3 November 2016
Adoption of the New Urban Agenda at a conference in Quito, Ecuador, provided a framework to guide global urban development over the next 20 years.  Photo: Grace Muriuki
Adoption of the New Urban Agenda at a conference in Quito, Ecuador, provided a framework to guide global urban development over the next 20 years. Photo: Grace Muriuki

Food and the New Urban Agenda – cities down-under can do better, and there is no better time than now

For a country with more than 75 per cent of its people living in its 20 largest cities, Australia must get urban development right.

Urban food systems (including all the activities and outcomes from production to consumption) are at the centre of sustainable development, and food cannot be separated from all the other dimensions related to urban planning.

Adoption of the New Urban Agenda at a recent conference in Quito, Ecuador, reaffirmed the political commitment by nation states to sustainable urbanisation, and provided a framework to guide global urban development over the next 20 years.

The NUA is based on a shared vision of cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In an era of rapid urbanisation it remains one of the most pressing development challenges. Analysts are already alluding to the lack of prominence given to food systems in the New Urban Agenda (NUA).

Although no two cities are the same, Australian cities grapple with the full range of urban food-system issues such as the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases, high environmental footprints, inequality, and excessive food waste. Melbourne for example, rated as one of the world’s most liveable cities, wastes enough food to feed more than two million people for a year.

GCI’s Dr Grace Muriuki was part of a 55 member delegation from across Australia that travelled to Quito to attend Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (17 – 20 October).

The team comprised mostly academics, a majority from Victoria, and also included Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Gillian Bird who presented the National statement, as well as Second Secretary, Australian Mission to the United Nations, Julian Simpson. Australia’s national statement at the conference highlighted the country’s priorities on housing and transport and their alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In particular, the creation of a ministry for cities and the launch of the government’s ‘Smart Cities’ plan were put forward as a demonstration of commitment to sustainable urbanisation in Australia and its ‘regions’.

Creative solutions to food system challenges

We can learn from global cities that are implementing comprehensive and innovative partnerships across research, policy and communities.

Baltimore and Mexico City were recently recognised at the inaugural Milan Pact Awards for their urban food policies. The Milan Pact is the first international agreement on urban food policies. Vancouver and Toronto, Quito, Lusaka, Riga, and Birmingham were also awarded for their efforts in different dimensions of more sustainable and fairer urban food systems.

Municipalities the world over are finding creative ways to improve their food systems; for example, In Bordeaux, France, Les Confitures de Dominique turns outdated produce into jam, chutney and soup. WeFood, in Copenhagen, stocks only food that is unworthy of other supermarket shelves because of aesthetic imperfections and damaged packaging. In Dorchester, a grocery store sells surplus and aging food at discounted prices, and in UK, Toast Ale makes beer from surplus bread.

 In Paris, residents are being encouraged to grow vegetation just about anywhere they can imagine, and to add gardens to homes and offices. The mayor has set of goal of creating 100 hectares of agriculture, green roofs and other vegetation in the city by 2020.

Australian city planners have an opportunity to build on the momentum of Habitat III to craft innovative approaches and build better food systems for cities down under, and contribute toward realising the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and there is no better time than now.

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