The Allure of Food: It’s not just a lifestyle. It’s a life.

All the recent talk of Agrarian Urbanism has sent me down a tangential thought process. The difference between life and lifestyle. Lifestyle has come to mean how we spend our money on the weekends – or maybe squeeze in after work – before we get back to the grind. Things that often have more to do with entertainment than community. Over the last 50 years or so, shopping and golf have become central national pastimes.

What if, instead, life became a little more organic again?

Innately, life is internal. Lifestyle is external. However, in my parent’s generation, in a more agrarian time, they were one and the same. We were more connected – by necessity – to what sustains us.

The coming age of austerity has caused all sorts of redefinitions, and has brought a number of reprioritizations. Lifestyle has perhaps been put in its place a bit, giving life its due.

Yesterday, Andrés Duany said something that particularly struck me. That, in the next generation, the market square is likely to replace the shopping square.

The Market Square. Click for larger view. Credit: DPZ.

When my parents were kids, this was certainly true. The farmer’s market was a gathering place that was not only fully integrated into both local urbanism and culture, but was also essential to life. Most cities had at least one in each quadrant, although sadly few historical examples have survived. The ones that have are regional destinations and National Historic Register material. Now you’d be hard pressed to find a community-based economic development plan without a farmer’s market, in both rural and urban settings.

Agriculture is making its way back into our lives as we search for the organic, the connected, and the communal. As we search for meaningful daily rituals and seasonal celebrations. As we search for slow food, localism, community, economic resiliency, environmental stewardship, health and fitness, and just plain fun. And in a time in which we’re seeking to wean ourselves off of petroleum for a wide range of reasons, localism seems like a viable path forward.

Andrés is releasing a new book this summer, Garden Cities, published by the Prince’s Foundation. One image from the book, above, illustrates the market square as the “primary social condenser of Agrarian Urbanism.” The book overall examines global strategies for the integration of agriculture at multiple scales serving multiple goals.

The movement isn’t just North Americans trying to do penance for their love affair with the car. Garden Cities examines Ag Urb urban designs in Edinburg, Scotland, Vancouver, BC, Southlands, BC, Dumfries, Scotland, Hertfordshire County, England, Santa Gloria, Mexico.

US examples include Dade County, FL, Onondaga County, NY, St. Bernard Parish, LA, Londonberry, NH, Calhoun County, FL, Sandy Point, NC, Cloud Rock, UT, Goodbee Square, LA, and Flower Mound, TX.

Countless farms, community gardens, and community-supported agriculture hold some amazing stories. Many have been transformative for people as well as place, like the Homeless Garden Project. Along with the economy, like the Portland Food Innovation Center, the Appalachian Center For Economic Networks, to name a few.

So today, what makes me so fulfilled by digging in the dirt in my small back yard? Cultivating some herbs and vegetables, snacking on arugula in passing. And does that sense of fulfillment have the sort of universal resonance to make this ag urb idea take widespread root?

Can the funds we’ve been investing in ornamental landscape and entertainment pastimes be reallocated to something more productive and fulfilling? And could food  – growing it, sharing it and eating it – be it? It may be too soon to say, but there’s an ever growing army of allies and like-minded thinkers more than willing to work the issue until, well, the cows come home.

There are times I feel it can’t happen soon enough. What do you think?

–Hazel Borys


  1. In case your readers aren’t aware, your image is from the proposed Southlands development. It’s in a municipality called Tsawwassen in the greater Metro Vancouver region (not the “greenest city” of Vancouver itself, but in the nearby suburbs).

    That development was very vocally shouted down, despite looking pretty good to me:
    1. 2.

    Shortly afterwards, Tsawwassen First Nation proposed a mall nearby, which doesn’t seem to have attracted any ire at all. Gordon Price and I compared the two here:

  2. I particularly enjoyed this blog.

    This year, due to a very shady yard, we ventured out to the public right of way and built a Verge Garden, utilizing the wide (in my neighborhood) space between the curb and sidewalk to grow food. We even invite our neighbors to pick veggies (and ask them to pull a weed). We had to go through an encroachment permit process with a very supportive City of Charleston but also had to contend with a few neighbors who, so used to traditional landscapes, thought vegetables were “tacky and unsightly”. We have neighbors meeting, congregating, and socializing in our little garden every day.

    As landscape architects / urban designers we are constantly looking for ways to incorporate urban ag into our projects and we are currently designing our second farmers. The first has become a true meeting place and the second will help revive an uptown area. Charleston’s farmers market is a great place to buy produce but is also a social center on Saturday mornings.

    My partner, Elizabeth Beak, ( has a background in permaculture (UC Santa Cruz) and started a new consulting firm (Crop Up) with the aim of “creating resilient places by bringing agriculture and community together”. Trident Technical College, Clemson University, College of Charleston, and the Medical University of SC are all interested in working with her to create community gardens, farm to school programs, school garden / nutrition programs, and incubator farms.

    What we eat, where we got it, how it was grown, and who grew it are becoming big factors in our lives.

  3. In addition to Agrarian Urbanism, add a Food Policy Council & a LIFA: Land Inventory Food Assessment for the Community Food Trinity Trifecta

  4. Neil, Bill, Paul, thank you for sharing! Just returned home to Winnipeg from a long charrette in Calgary, and the garden pulled first rank this morning. Off topic to the charrette, Andrés lectured on ag urb last week in Calgary, and ended up filling the house two nights. Paul — thanks for giving up your seat and coming back on night two. Those lectures ended up trending on Twitter. At the end, I feel like we have more questions than answers. But I’m delighted with some of the answers that local ingenuity and passion are generating. Including from the three of you. Thanks!

  5. Good blog post — Urban agriculture, especially community gardens and farms, have great potential to invigorate community spirit and strengthen neighborhood connections. At least in my part of the world, community gardens are one of the few places where people of all ages work together and get to know each other — seniors work side by side with young families and develop relationships that strengthen the community.

  6. Philip Bess says

    Hazel: Love the post, love the image (sorry to hear the project was not well-received), love the locovore movement. My only criticism: golf is not like shopping and is not a lifestyle, but is rather a particularly subtle and demanding game, and a worthy pastime in and of itself. This is not to defend or promote golf as a high-maintenance real-estate strategy—emerald green fairways winding through subdivisions in Phoenix—but historic golf courses in the British Isles (where golf was invented) are models of eco-friendly development, and are often urban to boot. The relation of The Old Course to the Town of St. Andrews, or Royal Dornoch to the Village of Dornoch (though, alas, not its recent subdivision developments), should be urban golf paradigms. All the best….


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