A Placemaking Journal

The Allure of Food: It’s not just a lifestyle. It’s a life.

All the recent talk of Agrarian Urbanism has sent me down a tangential thought process. The difference between life and lifestyle. Lifestyle has come to mean how we spend our money on the weekends – or maybe squeeze in after work – before we get back to the grind. Things that often have more to do with entertainment than community. Over the last 50 years or so, shopping and golf have become central national pastimes.

What if, instead, life became a little more organic again?

Innately, life is internal. Lifestyle is external. However, in my parent’s generation, in a more agrarian time, they were one and the same. We were more connected – by necessity – to what sustains us.

The coming age of austerity has caused all sorts of redefinitions, and has brought a number of reprioritizations. Lifestyle has perhaps been put in its place a bit, giving life its due.

Yesterday, Andrés Duany said something that particularly struck me. That, in the next generation, the market square is likely to replace the shopping square.

The Market Square. Click for larger view. Credit: DPZ.

When my parents were kids, this was certainly true. The farmer’s market was a gathering place that was not only fully integrated into both local urbanism and culture, but was also essential to life. Most cities had at least one in each quadrant, although sadly few historical examples have survived. The ones that have are regional destinations and National Historic Register material. Now you’d be hard pressed to find a community-based economic development plan without a farmer’s market, in both rural and urban settings.

Agriculture is making its way back into our lives as we search for the organic, the connected, and the communal. As we search for meaningful daily rituals and seasonal celebrations. As we search for slow food, localism, community, economic resiliency, environmental stewardship, health and fitness, and just plain fun. And in a time in which we’re seeking to wean ourselves off of petroleum for a wide range of reasons, localism seems like a viable path forward.

Andrés is releasing a new book this summer, Garden Cities, published by the Prince’s Foundation. One image from the book, above, illustrates the market square as the “primary social condenser of Agrarian Urbanism.” The book overall examines global strategies for the integration of agriculture at multiple scales serving multiple goals.

The movement isn’t just North Americans trying to do penance for their love affair with the car. Garden Cities examines Ag Urb urban designs in Edinburg, Scotland, Vancouver, BC, Southlands, BC, Dumfries, Scotland, Hertfordshire County, England, Santa Gloria, Mexico.

US examples include Dade County, FL, Onondaga County, NY, St. Bernard Parish, LA, Londonberry, NH, Calhoun County, FL, Sandy Point, NC, Cloud Rock, UT, Goodbee Square, LA, and Flower Mound, TX.

Countless farms, community gardens, and community-supported agriculture hold some amazing stories. Many have been transformative for people as well as place, like the Homeless Garden Project. Along with the economy, like the Portland Food Innovation Center, the Appalachian Center For Economic Networks, to name a few.

So today, what makes me so fulfilled by digging in the dirt in my small back yard? Cultivating some herbs and vegetables, snacking on arugula in passing. And does that sense of fulfillment have the sort of universal resonance to make this ag urb idea take widespread root?

Can the funds we’ve been investing in ornamental landscape and entertainment pastimes be reallocated to something more productive and fulfilling? And could food  – growing it, sharing it and eating it – be it? It may be too soon to say, but there’s an ever growing army of allies and like-minded thinkers more than willing to work the issue until, well, the cows come home.

There are times I feel it can’t happen soon enough. What do you think?

–Hazel Borys

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