July 31st, 2011

Urban Farming and Zoning in Bay Area and elsewhere

Obviously, one thinks instantly of Oakland, but SF is part of the discussion as well.


In order to sell what you grow in the city, SF was requiring an expensive permit. Meat animals were controversial, so they created a lightweight permit for small producers excluding meat animals. Oakland is in process and is trying to include meat animals.

I _loved_ Novella Carpenter's _Farm City_. I believe a healthy urban area includes food production. In the past, that was at the periphery, but our urban areas are a mostly low density environment in which it makes no sense to go all the way out to the periphery (which is currently often still very expensive residential anyway) when there is inexpensive arable land closer in. I sympathize with the controversy associated with slaughtering animals (especially in SF!), but I also think that we've industrialized meat production to the point that a swing back in the other direction makes a lot of sense.

ETA: And Chicago:


They're including aquaponics (fish + agriculture).


Emanuel is presenting it as a potential job creator and a way to deal with "food deserts". I'm not sure what to think of an article that starts with urban farms and ends with Wal-Mart.

ETAYA: And San Diego

In this case, the focus is food deserts, immigrants and childhood obesity. The farmer's market and urban farm are being developed together, and integrated with federal assistance (WIC and food stamps) through a local token currency.


Not just in the US: Berlin

Here, aquaponics on rooftops (including commercial rooftops).


New operation, presented as a low-intensity, healthy, rewarding hobby.

British Columbia (the idea that you need a permit to farm in the Nanaimo area seems, um, really wrong): http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/07/19/bc-lantzville-urban-farm-becker.html

In this case, farming on a residential plot in conjunction with a farmer's market and social activism. For Canadians, a decent chunk of excitement.

Still more: Minneapolis, as one might expect, recently passed a framework (they didn't call it that) for writing regulations for urban farming, but even they weren't prepared for a commercial egg raising operation next to a bike path and light rail.


The chickens moved when the local kids were a little too aggressive about getting into the coop, stealing eggs and throwing them at cars. (There's a solid reason for having onsite caretakers of commercial food raising operations, especially in high-traffic areas. Urban farm stories _always_ involve strategies for dealing with people wandering in and taking things.)

"Growing Lots has been converting industrial spaces, such as the parking lot next to Coastal Seafoods, into sustainable commercial farms since April 2010."

Here's some profoundly misguided commentary on urban farming:


Hey, we're _already_ low density. The idea is to actually _use_ the garbage strewn lots for something other than just sitting there waiting for the next boom. No one is proposing to stop "higher" use development to preserve an urban far much less create one. The goal is to covert nothing to something.

Trust a Harvard guy to pick on a black woman for supporting a reasonable activity (growing vegetables in empty spaces in city neighborhoods that have no access to healthy foods) by suggesting it is somehow inhibiting property developers from building high rises. Worse, the embedded assumption that we must ship either people or food is nuts. Okay, maybe not the best word.

Urban Shepherds

I've been feeling like R.'s and my visualization of land use in the next years/decades is relatively solid. However, I've also had a nagging feeling that I'm missing something really important. Reading _Arrival City_ has clarified that absence somewhat.

I think we all understand the the post-war era of jobs-for-life-with-pension-and-so-forth is not only gone, but that no plausible public policy strategy is going to bring it back. I think we all have a sense, as well, of globalization (in terms of what kinds of employment are exportable and which ones are less exportable and which ones can't be exported period full stop end). I think we even have a sense that health care jobs will continue to expand as the very aged and/or very ill population grows, altho that turns out to be a tremendously complex calculation to try to make in detail, since we might be able to guesstimate the number of people of any given age in any given year, what we can't predict is how long the End of Life Really Incapacitated Phase will last, and there are some hints that might be occurring later in the life span and be more compressed, which would tend to put the problem of enough-home-health-aides-and-skilled-nursing-facilities a bit further into the future and make it less bad overall (if everyone is desperately in need for round the clock assistance for only 18 months versus 6 years, it makes a big difference -- especially if that happens at age 87 rather than 79. To pull arbitrary numbers out of the air).

