The role of urban agriculture in Philadelphia: a sociological analysis from a city perspective

Charlotte Prové

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    This report summarizes the findings for the research project performed in the period of February 12th to March 10th 2015 in Philadelphia, USA. This work is part of a doctoral research project ‘Governance of Urban Agriculture’ (2013-2017) organized by the Institute of Agriculture and Fisheries Research (ILVO) and Ghent University (Belgium). The results in this report represent a first step in conducting future analyses, which will ultimately be integrated into the PhD project. The research in Philadelphia was realized thanks to the assistance of the local host Penn State Extension Philadelphia. This report hopes to reach and serve anyone involved or interested in urban agriculture activities and the wider food system of Philadelphia. The purpose of the doctoral research project is to develop, from a sociological point of view, a broader understanding of the dynamics underlying urban agriculture and based on that insight, formulate how governance processes can best address current developments within that field. Many cities worldwide have started a conversation on ‘urban agriculture’ and its role in the urban food system. This movement is supported by a wide variety of stakeholders ranging from non-profits to for-profits, supporting organizations, governments at all levels, academic institutions and a diversity of individuals at the local level. However, it is unclear where all these efforts will lead to. In order to get a deeper understanding of the role of urban agriculture, a comprehensive (historical) analysis including all actual and potential stakeholders provides fruitful insights. Additionally, a comparative perspective is adopted in the PhD project to learn how different cities respond (differently) to this upcoming trend. Additionally, within this larger research project, the focus is on environmental justice issues within urban agriculture development. In short, environmental justice is about inequalities in the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens (Beretta, 2012; Bickerstaff & Agyeman, 2009; Connelly & Richardson, 2005; Rhodes, 2003; Sze, 2007; Towers, 2000; Walker, 2012; White, 2004). While urban agriculture is not the first topic that comes to mind as an environmental justice theme, it is a worthwhile undertaking to look at the concept through this lens. Urban agriculture can take many forms, have different functions and meanings. As a consequence, we should wonder who benefits from these activities and how people benefit from them. Where can we identify processes of inclusion or exclusion? Initial questions related to environmental justice will point at inequalities in urban agriculture development and how stakeholders identify and experience them. The research project in Philadelphia is set up in a way that allows us to explore these environmental justice questions. After exploring existing literature and consulting with key stakeholders, Philadelphia was considered as a good opportunity to learn about both urban agriculture within the broader urban food system and justice issues related to urban agriculture. The main challenge of this research project was to get an overview of the current network of stakeholders, identifying the key initiatives, projects and organizations and grasp the historical process that forge the work done for urban agriculture. Upon arrival, ideas were exchanged with the Penn State Extension on the methodology and research questions that would benefit both Philadelphia stakeholders and fit within the PhD research. Broadly, the following questions have been addressed: - Who are the actors involved in urban agriculture in Philadelphia & what is their role? - How do these actors perceive urban agriculture? - What are the current opportunities and constraints of urban agriculture in Philadelphia? - Which efforts are done to promote urban agriculture in Philadelphia? - And, what are the outcomes of these combined efforts? - How are inequalities related to environmental and social justice integrated in projects and initiatives? - And ultimately, which are the important questions to address in the future? These questions serve as the guiding tool in analyzing and structuring the data. In the next section, the methodological choices will be clarified. The results section covers the urban and regional context for agriculture in Philadelphia and outlines the current efforts, initiatives and stakeholders of urban agriculture, together with a presentation of the current opportunities and constraints. In the discussion section, we will reflect on the overall situation and describe the dynamic that both influences and underlies current efforts. Some concluding remarks propose food for thought for future avenues of urban agriculture in Philadelphia.
    Translated title of the contributionDe rol van stadslandbouw in Philadelphia: een sociologische analyse vanuit een stadsperspectief
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherInstituut voor Landbouw-, Visserij- en Voedingsonderzoek
    Number of pages42
    Publication statusPublished - May-2015


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