by S Barthel, C Isendahl

Ecological Economics 86:224-234


Due to rapid population growth in the past two centuries, large cities have steadily increased their reliance on global food systems and fossil fuels to obtain foodstuffs from distant countries. Although global connectivity between cities and remote food supplies can decrease a city’s vulnerability to food shortages and foster resilience during crises, sudden cuts in supply lines pose major threats to urban food security. This paper assesses food security resilience for urban populations and examines how historical agriculture, urban gardens, and water management have contributed to reliable food security during eras of scarcity. The authors compared two historical metropolitan landscapes, the pre-Columbian Lowland Maya cities in Mesoamerica and medieval Constantinople in the eastern Mediterranean, to determine how city inhabitants established food security and dealt with supply line severances. A multi-scalar approach was utilized to examine long-term processes and historical events. Captured experiences were analyzed using social-ecological memory due to its capability to uncover vital relations between humans and living ecosystems that affect the ability of humans to respond to disturbance. The results revealed that unlike the Maya cities, who produced a significant amount of the food they consumed while also engineering energy-efficient food production methods, Constantinople employed similar methods only when there were cuts in supply lines. The authors also discovered that the most significant dissimilarities between these cases were the environmental frameworks, urban morphology, and transport systems. Despite this, both cases demonstrate that food and water security on local and regional scales depends on spatial access to nearby landscapes that support food production and on systems that harbor autonomous agricultural outputs at lower levels of social organization. Based on this research, it appears that agricultural production is not “the antithesis of the city,” but often an urban activity performed by the collective that contributes to the resilience of cities.

Publication Type: Journal article
Keywords: gardens, green infrastructure, and urban agriculture