Interest in health and safety programs that focus on improving the places people live, work, and play has grown over the past decade. A renaissance seeks to move beyond a focus on individuals and lifestyle changes—for example educating people about nutrition or relying on them to always drive safely and mind pedestrians— to embrace a broader emphasis on the environmental contexts within which individuals live. This means changing and improving the very structure of neighborhoods; for example, designing sidewalks that encourage walking but also separate pedestrians from traffic, or implementing policies and infrastructure to bring supermarkets—and fresh fruits and vegetables— to neighborhoods with only a corner bodega. If done right, place-based programs have the potential to become truly transformational policies for the health and safety of large populations.
Engineers and urban planners prominently figured into some of the earliest and largest place-based public health successes. Electrical power grids, water chlorination, building codes, and roadway redesign did more to enhance the health of the public than many (maybe any) other programs, including medical care. These programs were widely successful because they focused on places or structural changes while being cost-effective and readily scalable to cover entire communities, thus impacting large numbers of people for long periods of time. For example, it has been estimated that clean water technologies alone (filtration and chlorination) were responsible for nearly half of the total mortality reduction in major cities between 1900 and 1936, and helped to nearly eradicate typhoid fever, a major public health threat of that time.
In the last decade, a select few programs that change the places people live, work and play have been shown effective at some of the highest levels of scientific evidence. One such program that I have studied is the Philadelphia LandCare Program, a joint effort between the City of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society that transforms some of Philadelphia’s trash-strewn and blighted vacant lots into clean, green, neighborhood spaces. In a study that analyzed the program over a 10 year period, my colleagues and I found that the program’s health and safety benefits reached far beyond its immediate aesthetic improvements in a given neighborhood. The transformed lots were associated with a marked reduction in gun crime, as well as improved health behaviors for neighborhood inhabitants, such as increased exercise and decreased stress levels.
The Penn effort to study urban phenomena, such as vacant properties or the Philadelphia LandCare program, has been highly multidisciplinary and growing over the past several years. Epidemiologists, statisticians, business analysts, criminologists, geographers, anthropologists, economists, and others have been involved in what has turned out to be an extraordinarily worthwhile research endeavor. Perhaps the attraction for all these different scientists, who often do not work with one another, is the potential for real-world impact that they see in this line of research. To date, several peer-reviewed scientific articles have been produced on the subject by Penn investigators.     And the enthusiasm for this topic at the university-level is only exceeded by the dedication of the many private and municipal partners who are the real impetus behind urban blight reduction strategies such as the Philadelphia LandCare program – the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development, the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, and the Philadelphia Managing Directors Office.
The results of our research on the Philadelphia LandCare Program are promising, but more— much more— scientific evidence is needed to effectively design and implement future place-based programs. Such evidence would provide guidance on which place-based programs warrant research investments at the highest levels, including which should perhaps be selected for randomized trials. Successful programs should be quickly disseminated and unsuccessful programs retooled (or abandoned) as part of a larger rapid cycle learning process. As a basic guide to selection, we should consider programs that have three cardinal features: (1) they make basic structural changes to places, (2) they are scalable to large populations, and (3) they have reasonable sustainability. Programs designed to improve the health and safety of the community writ large will increase in the coming decades. This will, and should, prominently include place-based programs.
Creating vibrant, livable spaces, particularly in areas suffering from urban decline, requires that city planners, public health experts and engineers work together to create large-scale and sustainable place-based programs. Such programs do not simply grow and develop organically; they must be carefully designed and implemented—and they require resources if their impact is to be felt. The growing public policy and academic interest in place-based health and safety programs is encouraging. However, to implement such programs on a large scale will require a shift in focus toward the broader contexts of public health and safety, as well as significantly more research. Over time, this investment in time and resources has great potential for transforming urban spaces, and dramatically affecting the quality of many lives. It is an investment that will require long-term thinking, creative program design and a good deal of work. And it will require a commitment to the idea that safe and healthy places are made, not born.
Charles Branas is a Penn IUR faculty fellow and professor of epidemiology at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
 Cutler, D. and Miller, G. (February, 2005). The Role of Public Health Improvements in Health Advances: The Twentieth-Century United States. Demography, vol. 42, no. 1, 1-22.
