2009 CPEO Brownfields List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Fri, 9 Oct 2009 16:07:10 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-brownfields
Subject: [CPEO-BIF] Edible Cities: Urban Farming in Indianapolis, Indiana
Edible Cities: Urban Farming in Indianapolis

Bob Hersh
September, 2009

In many cities, particularly those in the Midwest and the rust belt, planners and community groups are concerned less with Smart Growth than with what some have called "Smart Decline," the need to plan for "shrinking cities." One indicator of a shrinking city is the prevalence of vacant land within city boundaries. For example, in 2003, even before the recent wave of foreclosures, one out of every thirty homes in Indianapolis, Indiana - about 6,000 properties - were vacant or abandoned. More recent data suggests the number of vacant residential structures in the city is likely to have increased three fold, to 18,000, while some 4,000 industrial and commercial properties have been abandoned as well.

This phenomenon of shrinking cities is playing out in other parts of the country. Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Youngstown, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh each have lost roughly half of their residential population in the past fifty years. Deindustrialization explains part of this exodus. But the roots of this phenomenon are more complicated. Changes in transportation, mortgage financing, tax policy, and zoning practices, as well as domestic tastes for larger lot sizes and larger houses, have created the vast network of suburbs that ring our cities. In addition, land use policies have extended supply chains with the help of our highway systems, leaving people further from their workplaces, manufacturers further from their customers, and farmers further from their markets. Food products, for example, typically travel between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to plate.

Faced with surplus land and weak markets for real estate development, cities such as Indianapolis have begun to consider a strategy of "re-localization," where developing local food systems can help extract value from the city's portfolio of vacant and abandoned properties. This policy brief considers why urban agriculture can be a means to build community assets, particular in poorer, inner-city neighborhoods. It describes how and why in Indianapolis this strategy has begun to emerge, how urban farming policies attempt to build on the city's community garden efforts, and what challenges community groups, advocates for urban farming, and local government officials have encountered.


To download this 8-page, 2.5 MB PDF, go to


Lenny Siegel
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
a project of the Pacific Studies Center
278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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