Coming soon to a city near you: Open-source agriculture


By Danielle Gould

Most people attempting to build a viable urban agriculture business are acutely aware of the enormously challenging and time-consuming process of navigating zoning regulations. Having worked in this sector, I can personally testify that the process is tedious and time-sucking. Over the past couple of years, a number of cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago have begun enacting, or at the very least exploring, new regulations. One of the major challenges facing policymakers, however, is identifying effective policies and best practices.

Which is why I got excited when I learned about Washington, D.C.-based John Reinhardt and the urban agriculture zoning and food sovereignty ordinance maps recently launched on his blog Grown in the City. Among other things covered, Reinhardt and his cousin Bob Wall are using technology to help people understand urban agriculture and food sovereignty policy approaches across the United States. Grown in The City’s new iTools column focuses on educating urban agriculturists of all kinds on how they can use open source technology to better communicate food policy and urban planning data, reviews tools, and highlights other resourceful websites.

My interview with Reinhardt gives insight into the maps, why open-source data is crucial for optimizing policy decision-making, and the food and tech trends that he’s most excited about.

Q. How did an urban planner get interested in food and tech?

A. I’ve always been interested in a variety of topics: gardening, food, media, technology, sociology, architecture … I think it’s partly why I became an urban planner (an interdisciplinary profession that potentially touches on all of these topics and more). So, I think a better way to answer your question is that I became interested in urban planning through my interests in food and tech (and everything else related to cities).

Growing up in Staten Island, my family kept a kitchen garden, and this made a huge impression on me. At the same time, four years at a science and tech high school, followed by an undergrad in interdisciplinary humanities and communication gave me all the skills to succeed as an urban planner — which included courses in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), computer graphics, database analysis, and other “techie” things.

It wasn’t until the end of my formal urban planning coursework at Penn that I discovered the burgeoning specialty of food systems planning, through the work of Domenic Vitiello, who guest lectured in a sustainable development class. My interest in the topic led me to start Grown in the City, which sits squarely at the intersection of food systems, urban planning, design, gardening, and policy.

Q. Could you tell us about Grown In The City’s weekly iTools column?

A. The weeky iTools column is a chance to explicitly link the urban agriculture community and the technology community. As I’ve seen over the past few years, many large companies such as IBM, Seimens, and GE are starting to focus on “smart city” technology. At the same time, individuals now have the tools to develop iPhone applications, websites, blogs, and other outlets to share information. iTools is the nexus between the techology, the policy, and the practice.

Read full post at Grist

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