 Susan M Wachter, Grace Wong (2008), What is a Tree Worth? Green City Strategies and Housing Prices, Real Estate Economics, 2008, 213-239.
 Branas CC, Cheney RA, MacDonald JM, Tam VW, Jackson TD, Ten Have TR: A difference-in-differences analysis of health, safety, and greening vacant urban space. American Journal of Epidemiology 174: 1-11, 2011.
 Branas CC, Gracia N, Rubin D, Guo W: Vacant properties and violence in neighborhoods. ISRN Public Health 2012: 1-23, 2012.
 Garvin E, Branas CC, Keddem S, Sellman J, Cannuscio C: More than just an eyesore: local insights and solutions on vacant land and urban health. Journal of Urban Health 12(7): 9782-7, 2012.
 Garvin E, Branas CC, Cannuscio CC: Greening vacant lots to reduce violent crime: A randomized controlled trial. Injury Prevention 18(5): 1-6, 2012.
We are pleased to announce the release of two new books in our City in the 21st Century book series, published in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Press. The newest titles are: "Locked In, Locked Out: Gated Communities in a Puerto Rican Neighborhood" by Zaire Zenit Dinzey-Flores and "Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia," by Gregory L. Heller.
Many previously published books in the C21 book series are now available in paperback. You can buy the following C21 books in paperback from the Penn Press website:
On April 22, Marc Imhoff, Deputy Director, Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland, delivered the MUSA GIS Earth Day Lecture, titled “Urbanization in the Anthropocene: What’s Ahead for Energy, Climate and Food Security?”
Imhoff discussed how rapid urbanization, population growth and increasing per capita consumption is putting immense pressure on our planet’s biological capacity in specific ways and influencing Earth’s biogeochemical and climate systems in ways we don’t fully understand. He discussed new approaches for addressing issues of energy, climate and food security using satellite data and new Integrated Modeling Approaches that couple socio-economics, climate and energy.
In 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation’s one-hundredth year, we have been deeply analyzing the issues and strengths that defined our first century. In that century, we recognized and addressed the link between food and population, most notably through the ‘Green Revolution’ launched by Rockefeller Foundation colleagues and grantees, designed to address hunger and famine. More recently, with the inexorable growth of cities both in terms of population and land area, we have looked at the nexus between cities and agriculture. Indeed, we see this intersection as mission-critical to our dual goals of building resilience against the acute shocks and stresses of our 21st century world, and promoting equitable growth.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Institute for Urban Research catalyzed important cross-sectoral collaboration on this area recently at its conference on Food Security in a Rapidly Urbanizing World. It has been rare that academics, practitioners or policy-makers have looked at the nexus of these two issues. The first Rockefeller Foundation and UPenn conference held about fifty years ago on urban design, featuring participants such as I.M. Pei, Lewis Mumford, architect Louis Kahn, and writer and critic Jane Jacobs, greatly shaped the field of urban studies and criticism for the 20th century. This March 2013 conference contributed again to new partnerships for tackling some of this century’s greatest urbanization challenges.
Last year, we instituted a new process at the Foundation that allows us to scan the horizon of pressing issues to see where we can have significant potential impact. One of the scans we undertook was on the question of “Feeding More with Less.” Through this process, we identified significant relevant trends. One is the expansion of the world’s urban areas, both in terms of population and land area. Between 2011 and 2050, the population is expected to increase by 2.3 billion, to 9.3 billion, with the urban population gaining 2.6 billion and reaching 6.3 billion – in other words, urban areas will absorb all of the population growth and draw in some of the rural population. This will be mostly concentrated in Asia and to a lesser extent in Africa. Much of this will be in second-tier, rather than ‘mega’, cities. Indeed, in the period 2011-2015 nearly half of urban population growth will occur in cities of fewer than half a million people. These cities often have a very different resource base in terms of the influence and capacity of public administration and services, economic activity, and dynamic employment opportunities. And whether second-tier or mega-cities, much of the expansion of urban areas is in unplanned, informal settlements with poor services.
