Awards Finalists

Food City

CJ Lim

Urbanism and agriculture are inextricably linked, developments in agriculture enabled cities to form and grow. Today the agricultural processes that sustain cities are often far removed and the equitable supply of food and its synergy with the natural environment is becoming increasingly strained. The story of food and the city set out by CJ Lim expands upon Carolyn Steel’s (2008) Hungry City, making visible the pivotal role of food in cities and offering a Manifesto for a modern city ordered around a re-localised food economy.

The first nine chapters give an account of food in relation to other drivers such as business, community, energy and health, each chapter taking an international tour through current initiatives and projects, building towards an argument for the Manifesto. Food City can at times read like a compilation of hipster trends, including transition towns, slow food, street food, urban agriculture, cupcakes and city bees. But buried here and there are interesting examples such as the People’s Restaurants in Brazil designed to end hunger and malnutrition, the Makati Vendors Program in the Philippines regulating and sustaining street traders, or Law 42 in Havana that gave citizens urban rights reconnecting the city with food production.

The second part of Food City is an annotated and illustrated, ‘improbable but not illogical’ Manifesto for London, where a Food Parliament hovers over the city controlling food as the core economy of the city. This has grown out of Lim’s architecture studio at the Bartlett, UCL. In this fictional and necessarily ironic vision for London, all citizens are conscripted into an agro-ecological system and given the ‘freedom’ to exercise a new green religion. The vision is artfully depicted in comic strip explanations and elegant but surreal drawings populated with animals; humans appear as faceless drones. The components of the city vision such as vertical farms, ponds on roofs, and pies in the sky have been chosen for their visual potential. The narrative is infused with homely references to London’s venerable institutions: the City, the Queen, Parliament.

As drawings in their own right they express joyfulness in how things work but the accompanying narrative seems out of sync with earlier observations. Even if it is at times tongue in cheek, the vision tips into a dystopia, and it is a shame not to see the civic qualities identified in projects in the first part of the book take shape more meaningfully in the Manifesto.

At the core of Food City is the idea that dependency on ‘the global vending machine’ (e.g. only 2 per cent of New York’s food is produced within the city) makes cities extremely vulnerable and that planning should do more to regulate food security. Ideally such a shift in policy could open up opportunities for civic engagement and shared land ownership and new city infrastructures such as can be tangentially seen in Food City.

URBAN DESIGN 133 Winter 2015 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 133 Winter 2015

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Food City  Publication Urban Design Group
ISBN 978-0-415-53926-5
Reviewed By
Juliet Bidgood