Politics and urban agriculture. A short overview of the lectures of Day two

We need politicians that are powerful enough to make the difference. This is a global issue, which requires global action. Why is UA important? The first speaker addresses unemployment issues. Mats Hellströ, former minister of Foreign Affairs, opens the second day of the summit with a target speech about the potential of urban agriculture as employment opportunity.

“Many people will have to understand: what is a food process chain?”

Youth unemployment is a curse in many countries; many people will have to understand that farming has the potential to address this issue. Together with sustainable waste management, UA can become part of a solution to face the challenges that many cities face.

Vertical greenhouses with climate control with close systems, city planning, architecture, design, transport and traffic systems to minimize the ecological footprint; it all needs additional research. Together with consumer acceptance, it is important for Mats to address disadvantages town districts and poor cities dwellers. When Mats has to talk about his political role models, he prefers to underline the fact that the best political models are the ones about community, because people can achieve more when they are together.

We had the opportunity to interview Mats, and asked him some simple questions.

Mats Hellströ, Former Minister of Trade and Agriculture in Sweden.

Mats Hellströ: I worked with urban agriculture from different dimensions. I have been the minister of Agriculture in Sweden. City planning has to include agriculture environment in urban settings, which is what I spoke about.

CITIES: How do you see the connection between employment and urban agriculture?

One problem that you find in many countries is the optimization and rationalization of industrial jobs and that the educational training to find new jobs for young people is not enough. Adding an agriculture dimension to the urban employment would enlarge the possibilities for the young people to use their competence. Also, I need to add biodiversity that is extremely important for the climate. Urban agriculture could also add to a richer biodiversity on the earth.

The following speaker is Dr. Anthony Socci, from the US Environmental Protection Agency, who explains how difficult it is to predict the future, taking into consideration the fact that climate change is a danger that presents itself through disasters and storms. We need to think about the temporal pathway, its threads, and about politics. Anthony concludes that we need somebody that keeps the subject on the agenda because politicians are only temporarily in power. We were thrilled by his speech, and we had the opportunity to talk to him about political wills and future generations.


Anthony Socci: I was invited to bring the climate perspective, and to point out those drives that will force society to transform.

CITIES:  You mentioned that one of  the problems is that politicians come and go, how is the environment protection working and in what direction? What would you advice?

Anthony Socci : What I would say is that, politicians come and go visionary they can move the plan in different directions, you cant have a plan that is on one day and off the other day, climate challenges do not go away. You need something that is moving through election cycles.


CITIES: Do you thinks this is happening somewhere, and in that case, where?

Anthony Socci: I think there are some experiments involving some African cities. In order to bring up the discussion you need to have integrated planning. In the Western part of the world, I think New York City has come very close, they started two years ago having meetings with citizen groups and all of that plan was in place when Sandy hit, so I think we can see the beginning of a new way of planning in New York City. I think the idea is catching on.


CITIES:  Do you have faith in the future generation?

Anthony Socci: I have to place the ball in your hand. It will take a lot of energy, and its going to be like that for a long while. Then, we will have to pass the ball through to many generations and make sure to make something good out of it in-between.

The third speaker of the session called POLITICS is Ms. Maria Wetterstrand, an independent political lecturer and columnist. In her speech, she addresses the roles of planners. Historically, they build infrastructures from public services, to industrial parks, to commercial centers have been divided according to functional planning values. This is the base of city planning as we see it today. Maria’s argumentation continues by addressing the fact that this way of planning causes several problems, but however, we cannot blame the previous generations for what they implemented. The functional division of the citizens’ daily life requires a lot of transportation, which creates urban environments that are not to be considered  really livable. She concludes that politicians are stuck on the principles of city planning related to the 1970’s. They think they can solve the same problems the way they have been ever since. While today, the urban population has different needs. As a consequence,  we need to change the way we think about the urban environment. City planning needs to see humans, not the market, not the industry, nor the transportation as the center point of city planning. Yes, humans need market, transportation and work, but not only, they need more than that.


During her political career Maria noticed that things are changing, but too slowly.

One of the main issues of the future will be “land”, arable land. This issue is not as spectacular and as sexy as a vertical green house, however, maybe the protection of farmland should become a political issue. If you are really worried about food security, you should start to think about protecting where the biggest amount of food comes from. In conclusion, urban agriculture is a way for the city environment to come closer to the citizens. It is a way to develop from city planning’s principles stuck in the 1970’s and a way for people to take action in their lives.

We also interviewed Maria, here below the video

Ms. Maria Wetterstrand,  independent political lecturer and columnist.

Politics and urban agriculture. This themes have been addressed also by Kevin Morgan, one of the most dedicated researchers that focusses on urban planning and local food systems. Kevin explains that the multifunctional character of the food system means that it impacts a variety of sectors – including public health, social justice, energy, water, land, transport and economic development – which planners already considered legitimate. In his contribution Kevin addresses directly the political arena, connecting it to problems that food planning communities are facing: it seems that politically, highly localized campaigns (such as the ones of localizing food systems) cannot leverage political support at the national level, as their influence is too fragmented to be recognized. Kevin also explains how to overcome this obstacle. In our book, FARMING THE CITY – FOOD AS A TOOL FOR TODAY’S URBANISATION  you can find out more about the relationship between food systems and politics.

Created on 31 January 2013

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