as rainwater management and neighborhood energy generation. The first phase, Millennium Water, is under construction and will also house Olympic athletes during the 2010 Winter Games.
Using somewhat convoluted rule-making, the Southeast False Creek urban-agriculture conditions delineate shared garden plots for 30 percent of the neighborhood’s residential units that lack access to balconies or patios of at least 100 square feet. The actual landscaping for Millennium Water is dazzling: 4,000-square-foot rooftops support espaliered fruit trees and raised vegetable beds, courtyards feature edible designs such as blueberry and raspberry bushes, and ubiquitous trellises anchor fruit-bearing vines. Tool sheds, potting benches, and hose bins provide the necessary accoutrements, while adjacent amenity rooms and play areas for children encourage a multiuse gardening environment.
“The city wants False Creek to function like a single-family residence with a backyard,” says Jennifer Stamp, a landscape architect with Durante Kreuk who is working on Millennium Water. “You walk through the garden, eat some currants, get to know your neighbor.” All of the buildings in the Olympic village have a maximum height of 12 stories, and during the design phase, “shadow studies” helped ensure that garden areas would receive at least six hours of sun.
Hardwiring residential buildings to sustain food gardens is one challenge, says Janine de la Salle, a planner with Holland Barrs Planning Group and the author of a report on urban agriculture at Southeast False Creek. The human factor is another: “The question of who is going to manage the program and care for that apple tree—that’s always a stumbling block,” she says. The city’s intention is to have residents manage the plots, and a demonstration garden will help people living in the neighborhood learn about planting and harvesting.
Urban agriculture aids Mayor Sam Sullivan’s new “eco-density” policy, whereby housing developments will be reshaped to limit environmental impacts. Councillor Peter Ladner has also called for new gardens by 2010 as an Olympic legacy. (So far 740 have come on board.) High-density food gardening provides wildlife habitats, mitigates the urban-heat-island effect, and encourages awareness of locally grown food. As Stamp says, “It ties into sustainability on so many levels.”