With more young people moving to cities, there will be fewer working in agriculture, particularly youth. The average age for farmers in the US is about 55. In Japan it is 66. In Nigeria and Kenya 55-60, while in Thailand, 42 years. This is mainly because of increasing mechanization, and because of higher incomes and more opportunities in cities, but there is a worrisome aspect: essentially, young generations are becoming net food consumers rather than producers.
It is estimated that about a fifth of food insecure people are the urban poor. In general when we think of food security in an urbanizing world, there has been a dominant narrative about the “urban bias” – the notion that urban elites, rulers and elected politicians have over centuries suppressed the terms of trade between rural and urban economies to keep food prices for net consumers in cities lower than they really should be for a fair return to farmers. As such, many cities start with a natural advantage from the perspective of skewed economic incentives. In large cities with powerful leaders, supply chains and pricing signals will be maintained in their favor, and food will always be available at a price. Even for the poor in large cities, if prices are maintained artificially low, they benefit. In the short term this is favorable, but as a disincentive to farming in rural areas it poses a threat in the longer term – indeed it is one reason why youth of farming families migrate to cities in the first place.
There is also the issue of land. The land on which many cities have been built are particularly fertile, and there is continual encroachment onto peri-urban land by development of housing, infrastructure and industry. While this may make sense from an economic planning point of view – the value of real estate in cities is so high that low-value agriculture won’t make sense from a purely financial analysis – the loss of precious farmland in and around cities has already had an impact on food access, price, and quality in many places.
Changes in Demand
The second trend is changes in the demand for food and animal feed. As shown in the chart below, in order to meet 2030 food, feed and fuel demand, on present trends, it would require 175 to 220 million hectares of additional cropland, to say nothing of additional inputs of water and nutrients.
There are also significant shifts in dietary demands, particularly among urban dwellers, for more protein and nutrient-rich foods. The increase is most rapid and significant for those whose income moves from about $2 to $10 per day.While this increase is very good news for these populations, and for farmers who sell them their produce, the attendant price rise in food caused by this increase in demand will be felt negatively by those still near or below $2 per day. Targeted attention to those groups is critical.
Our Changing Climate
The third trend that will shape the future of food security in cities is climate change, which is likely to impact productive agricultural capacity significantly throughout this century. The map below indicates the estimated impacts of climate change alone on food production across the globe. It is particularly striking in certain latitudes where both heat increases and changes in normal rainfall patterns will cause drought, and flooding, and affect agricultural yields.
This is in addition to environmental degradation and pollution, which continues to weaken soil quality and lessen yields – the OECD reports that 25% of agricultural land is already severely degraded.
As recent years have demonstrated, critical shocks to the food system are severe and frequent, whether they are in the form of weather events, global food price spikes like those we saw in 2007-2008, or the eruption of regional conflict. This landscape and context presents new challenges, both for impoverished urban dwellers, and for farmers – and for the ecological systems and land that will need to support their income, consumption and dietary needs.
For an indicator of how emblematic food is in cities - of broader questions of power dynamics, class, justice and identity - one needs only think of the spark that set off the Arab Spring – a spark that illuminated the deep divisions across the Arab world over political disenfranchisement and low unemployment, underpinned by persistent inequality, and exacerbated by food insecurity and poverty. Only about 10% of wheat in global trade is affected by weather and climate, but in a region so dependent on food imports, with little advancement in drought-resistant local food production, a steady rise in food prices and high spikes twice in recent years really mattered. This is why the Rockefeller Foundation first concerned itself with food security as a matter of advancing international peace just after World War II.
The Concept of Resilience
It is well understood and accepted today that food security is about more than keeping hunger at bay - it’s about stable societies, productive societies – and in our 21st century world, it is about resilient societies. At the Rockefeller Foundation we define resilience as “the ability of a system, entity, community, or person to withstand chronic stresses and acute shocks and disruptions, while still maintaining essential functions and recovering quickly and effectively.” Simply put, resilience is a capacity that enables people, places and systems to survive, adapt, and thrive.
