Shrinking Cities and Urban Agriculture.

Baltimore is a shrinking city.

In 1950, Baltimore City boasted a population of almost one million people. By 2010, the number had dropped 35% to 620,000.

Baltimore is not alone. Shrinking cities vary in circumstance, but many American cities in the Midwest and Northeast suffer from long-term significant population decline as a partial result of the loss of industries that previously caused the cities to grow. Shrinking cities face serious challenges, including smaller property tax bases and public safety concerns caused by vacant land and buildings.

Some, however, have chosen to view shrinking cities as starting points for cultural innovation.

Whether in music, art, or architecture, in literature, photography, or film – a wide variety of new developments in popular and high culture emerge from these urban crisis sites. These are often part of novel cultures of everyday life based equally on the potentials and the difficulties of these sites. They often thereby make an essential contribution to redefining identities and mental milieus and thus offer important approaches for conceiving models of action.

In addition to music, art, and architecture, another way in which residents of a shrinking city can redefine their community is to reclaim vacant space for urban agriculture projects: family or community gardens and urban farms.

Though urban gardens and farms would seem to be beneficial for both city governments and city residents, in practice, land use ordinances can get in the way. One primary goal of land use law has historically been to manage urban growth. Shrinking cities, however, need, not managed growth, but ungrowth: “not surrender, but a phase of urban evolution.”

How can cities find a way to use land use ordinances in a new way: to promote urban agriculture and other less intensive uses of urban space?

More to come soon!

Posted on by Kristine Dunkerton

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