Cities rely on a familiar toolkit to become stronger, healthier, and more livable: expand transportation, create public space, add jobs, construct housing.
While these strategies have been proven to work, they also fuel inequality and displacement; not everyone benefits from a big build. A different approach is poised to promote more socially resilient and sustainable growth: food-oriented development.
Food-oriented development is not new—organizations have been successfully implementing these programs locally for years. However, a new grant program from the Kresge Foundation called FreshLo—shorthand for “Fresh, Local, and Equitable”—is affirming this approach and investing much-needed capital to help it scale. Recently, it awarded 23 nonprofits $200,000 each to nurture this type of work.
The discussion about food and urbanism usually focuses on grocery store access and the need to eliminate food deserts—areas without grocery stores—and food swamps—areas with a high concentration of unhealthy food—as the presence of each correlates with areas that have high obesity rates.
But food-oriented development is much more: it’s about using food as a creative placemaking tool, a cultural preservation mechanism, and a platform for equitable economic development. The Kresge Foundation hopes that food-oriented development becomes as much a part of the urbanist’s parlance as its namesake transit-oriented development, the strategy of concentrating new development around public transportation infrastructure.
“Transit-oriented development can be capital intensive, take a long time, and provide a mixed bag in terms of benefits—especially for low-income communities—and there are limited opportunities for community ownership,” says Chris Kabel, director of the Kresge Foundation’s health program. “But food-oriented development doesn’t take as many resources to implement, can be rapidly iterated and prototyped, and there are better opportunities for people to influence how development occurs.”
But is food-oriented development just a new buzz phrase, or can it actually make communities more equitable? As the recipients of Kresge’s FreshLo grants show, thinking about food beyond sustenance can nourish communities physically, socially, and economically. The path to a healthier city is through its stomach.