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Sustainable Food in Urban Communities: Complete Overview

Developing low-carbon and resource-efficient urban food systems, by focusing on three areas: growing, delivering and enjoying food.
  • Integrated Urban Development Integrated Urban Development
  • Environment Environment

The Thematic Network "Sustainable Food in Urban Communities" will focus on developing low-carbon and resource-efficient urban food systems.

Indeed, the food sector alone accounts for over 30% of global consumer energy demand and produces over 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions (FAO 2011).

The urban population tends to be out of touch with agricultural production, and the city food culture increasingly moves towards fast food, processed foods, distributed by large centralised supermarket chains that are not rooted in the life of city neighbourhoods. Many consumers, especially, those with low incomes, eat too little fruit and vegetables because of the cost but also because it is not part of their culture and habits.

Today, more than 50% of the world population lives in cities and by 2050, urban centres will gather more than 80%. Meanwhile, per capita calorie consumption in the EU27 exceeds daily requirements by 36% since the early 1990s.

The current food system cannot meet this growing food demand of cities sustainably. It results in significant environmental impacts, but also social inequity in terms of access to balanced and affordable nutritious food in cities.

The network will focus on:

  • GROWING fruit and vegetable in the city, in gardens, in parks, on rooftops, on balconies, on derelict lands etc., safeguarding & improving fertility of lands;
  • DELIVERING food stuffs in a more sustainable and less carbon intensive way;
  • ENJOYING more sustainable food (local products, without pesticides, seasonal and fresh products, etc.) while improving diets (reducing the share of animal protein and processed foods), using products that meet environmental and sustainability criteria (certification), and preventing waste (food and its packaging).

This transition will involve changes in perceptions, attitudes and finally behaviours.

We are strongly motivated both by the topic addressed by our network and the unique URBACT framework that enables cities to learn from each other and truly improve their policies.

The Topic

In the world, according to the FAO, the food sector alone accounts for over 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, around 1/3 of the food produced for human consumption is wasted or lost. Making our urban food systems more sustainable can thus yield major benefits in terms of carbon intensity and resource efficiency. It involves notably the use of local and seasonal products (short supply chains), improving diets (reducing the share of animal protein and processed foods), using products that meet environmental and sustainability criteria (certification), promoting self-production (fruit & vegetable gardens, use of derelict lands), and preventing waste (food and its packaging).

The Brussels Capital region has substantial experience in sustainable food research and actions and the political will to go further and learn from others, for instance, to work both on supply and on perceptions of the general public towards sustainable food choices among audiences not yet reached, finding new approaches and tools adapted to them. It will be essential to facilitate the transition of existing local market actors towards shorter supply chains and greater sustainability and encourage the emergence of new actors, not only to reduce CO2 emissions and overall environmental impacts, but also to secure and create long term local jobs and strengthen urban communities.

The URBACT Framework

Compared to other European programmes that allow international exchange, learning and capitalisation, the URBACT programme is particularly well framed in terms of methods, training, tools and both technical and strategic support offered.

This website is an example: project partners are provided the tool and can focus on content – they do not need to spend time hiring a sub-contractor to set-up an altogether new website that will only become operational half-way through the project and later be abandoned with limited visibility; right from the start, information can be shared in a professional way.

Moreover, the two-staged process of a 6-month development phase followed by a 27-month implementation phase with an enlarged partnership enables the gradual refining and up-scaling of the proposal. This facilitates the involvement of city partners who would not otherwise have been able to dedicate sufficient time and resources to drafting a winning project proposal. This unique framework has given us and our partners the confidence that we will be able to spend much more time and effort on fruitful exchanges, stakeholder involvement and policy development rather than on meeting purely administrative requirements.

Who will benefit from this network?

  1. The project partners and other participants in transnational meetings and site visits: they will concretely get to see what is happening elsewhere, gain some distance to their local activities, and be able to inject new ideas and different ways of tackling sustainable food into their work.
  2. The stakeholders in the city: involved in the Local Support Group they will become more aware of the various initiatives already taking place in the field of sustainable food and the challenges faced in their city to create more synergies and to jointly shape a concrete action plan. For the citizens the topic will also gain greater visibility and enable them to play a role by changing their behavior and lifestyle choices.
  3. Other cities that are engaging in the process of making their food system more sustainable: they can benefit from our outputs and possibly take part in some project meetings as speakers or observers to benefit from the shared experience.
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