on April 16, 2011
The new APA report on urban agriculture is something that a select audience of policy-makers might find useful in their day jobs. I emphasize day jobs in hopes that the people who would benefit have access to their employer's book budget because it's hard to justify its cost if you had to pay out of pocket. (The `product details' on this webpage seem pretty accurate: it's not a big book and it has a lot of glossy pictures, so the cost per page is substantial.)
The book really has three main parts. The first is an overview of urban agriculture, which probably isn't going to be that informative to people engage in policy on the subject (but can serve as a credible introduction to those that aren't). One of the things that really became clear to me in reading this argument for urban ag is just how thin the research in support of it is. It'll probably be up to academics to (someday) provide a rigorous analysis of whether this is really an effective and sensible strategy to improving cities.
The second part is on how urban ag can be incorporated into local municipal policies. To those engaged in local planning, this is unlikely to hold many surprises: it's a matter, on the public sector side, of working urban ag into plans, zoning codes, etc., and on the private or non-profit side (usually), of documenting the local foodshed , with all sectors working to establish a vision. But again, I could imagine if I had a huge budget, that there are some people that I work with that I'd like to give copies of this report to make sure that we're all on the same page.
The third part is the best. It includes 11 moderately brief case studies of Canadian and US cities' policy experiences with urban ag. A couple of points shine through: first, most of what has happened has actually happened in the last several years. Some progressive cities like Seattle have been doing things for years, but it's only been recently that there's been a serious bandwagon effect. What I like about these case studies is that they mostly lack the cheer-leading mentality of so many planning case studies and instead are realistic about the challenges of doing urban ag policy. (It seems like the wall that a lot of places run into is a deep aversion to freeing up regulations covering _commercial_ urban ag efforts enough that they can actually thrive.)
The report also has a number of appendices that can point the reader toward municipal urban ag policies throughout the US and Canada, though for the ones that I've looked at previously I'm not sure I'd emphasize the same points that they put in their short summaries. Just knowing what cities to look at, however, can be pretty useful and the time saved by them is probably the biggest justification for purchasing this.