Much of the Foundation’s in-depth learning on resilience has come from the Building Climate Change Resilience Initiative. One component focuses on making agriculture and rural development in Africa more climate-proof. Another component is the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, also known as ACCCRN, which supports city-wide strategies, and specific investments that advance physical, social, and community resilience. Starting with 10 cities in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, ACCCRN grantees are leading over 30 new interventions in areas such as land use planning, drainage and flood management, emergency response systems, ecosystem strengthening, and disease surveillance. These interventions demonstrate practical ways to build resilience of systems, sectors, and communities to climate impacts, like rising sea-levels, unpredictable rainfall patterns, and increasing temperatures. This Initiative is expanding from 10 to more than 50 cities, and new countries, while also generating knowledge and platforms to equip national governments, donors, and the private sector to advance this agenda across hundreds more.
In the US, conceptual and practical work was invested in helping post-Katrina New Orleans, and more recently in leading the post-Superstorm Sandy New York State 2100 Commission on Resilience which aims to help New York State, and the cities within it, to become more resilient places.
This work has identified several core characteristics that resilient systems share and demonstrate, both in good times and in times of stress and shocks, to cope with risk and enable positive transformation:
Resilience strategies emerge when informed by a variety of disciplines including ecology, sociology, and economics.
With these principles in mind, the links between food security and the resilience of urban households, communities, and city-wide systems become clear. Yet much work remains to be done to understand better what makes food systems themselves more resilient to the economic and ecological disruptions that have become so commonplace, which have direct implications for food availability, access, and prices. What concrete steps can be taken to construct food production and supply systems that are more responsive to the needs of city dwellers, especially those who are particularly poor and otherwise vulnerable? What is needed is a combination of better public policies and different market mechanisms.
For example, given that agricultural productivity is already reaching its limits under existing production systems, and becoming further compromised by changes in climate, we must identify ways to increase production without placing additional stress on water, nitrogen and other inputs. In this regard, innovations on the horizon can be applied and scaled up, as long as key actors in government, in the multilateral system, in business, and in civil society form effective partnerships, and drive sufficient ‘impact investments’ into these areas. Such innovations include micro-irrigation, developing more drought- and flood-resistant strains of staples and other food crops, creating 21st-century alternatives to fossil fuel-based fertilizer, and use of more sustainable practices in the production of meat and fish. But to have a positive impact on poor city and rural communities alike, the cost of these innovations must be borne by government or businesses so they are affordable. And the fruits of the innovations have to move rapidly from research lab to farm to city markets.
Food security is not just about increasing agricultural productivity; it is also about increasing the purchasing power of poor consumers. National governments and the donor community need to better incorporate into food security programs greater attention to the needs of poor consumers outside the agricultural sector, most in cities. Programs like the United States’ Feed the Future program, and more recently the UN-led New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, can incorporate, and indeed analyze in greater depth, the co-dependencies of rural and urban populations, and the movement of people, money and produce between them. A recent US Agency for International Development strategy recognized this in planning support for promoting co-benefits for farmers and city dwellers through better market linkages and infrastructure.
Urban and Peri-Urban Farming
Expansion and intensification of urban and peri-urban farming is another area where better public policies are critical. The importance of local food availability was illustrated decades ago in Amartya Sen’s seminal work on famines in India, which showed how much slight drops in areas without food buffers matter. The Bengal famine was just a 10% production drop that killed millions. In today’s world, the existence of local buffer supplies that are accessible and affordable can have an enormous impact on human health, and well-being more broadly. While the leaders of large cities usually have the power to keep food prices low and availability high, smaller second-tier cities, where population is growing fastest, may lack the political clout to tip supply chains towards them the way that mega-cities can. Urban and peri-urban farming makes an important contribution.
In Africa, the commercial production of fruit and vegetables provides livelihoods for hundreds of thousands of urban Africans, and food for millions more. For example, the FAO estimates that in Dakar, 7,500 households grow their own food in micro-gardens; in Malawi, 700,000 urban residents practice home gardening; and low-income city gardeners in Zambia make US $230 annually from food sales.
