Farming eternal city mapping urban agriculture

Mapping Urban Agriculture: Lessons From Rome and Chicago

Urban agriculture in all its bounty is essential to the sustained vitality of cities – but where is food produced and what can we do with this knowledge? Learning from research in Rome and Chicago, find out how technology is being used to inventory and map urban agriculture.

In light of EXPO 2015 Milano and the Old Milano Food Tour, pilule we extend a focus on Italy by spotlighting the ‘Farming the Eternal City’ project, a Rome-based urban garden mapping system, where researchers of the National Institute of Agricultural Economics (INEA) are developing a methodology for mapping and inventorying cultivated city land parcels.

With motivation stemming from the recognized positive effects of urban agriculture on city life, the intent is to create the first spatial database on urban agriculture in Rome. Using ‘Earth Observation techniques’ that take advantage of available web services such as Google Earth and Google Maps, combined with ancillary data, researchers are finding a cost-effective way to build an urban agricultural land use database. With this information, there is potential to increase our understanding of interactions between agriculture and city life and inform policy making for urban space management.

For more, see the report on Farming The Eternal City here.


Beyond Rome, urban agricultural mapping initiatives have kicked up further findings. Mapping urban agricultural food plots is also a way to recognize how much food is being produced in city limits. This includes public, private, community, guerilla, and any other type of garden – but who knows where crops are actually growing? Where is the most production coming from? And how can this information be used?

Similar to Rome’s initiative, Chicago-based researchers Taylor and Lovell published Mapping public and private spaces of urban agriculture in Chicago through the analysis of high-resolution aerial images in Google Earth in 2012.

These researchers started with a list of roughly 1,200 community gardens in Chicago, assuming this is where they would find highest production. Visiting these sites revealed only 13 percent of the sites both existed and actually grew food. Surely, there was more urban gardening to be found. Spending eight months and around 400 hours analyzing Google Earth imagery, approximately 4,650 visible sites – excluding container and greenhouse gardens  –were identified with the likelihood of food production. By visiting a selection of these sites, 86 percent were found to produce food.

This study highlights that backyard gardens, vacant lots and many more fertile urban areas are unlisted and unrecognized. By developing mapping tools, cities are able to begin tracking where food is being produced, and how much. With this information, greater efforts can be made to increase local food production, as well as connect the fruits of urban agriculture with local consumers and businesses. Further, such maps enable people to find out what is going on in their communities and plug in. These are among the current aims of continued research by the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project.

To read a more detailed overview of the Chicago study, findings and future aims, click here.

Rome and Chicago highlight an overseen value of local urban food production: mapping where production is happening. This is especially important considering that a large proportion of food in cities is produced in locations that are ultimately off the grid and unrecognized.

Accessible maps inventorying urban agricultural initiatives may then lead to increased local food production and local support. Here, there is potential for it to manifest in greater local initiative and participation, better-tended and bigger gardens, more food and more possibilities for this food to reach consumers whether directly or through local businesses such as supermarkets, shops and restaurants. On another level, such mapping data helps cities recognize where urban agriculture initiatives are located, what type of space they need, and perhaps devise better land management policies to accommodate local food production.

“More than an organization”, Urban Farming is trying to advance these aims on a global scale. Their “Urban Farming Global Food Chain” map seeks to identify garden locations around the world. View the map here. This is an admirable and useful project, locating friend, family, community and corporate gardens; however, for individual cities to benefit most from mapping, detailed local maps need to not only be created, but we must learn how to best act on the information.

Is your city mapping its local food production?

Posted on 21 July 2014 and filed under News

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