This story is from the category World Specific Developments
Date posted: 07/01/2013
Urban agriculture is promoted as a strategy for dealing with food insecurity, stimulating economic development, and combating diet-related health problems in cities. However, up to now, no one has known how much gardening is taking place in urban areas. Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a methodology that they used to quantify the urban agriculture in Chicago.
John Taylor, a doctoral candidate working with crop sciences researcher Sarah Taylor Lovell, was skeptical about the lists of urban gardens provided to him by local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
"Various lists were circulating," he said. "One of them had almost 700 gardens on it."
On closer inspection, however, many of these "gardens" turned out to be planter boxes or landscaping and were not producing food. On the other hand, Taylor suspected that there were unnoticed gardens in backyards or vacant lots.
"There's been such a focus on community gardens and urban farms, but not a lot of interest in looking at backyard gardens as an area of research," Lovell agreed. An accurate map of these sites would be helpful for advocacy groups and community planners.
Taylor uploaded the lists from the NGOs into Google Earth, which automatically geocoded the sites by street address. He used a set of reference images of community gardens, vacant lot gardens, urban farms, school gardens, and home food gardens to determine visual indicators of food gardens.
Using these indicators and Google Earth images, he examined the documented sites. Of the 1,236 "community gardens," only 160, or 13 percent, were actually producing food.
Taylor then looked at Google Earth images of Chicago to locate food production sites. This work took more than 400 hours over an 8-month period. He identified 4493 possible sites, most of which were residential gardens of 50 square meters or less, and visited a representative sample of gardens on vacant land to confirm that they were really producing food.
All the large sites and a sample of the small sites were digitized as shapefiles (digital vector storage formats for storing geometric location and associated attribute information) in Google Earth. These shapefiles were imported into Arc Map 10, a geographic information system (GIS) mapping tool, to calculate the total area.
The final estimate was 4,648 urban agriculture sites with a production area of 264,181 square meters. Residential gardens and single-plot gardens on vacant lots accounted for almost three-fourths of the total.
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