Urban and peri-urban farming has huge resilience building impact. Even a modest local production capacity of the most important perishable goods - produce like onions and tomatoes - can serve as a vital food security buffer in the face of increasing unpredictability and shocks to supply chains from further afield. But despite being an important food buffer, market gardening has grown with very little government recognition or supportive policy-making. As a result, most urban farmers have no title to their land and can lose it overnight. Land ideal for horticulture, especially when used by poor households, is encroached upon by housing, industry and infrastructure. Gardeners overuse pesticides in an effort to maximize production on tiny plots. For these reasons, providing political and institutional support, integrating market gardening into urban planning, and building an efficient supply system are three practices that can make a difference.
This is an area in need of some pricing and policy innovations. There will be significant gains if agendas and interests around land development could be better aligned to look not just at the short-term, but at longer term social gains from preventing a full conversion of agricultural land to built-up, and therefore water-impermeable, land. This benefits health and nutrition; it also permits safe failure on the flooding front. Two public goods – a food buffer and a flood buffer - are enhanced.
Food Waste and Spoilage
A further way to increase productivity without increasing inputs is to reduce inefficiencies. Food waste and spoilage are arguably the greatest inefficiency in the food chain that can be tackled with relatively few resources, and are very amendable to action in cities in particular. Globally humans waste about a third of the calories produced. In richer countries, food thrown away equals about as much food per capita as people in many parts of the world have to eat. Waste is different in the developing world, where up to 40% of food harvested can be lost before it is consumed, due to inadequacies of storage, transport and processing.
A study undertaken recently by The Rockefeller Foundation indicated that in countries around the world, new approaches and technologies can help reduce post-consumer waste, in the home and in businesses, thereby saving the precious soil and water inputs for food that is actually consumed. A next generation of solutions is on the horizon, not only to reduce farmers’ post-harvest loss, but to safely transport and store food to, and within, cities, and to turn waste into agricultural inputs. According to the UK Government Office for Science and other sources, solutions like recycling post-harvest loss, improving infrastructure, and eliminating post-consumer waste could cut the amount of new food needed by 2050 in half.
New Market Mechanisms – Dealing with Risk
Finally, another area with enormous promise is expanding new insurance models and safety nets for both producers and consumers.
Food price volatility represents one of the most significant disruptions for urban dwellers. The Rockefeller Foundation has been an early supporter of African Risk Capacity, a new specialized agency of the African Union launched just last month, designed to bring rapid payments to farmers who suffer from droughts and other natural disasters. Rather than households waiting seven months – the average - for humanitarian assistance to reach them after crop failure, governments make country-level commitments to reach households with 120 days, and complete payment cycles within six months -- reducing the dislocation and price spikes caused by such events.
To control price volatility, the African Risk Capacity program can, for example, secure food commodity imports early to lock-in prices and grain flows to a country in a managed way. Or it can scale up social safety net systems to cope with the eventual increase in people needing cash or food assistance. Such timely responses will have a positive impact on local food prices and help vulnerable populations to better cope with the volatility, benefitting urban and rural populations alike.
An important reminder of the connection between rural and urban communities came from the US recently in the wake of two powerful storms: Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. While Hurricane Irene largely spared New York’s urban residents and urban farms, it devastated the hinterland farmers that supply the city’s farmers markets and community supported agriculture partnerships. In response, city residents and agencies offered financial and labor relief to devastated farmers and rural communities. Superstorm Sandy, on the other hand, mostly impacted urban communities, while only minimally affecting rural farmers. Rural farmers reciprocated by continuing to supply urban residents with fresh food, which for SNAP users – those on public assistance - was the only fresh food they could purchase with their electronic EBT cards for weeks after the storm. Rural communities also donated food, and delivered supplies to devastated communities in the city’s most impacted neighborhoods.
This is a powerful reminder of the concept of social resilience. Defined as reducing vulnerability through collective action, social resilience is expressed in the commitment of various segments of society to join forces for the achievement of common goals, in their ability to cope with threats over extended periods of time, and in their ability to adapt to changes.
On the other side of the world from the victims of Irene and Sandy were the devastating floods in Thailand from July to December 2011, with 13 million people affected. In Bangkok, although the food production systems outside the city were hugely disrupted, there was no major food crisis. This was in part because of the political imperative of the leaders wanting to ensure food did not become scarce. But it resulted as much from the strong social resilience in low income neighborhoods. Food always got to the ‘last mile’, the poorest and potentially most isolated residents – community-level support networks functioned, including food deliveries, during the floods, and lives were protected.
