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Urban planners fail to ask all the right questions

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  • Sustainability must include America's ability to remain agriculturally self-sufficient.
     

 

There’s long been the idea that to build a city you must ensure that the infrastructure is in place to supply that city – or at the very least the ability to simultaneously move to provide that infrastructure. Roads and utilities are necessary components of any American urban center. In our modern culture how do you expect to drive to work or the grocery store, shop online, or drink water and bathe without flowing water, paved streets, electricity, natural gas and telecommunications?

Why don’t we consider food production in the same conversation as we do other forms of urban planning? For instance, where will the food for our new city come from? Are we transporting it in on our newly paved streets from out-of-state or is it grown much closer? If it’s grown closer, how close? Is our new city going to disrupt nearby commercial food production or enhance it?

While everything from roads to power to fiber optics for high-speed internet are considered in such endeavors, the two oft-ignored needs continue to be food and water.

What about the water for our new city? Is there sufficient water for our new city AND those already tapped into its source? Yes, you say? Prove it!

Where does that water come from? What happens in the case of a drought?

While for most the idea of building a city is simply a matter of space – is there room for that housing tract, distribution center, shopping center, and school campus? For others the very visible results are the lack of land on which to farm and water with which to irrigate that farm.

Almost nowhere is this scene more obvious than in Modesto, Calif., where urban planners there have constantly been pushing city boundaries onto some of the most fertile farmland known to man.

A current plan seeks to push Modesto westward onto prime farmland where numerous commodities are grown. Growers – residents of this region – are fighting back.

America’s ability to be a self-sufficient producer of agricultural products is severely hampered by such moves. The food grown here not only feeds domestic consumers, but is a significant part of America’s multi-billion dollar food export economy.

Inherent in the urban planning process there needs to be a philosophy of sustainability. The sustainability of a community cannot be seen in the more immediate jobs created by construction, which by its very nature is unsustainable and temporary. Neither are service-sector jobs a sustainable part of community growth as they tend to be lower paying and not the kind that allow for robust housing starts. Sustainability happens through manufacturing.

Modesto and its surrounding region have a long tradition of food manufacturing and processing that remains a stabilizing economic force in the region. These processors exist because of the proximity of raw food production in the region.

Food processors such as Crystal Creamery, Blue Diamond Growers, E and J Gallo Winery, Don Juan Foods, Import Food Company, Con Agra Foods, Foster Farms, Del Monte Foods, Alta Quality Nutrition, Meyenberg Goat Milk and Stanislaus Food Products, just to name a few, are members of local communities where climate and soil combine to make the region one of the richest agricultural zones in the world.

 

Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

 

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Larry McHargue (not verified)
on Jan 20, 2014

I have long held the opinion that the loss of agricultural land is as serious, and perhaps more serious than, any other problem facing California. Many of the crops that do well in our Mediterranean climatic regime would not be as productive in other locations in the US, and some simply would not be commercially feasible elsewhere. We must retain the variety of foods and crops that has provided the this nation with most diverse diet in the history of the world.

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