But knowing that young people today thinking about their adult working lives (a) will change jobs frequently and perhaps expect to work more than one at a time for much of their working lives, (b) in a relatively low paying job (because there are hard limits on how much productivity can be leveraged in a lot of the job categories that cannot be exported), (c) possibly at least peripherally connected to caring for other people, does not add up to even an approximate vision of what the economy/business environment/job market of the future looks like.

I already posted a little update on urban farming. Here are a couple Guardian pieces about urban sheep and their caretakers. You'll notice that in the 2008 article, it was a park and volunteers, but in the 2010 article, it is government owned land (and not just parks, either) and someone getting paid (altho volunteers are still an important part of making it work). The 2009 article is primarily about the volunteers, one of whom is quoted as hoping to get some wool out of the deal, which she did.


This has even more about the volunteer process, and points out that some participants are treating it as an educational opportunity.


It also includes a solid argument for incorporating "farming" into cities:

"“I love getting out with the sheep,” Cosgrove says, looking down at Brighton below. “But I couldn’t live in the country. There’s not enough to do.”"

Do I foresee a future in which lawns are mowed by sheep instead of lawmowers? Well, I mostly foresee smaller lawns. But I also foresee a world in which people who aren't being paid so much they'll sacrifice anything for the money spend a good chunk of their time and energy doing things that they find intrinsically rewarding, as long as the activities pay for themselves plus enough extra. And I think I foresee a lot of entertaining confrontations with regulations designed for the much heavier-weight economic activity of our shared past.

The Brighton sheep program is also an interesting example of other crowdsource technologies (in this case, mobile phones, mostly) can work in the physical world and not just the virtual world.

Another Chicago Urban Farm (maybe)


While this fits in with what I was posting about earlier today, it has some interesting components.

"a two-acre site that 20 years ago was the home of Lerner Newspapers. Royal Bank of Canada is foreclosing on the land. The city invited developer proposals for the property a few years ago, but nobody responded."

It _used_ to have something commercial on the site: a newspaper! It is going through foreclosure. City efforts to get a developer to build on the plot have failed.

This is almost exactly like something out of the early 20th century: empty lot, down times, looking for development -- ideally something that could be readily converted to a "higher" use should good times return -- and looking for partners to actually implement, those partners likely to be charitable organizations.

The next boom almost always eliminated these kinds of urban parks, as infill development replaced them with mid- or high- rises. It was a discouraging experience for people who were committed to farming, because any soil improvement they might accomplish would not be there for them to appreciate. However, for those groups prepared to container garden and move on and who were not committed to a particular site, it was always nice to have something close in with lots of local customers.

Bad Corporation, No Biscuit


I was Not Happy when I heard that Cisco was going to terminate Flip. Flip was a super cool product that had settled into a wonderful, steady growing niche. But because it was owned by Cisco, and Cisco needs Miracles on a Daily if not Hourly Basis, Cisco announced it was getting out of consumer electronics, including Flip (this wasn't even 2 years after spending almost $600 million to acquire Flip).

Large companies suffer from some weird dynamics. Notably, when you are operating from a really large base, massive absolute growth (another $100 million in selling something or other) can seem to be very tiny as percentage growth (if your revenues are $10 billion a year, say). The executives can have a lot of trouble figuring out how to deal with business units for similar reasons, especially if the business as a whole is a lot of small businesses being managed as a conglomerate, rollup or whatever. Generalizing above the unit level doesn't make much sense and paying attention at the unit level splits executive attention too fine.

However, distorting multiple justice systems to try to sit on a whistle blower -- in a way that pisses off judges in multiple countries -- is not a way to Succeed in Business. That's the kind of thing that makes people run from a deal with you.