The Way Forward
Ultimately, city-dwellers’ needs in terms of access, availability and quality of food – and higher incomes to purchase an adequate and healthy diet - will increasingly influence governance and international cooperation discourses. City planning and practices will recognize how food security contributes to the resilience of cities. Food systems can build in spare capacity and redundancy; the ability to adapt in the face of disaster; to safely fail and rapidly rebound; and draw on robust foresight and feedback loops. These, in the view of the Rockefeller Foundation, are the ingredients for success.
 World Urbanization Prospects, The 2011 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unup/pdf/WUP2011_Highlights.pdf
 Agricultural Council of America, Overland Park, Kansas, 2013 “Agriculture Fact Sheet”, www.agday.org/media/factsheet.php. Jorgustin, Ken, 2013, “60, The Average Age of Farmers”, Modern Survival Blog, www.modernsurvivalblog.com. Fuller, Thomas, “Thai Youth Seek a Fortune Away From the Farm”, The New York Times June 4, 2012. Karuga, James, “Rural youth shatter the myth of farming as a poor man’s profession”, The New Agriculturalist, April 2012. Momoh, Siaka, “Nigeria’s rising population may spoil agricultural transformation”, BusinessDay Online, June 1, 2012
 AGree, Washington DC, 2012, “AGree: Transforming Food and Ag Policy Challenges and Opportunities”, Retrieved from; www.foodandagpolicy.org/sites/default/files/AGree%20Narative.pdf
 OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2012-2021, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2012.
 Center for American Progress. (2013) The Arab Spring and Climate Change. Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/report/2013/02/28/54579/the-arab-spring-and-climate-change/
 NYS2100 Commission, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. (2013) Retrieved from http://www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/NYS2100.pdf
 FAO. 2012. Growing greener cities in Africa. First status report on urban and peri-urban horticulture in Africa. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, p. 10.
 The State of Food Insecurity in the World, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011.
 UK Government Office for Science, “The Future of Food and Farming,” 2011.
 African Risk Capacity Retrieved from http://www.africanriskcapacity.org/
Penn IUR Co-Director, Dr. Eugenie Birch, and Project Manager, Alon Abramson, traveled to Koh Samui, Thailand for the 45th semi-annual meeting of the APEC Energy Working Group (EWG) as part of their second year’s work with the group. In its first year, Penn IUR created a Knowledge Sharing Platform for the Energy Smart Communities Initiative (known as the ESCI-KSP), which APEC economies will leverage for energy efficient design best practices for their expanding urban development. The second year is focused on curating the new platform, increasing the knowledge base, and promoting its usage. This was the purpose of the trip to Thailand, where Penn IUR and partners from the Taiwan Institute for Economic Research held an afternoon workshop highlighting the importance of the project and bringing more attention to the ESCI-KSP as a valuable tool for APEC members.
Dr. Birch presented an overview of the ESCI-KSP website, its layout and its functionality, at the Tuesday workshop, as well as at the next day’s official meeting with a wider audience of EWG members. With over 150 attendees representing 21 economies, the response to the workshop and the ESCI-KSP was overwhelmingly positive.
The Energy Smart Communities Initiative was launched in 2010 as a joint initiative by U.S. President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Kan. Its purpose is to aid APEC in achieving its energy intensity reduction goals, which requires more efficient use of energy in the building and transportation sectors as the economic output of the region grows. ESCI also focuses on best practices related to smart grid development and education and training programs to create a competent workforce, which are fundamental to accomplishing this goal.
Our March conference, "Feeding Cities: Food Security in a Rapidly Urbanizing World," brought together more than 400 participants eager to explore the critical intersection of food security and urbanization. If you missed the conference-- or if you were there and missed some of the sessions-- you can watch the conference proceedings on video below.
As cities grow and urban populations expand, people are becoming increasingly disconnected from their sources of food. Few city dwellers sit down to dinner knowing about the origins, health or well-being of the animals that produced the milk or meat on their tables. Even fewer participate in the food-production process themselves. Most animals involved in human food-production are raised in rural or suburban settings, far from the burgeoning population of city dwellers who consume larger and larger proportions of the world’s food supply.
As incomes rise and populations grow in urban settings, the demand for livestock products is increasing, particularly in the developing world. According to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock contribute to a full 40 percent of the value of agricultural output, and support the food security of almost a billion people around the globe. If current trends continue, demand for livestock products will continue to grow at rates outpacing population growth. (The State of Food and Agriculture, FAO, 2009)
With demand for livestock rising, and the gap between food producers and food consumers widening, veterinarians play an especially critical role in keeping the food supply accessible and affordable while at the same time safeguarding the health of animals that produce food and fiber for humans. Veterinarians provide farmers with guidance on such issues as production efficiency, waste management, reproductive efficiency, and immunization programs. Beyond that, veterinarians care for and control wildlife that have major impacts on food ecosystems and the environment. And, in the context of urban environments where animals and people live in close proximity—at a time when three out of four new, emerging infectious diseases arise from animals—veterinarians play an increasingly important role in diagnosing, monitoring and curbing the spread of harmful disease.
One of the most pressing challenges for the veterinary profession is the need to educate the public about its work in the context of global urbanization. This means helping urbanites not only to recognize how and by what means urban food security will be achieved, but also educating the public about the necessity of enhancing strong urban-rural linkages. The general public in both the developed and developing worlds has little sense of the realities of modern food production. This lack of knowledge can lead to misperceptions and misplaced concerns about both food safety and farm animal health and welfare. Veterinarians today are faced with the essential but difficult task of educating the public while continuing to be efficient and cost effective in producing animal proteins like meat, eggs and milk.
Our urbanizing world must also grapple with the essential question of whether and how food production can be integrated into peri-urban and even urban regions in a fashion that preserves the well-being and health of both humans and animals. Ensuring urban food production is sustainable—both economically and environmentally—will require a dedicated effort to understand and adapt to the changing needs and demographics of an urbanizing world, and finding creative solutions for delivering high-quality veterinary science in urban settings.
Meeting these goals is not the sole responsibility of veterinarians, but calls for educating a new breed of professionals—veterinarians, city planners, public health experts and business leaders—who will work together to feed our rapidly urbanizing world. In the future we must integrate knowledge, locally and globally, to ensure an ongoing, safe and adequate food supply. The health of the environment, animals, and human beings is inextricably tied, and experts in these fields must work together to find innovative solutions to food security challenges around the world.
Joan Hendricks is Gilbert S. Kahn Dean, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
Interested in reading about urban topics on your computer or handheld device? Most of Penn IUR's City in the 21st Century book series, published by Penn Press, is now available in electronic form.
The ebooks are available from the Penn Press website or through selected distributors of ebooks to libraries and individuals.
Visit the Penn Press website for the list of C21 books available in electronic form, or to learn more about the books.
On February 13, 2013 Penn IUR hosted a lively discussion about how cites can become more livable, integrated and safe. Participants included Elijah Anderson, William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology, Yale University; Charles Branas, Professor of Epidemiology, Perelman School of Medicine and Director, Cartographic Modeling Laboratory; and John MacDonald, Chair of Penn’s Department of Criminology and Associate Professor of Criminology.
Dr. Anderson kicked off the discussion by introducing the concept of the “cosmopolitan canopy”—a physical place within a city that fosters a sense of community. Dr. Anderson used the example of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal as a “cosmopolitan canopy” where people of different races, classes and cultures come together in a neutral space and interact in a way that would seem novel on the streets.
Dr. Branas spoke about his work greening Philadelphia, where he has been working closely with the city to plant trees in vacant lots to decrease crime and vandalism. Dr. Branas discussed the importance of placemaking programs that are structural, scalable and sustainable. In a similar vein, Dr. MacDonald spoke about how transforming vacant and derelict properties can decrease crime on a street and foster a greater sense of community pride. He used Los Angeles as a notable example, where economic and community development models are successfully supplementing government programs to rehab poor neighborhoods.