Putting Paradise in the Parking Lot: Using Zoning to Promote Urban Agriculture

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In March of 1997, Mary Seton Coroby and her then-business partner Tom Sereduk stood on the abandoned, trash-strewn lot of a former galvanized steel plant in Philadelphia. (1) The old industrial site located amongst the still-operating factories of York Street (2) and a neighborhood of tightly packed row houses was perhaps the furthest thing from an archetypal farm property. (3) Undeterred, Mary and Tom capitalized on the beginnings of the "buy local" movement, planting and hydroponically (4) growing thirteen varieties of lettuce and selling to the City's restaurants. (5) Years later, Greensgrow Farm has transformed that once dilapidated industrial lot into a thriving business that earns close to one million dollars a year. (6)

Urban agriculture and the local food movement are altering the way Americans think about and experience food production, creating a "new wave of conscious eaters" (7) who want to buy fresh, local, and sustainably grown food. From Michelle Obama's organic vegetable garden on the South Lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (8) to rooftop growing beds in Brooklyn, (9) Americans and their cities have begun to take notice of the urban agricultural movement (10) as a way to encourage health, food security, environmental stewardship, and economic and community development. (11) While the success of urban farms is tied to the vision and industriousness of local producers, (12) such as Mary Coroby, it is also inextricably tied to the municipal zoning regulations of the cities the farms call home.

The establishment and operation of urban agricultural activities are significantly affected by municipal zoning and land use policies. (13) On a general level, urban agriculture can be defined as "the growing, processing, and distribution of food and other products through intensive plant cultivation and animal husbandry in and around cities." (14) As cities begin to recognize the numerous forms and benefits of urban agriculture, some have taken steps to actively promote it through "protective zoning," (15) which sanctions agricultural production. Conversely, local policies can also place inhibitive restrictions on urban agriculture. Outdated zoning regulations frequently, and often unintentionally, present obstacles to urban agricultural development. (16) Restrictive zoning can prohibit city residents from raising farm animals, constructing greenhouses, and even selling produce from a backyard garden. (17) Examining the policy regimes of cities that have been leaders in urban agricultural zoning (18) can facilitate responsible consideration of the different kinds of zoning and the purposes those models are designed to serve.

This Note explores municipal zoning regulations related to urban agriculture and evaluates specific zoning mechanisms that can be implemented to promote the efficient accommodation of urban agriculture and access to locally grown food. Consideration of the benefits and costs of urban agriculture, alongside the zoning practices of leading cities, will assist in developing zoning laws that meet the needs of American cities and citizens. Part I of this Note introduces the concept and history of urban agriculture, providing an overview of its benefits and challenges. Part II examines municipal zoning and the principal zoning restrictions that impact farming and gardening in a city. Part III reviews the varied efforts of municipalities to support urban agriculture by incorporating it into local zoning codes. Part IV concludes by offering recommendations for the municipal integration of agriculture into the urban fabric, with particular attentiveness to participatory policymaking in the form of food policy councils. (19)

I. THE CONCEPT OF URBAN AGRICULTURE

A basic definition and knowledge of urban agriculture--its history, evolution, characteristics, benefits, and risks--is necessary to realizing how municipal planning and policy can promote farming and gardening in cities. …