Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture

Community Food Security and the Landscape of Cities

by David Lea Hohenschau
Landscape Architecture Program
University of British Columbia
August 2005

B.Sc. Environmental Design, The University of Massachusetts, 2001
A Thesis Submitted In Partial Fulfillment Of The Requirements For The Degree Of Master of Landscape Architecture in The Faculty Of Graduate Studies
The University Of British Columbia
August 2005
© David Lea Hohenschau, 2005

On this web page, we have placed the Absract, the Table of Contents and the Conclusions from the paper. The complete proposal (very large file) can be downloaded here. (3.8MB PDF) Community Food Security and the Landscape of Cities


Community food security is a framework for community development that engages the sustainability of the local food system and the equitable distribution of food resources. This project suggests a community food design program that optimizes the potential for a sustainable and equitable local food system, and applies it to the Renfrew Collingwood community in Vancouver, British Columbia. The basic principles of the program require equitable access to food distribution and the allocation of land for food production. The applied program is described as a community design plan, and suggests that with minimal changes to the patterns of land use, and significant changes to the use of the public landscape, such a system would support a food sufficiency rate of 5 to 20 percent.


table of contents
list of figures
1. introduction and context1.1 community food security
1.2 governance and planning
1.3 design
1.4 the community food program
1.5 community food program summary
2. community analysis
2.1 physical and demographic context
2.2 community vision review
2.3 mapping analysis
3. design proposal
3.1 community plan
3.2 food precinct plan
3.3 summary
policy review
grocery store economics
metrics calculations
residual space analysis


Community food security frames an important set of ideas and values which can both enhance and be supported by the landscape of the city. This framework would see that every family and resident have equal access to a range of food choices that are appropriate and nutritious; and are procured in a way that generates a net benefit to the economy, the environment, and the community. The scale of application is similar to and therefore should inform the community planning process.

The community food program first assumes that equitable access should not rely on personal ownership of a car, or on the need to leave the neighborhood to find basic goods and services. It also assumes that that personal food production should not be a privilege enjoyed only by the owners of detached homes with yards. These assumptions imply that food access equity requires a walkable community that is centered around multiple modes of food distribution, and that there are enough people in that area (ie appropriate housing density) to economically support those modes. They also imply that the dissociation of private gardening and high-density housing should be recovered by providing gardening opportunities in the public realm.

The example of the Renfrew Collingwood community plan does not suggest any dramatic changes to the existing land use pattern. The most significant recommendation is that community gardening be given a more significant priority in the public realm. The most 'out-there' recommendation is that some rooftops be converted for agricultural use. Implementation would require collaboration between residents, community groups, local businesses and property owners, the Vancouver School Board, and the City of Vancouver's Parks Board, Social Planning Department, and Physical Planning.

The results of the proposed plan are:

The previously established Community Vision for Renfrew Collingwood, by identifying neighborhood 'nodes' and 'mini-nodes' and developing the food retail options there, will increase food access in underserved areas. The retail development plans would be supported by increased density in those areas.

The proposed community gardens would use only 1.1 percent of the residual spaces in the community. Backyard gardens and community gardens could provide two to three percent of local consumption needs, probably up to five percent if participation rates increased or if community garden development were expanded. This should not diminish the supplementary contribution to household diets that these gardens would provide. The conversion of less than ten percent of the industrial rooftops for hydroponic farms could contribute another twenty percent to local food sufficiency, and far more of course if every roof were converted. The remaining demand for vegetables could be met by about 200 hectares of local farmland. Demand for other food products has not been explored, but the potential for urban livestock should be examined.

The backyard and community garden network would greatly diversify the landscape of the city and contribute to the experiential value of the public realm. Community kitchens and other food related programming already exists in this community and provides social opportunities that are highly valued.

Bin composting can handle up to twenty-five percent of the total household organic waste stream. In-vessel composting has the potential to manage one-hundred percent of local waste production, including commercial organic wastes. Other waste-recovering systems, such as solar aquatics systems and biogas CHP plants, were assumed to be more appropriate for consideration on the regional scale.

So what would it really take?
Developing retail nodes with food distributors is a proposal with plenty of local success stories. Vancouver's planning department, with their experience and a mandate from the community, seem well positioned to advance this aspect of the plan.

The three major land 'owners' who control the public realm are the city's Parks Board, Engineering Department, and the Vancouver School Board. Without their enthusiastic support, the network of gardens and community farm aspect of this plan, and the most significant modification to the landscape, would continue to be the network of grass and gravel that it is now. Considering the School Board's 'ten square meters maximum' policy, and the Parks Board's 'not in my backyard' policy' (evidenced by the Food Policy Council's continued use of the phrase other than park space), the Engineering Department would really have to step up. This seems more likely since they have extensive experience in modifying streets through their bikeways/greenways and country lane projects.

Translink, a fourth land owner, is already quite supportive of community gardens under the SkyTrain tracks. Commercial food production on rooftops seems somewhat more remote when nearby farms are constantly consolditing in order to make a profit. Aside from the structural requirements of the buildings and arrangements with the property owners, these ventures would need to minimize risk through subsidized start-up costs and pre-arranged purchasing agreements with local food processors and distributors. The single Canadian example of a rooftop farm is in Toronto, where Annex Organics roof farm was supported by a non profit organization.

Local food systems, then, facing the economic stumbling block, will require the adoption of new organizational models and the development of local markets. As Wendell Berry suggests, a community needs to be protectionist, employing both charity and economics to give every advantage to the local over the distant, in order to preserve its productive capacity (Berry, 2001). Thomas Lyson has noted that systems of 'civic agriculture' are emerging that are founded on the articulation of local production with local demand (Lyson, 2004).

Of course there are many other aspects of a local food system that have not been explored and require less in land than in dedication by groups like the Food Security Institute: food sharing and redistribution schemes, local purchasing policies, food preparation training and nutrition education, and community meals programs for example.

Finally, some advice from the real experts is paraphrased from an ag-discuss list on the internet: 'Don't try to build everything at once, allow yourself some time to get used to things and say "oh, yes, now that that's over there I can see where it would make sense to build this over here." First, arrange the buildings so that things you want to see from the house and things you don't want to see line up ok. Then start with a garden and some chickens. You will be surprised how busy you will be with just that to take care of. Then slooooowly add livestock. I'd also keep the chicken coop as far away from the other buildings as possible, especially if your gonna free range, as they will always find their way into places you don't want them and crap on everything, in other words the chickens need their OWN place. And I do speak from experience when saying chicken poop will eat the paint right off a tractor fender! Just keep in mind the further your buildings are from your home the further you gotta walk.'


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Revised Monday, October 10, 2005

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture