Beyond food: Rethinking urban agriculture governance in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC

Authors: Nathan McClintock*, Portland State University, Christiana Miewald, Simon Fraser University, Eugene McCann*, Simon Fraser University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: circulation of ideas, food policy, gardens, governance, social justice
Session Type: Paper


While urban agriculture (UA) has played a prominent symbolic and material role in municipal sustainability efforts, many UA advocates and scholars are questioning UA’s ability to deliver on its promised contributions to food systems and urban greening. Many advocates in Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC use UA to address social issues beyond food. In Portland, the limited affordable housing and rapid gentrification have led activists to prioritize “equity;” in Vancouver, calls for “inclusivity” grow louder. Other UA advocates take a more radical stance, for example explicitly calling for decolonization and the indigenization of food systems. But to what extent do the evolving perspectives of UA advocates and practitioners filter into formal policymaking and, conversely, to what extent does municipal food policy impact UA on the ground? Drawing on interview and survey data and bringing recent work on policy mobilities and urban environmental governance into conversation with critical food scholarship, this study sheds light on how the use of social justice frameworks by UA advocates and practitioners in the two cities has reshaped the everyday governance of UA. It finds that the translation of these emergent frameworks into formal spheres of governance appears to be minimal, stymied both by a lack of race/ethnic/class diversity in public engagement processes, and by bureaucratic hurdles and political gatekeeping. We conclude by reflecting on the limits and possibilities of UA’s role as a gateway to justice work, not only within integrated food policy, but also within wider-reaching, equity-oriented social policy.

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