Climate change has a socio-political angle with great impact on economies. The impact of damages associated with such natural phenomena depends on vulnerabilities of social, political, or economic nature to individuals and entire communities. For instance, devastation associated with floods is usually high in populations with poor economic systems and poor political policies with regard to social amenities.
Populations that focus less on disaster preparedness and more on recovery stand a higher chance of experiencing distress socially and economically. This assertion holds, as the social, political, and economic fronts create vulnerabilities and reduce adaptability to climate change and subsequent environmental changes.
A look at the link between socio-economic and political activities to climate and environmental change gives a better picture and understanding of the concept. This paper looks at the city of Los Angeles and the practice of urban agriculture as a case study to enable the exploration of some of the components of climate change coupled with how political policies and social lifestyles affect vulnerability and adaptability to climate change.
The city of Los Angeles is one of the most populated cities in the world. With a population of 9.8 million people as at the year 2010, the city is second in ranking in the United States after the New York City.1
Urban agriculture is a form of agriculture that takes into account most essential components of agriculture including food production, animal husbandry, and aquaculture and it incorporates these components into the urban setting with modifications depending on the available space for agricultural activities and the climatic changes in a region.2
In most cases, urban agriculture takes place in intra urban settings such as spaces inside buildings and pieces of land within an urban setting whether communal, private, or state-owned.
Unlike conventional practices in rural settings with plenty of lands, urban areas require considerations such as the effects that such farming activities may have on the surrounding environment and urban policies on agriculture in the city dwelling. The following is a people’s facts in LA.
Source: United States Census Bureau3
Additionally, in most cities, the objectives behind urban agriculture vary from being social recreational for relaxation purposes to subsistence and commercial use. Most people in urban dwellings grow plants in containers and bags made of different porous materials that allow room for air circulation.
Balconies and rooftops are some of the main areas where people grow plants in buildings while those with little strips of land outside their residential dwellings, such as yards and flowerbeds, utilize them to grow plants of their choice.
Flowers and herbs are some of the commonly grown plants in Los Angeles mainly because they require little space and have high aesthetic value, while some people grow vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes for subsistence and economic benefits.
Hotels have also caught adopted the trend and some utilize small spaces to construct fishponds that provide additional sources of fish supply for the business as well as means for disposing of leftovers without harming the surrounding environment.
The policy and planning dynamics (‘playing field’)
A brief look at the city’s history reveals the population growth rate is high and corresponds with the city’s success in economic growth. The city became part of the United States in the year 1848 after the Mexican-American war whose conclusion resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, which allowed the American government to purchase the entire state of California from Mexico as part of the treaty’s terms.4
Although the population at the time was substantially high, the area’s wealth in resources sustained it well. However, in 1900, the population grew to a hundred and twenty thousand people, thus straining the city’s water supply and necessitating the remodeling of the water system.
In 1913, the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct under William Mulholland’s supervision corrected the water problem, ensuring that the growing population had enough water for its continued growth.5
To cater for the growth in population, the city’s government, which comprises a city council under a mayor, has formulated policies that allow the building of structures with limited zoning restrictions over the years.
Although the city government’s need to build housing structures that cater for the growing population while making adequate use of the available surface area is understandable, the resultant effect is dwindling space for which to grow food for the people.
Agriculture, which is an essential sector with regard to food production, mostly gets very low priority in terms of policies in Los Angeles, thus leading to importation of food from other cities within the country.
One of the main advantages of urban agriculture is the provision of natural beauty to areas crowded with buildings at little financial costs. Rooftop gardens enhance a building’s beauty while providing admirable environments for recreational activities and relaxation.
The second and most important advantage of this discussion is that urban agriculture provides an avenue for food safety for people living in the metropolitan area. Although most agricultural activities in the city take the form of subsistence and leisure farming, urban agriculture creates great opportunities for food security.6
Vegetables such as tomatoes and herbs like rosemary that require little space to grow to make perfect contenders for the types of foods that residents in buildings can increase for sale and personal use instead of placing reliance on food imported from other cities and states.7 Such farming may appear insignificant in terms of quantity of food, but collective efforts make a difference statistically.
Lastly, urban agriculture acts as a recycling mechanism, thus keeping the city clean by reducing the amount of organic waste that the county council has to handle. Organic waste from food acts as a good source of fertilizer for growing food plants and food for fish, thus transforming such waste into a valuable resource.8
The only plausible disadvantage with the practice of urban agriculture in the city is that most residents lack knowledge of how to deal with issues such as pest control and use of chemicals.
Population demands in cities such as Los Angeles have led to the innovation of new agricultural practices like urban agriculture. The community’s socio-cultural practices also favor entertainment activities such as art, film, and theater as opposed to agriculture, thus limiting the potential of urban agriculture to improve the lives of Los Angeles residents.
Urban agriculture efforts involving the community reduce the city’s vulnerability to natural hazards such as droughts that are predominant in temperate areas such as Los Angeles.9 They also encourage adaptability to the rising population, which creates an inevitable change in the environment and possible climatic changes. Los Angeles lies in an area with numerous fault lines.
The development of the city in the region has made the area vulnerable to earthquakes, most of which are low in density. However, earthquakes sometimes result in floods due to shifts in inland positions.
Although most buildings in the metropolitan area comply with building regulations set by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) with regard to earthquake preparedness, having trees and other vegetation would help shield the buildings from some of the strain created by the impact of floodwater on the foundations of most buildings.
The city’s building codes such as the Green Building Code encourage a greener environment for the inhabitants of Los Angeles by promoting recycling and initiatives that improve the city’s beauty through planting trees and flowers in public areas and communal spaces.
The Los Angeles Agricultural Commissioner Department of Weights and Measures (ACWM) at Arcadia has also indicated its approval for community-based urban agriculture through research on the protection of the environment and generation of ideas that involve community participation such as the small farm food safety and cost-sharing program.
The department has also initiated the California Aeration Plan that aims at making the usually warm environment cooler through the introduction of urban agriculture. Los Angeles has a subtropical-Mediterranean climate that has sunshine during most days of the year with an average of thirty-five days of precipitation usually during winter.
Although most buildings implement measures to deal with the heat within the buildings through air conditioning, controlling the environment outside requires cost-effective and long-lasting solutions such as planting trees.
It is important for the authorities to review policies on urban agriculture and use of buildings to maximize the space available for the creation of food security in the region.
Although the city has little land available for agriculture, it is possible for the authorities to implement innovative ideas such as rooftop gardens and basement fishponds that create food security and possible economic value for individuals living in such buildings.
The concept increases the community’s adaptability to the environmental and climatic changes while reducing vulnerability through mitigation of effects natural hazards cause.10
Analysis of the link between policy framework (including the playing field) on the adaptation practices
One of the biggest challenges that urban agriculture faces in Los Angeles lies in the city’s governance with regard to policymaking. Although the city’s country government encourages the creation of a greener environment, its policies restrict the actualization of the theoretical benefits such agriculture would have on the population.
Most policies favor the aesthetic value of architecture and ignore those that come from urban agriculture. For instance, building codes by the LA Department of Building and Safety discourage animal husbandry and planting certain crops by considering them as a hindrance to the achievement of architectural excellence and possible nuisance.
The regulations also raise concerns regarding the food production process and the use of chemical pesticides by considering them hazardous to the environment and the people. Unlike in rural regions where soil and rain occur more abundantly, urban agriculture utilizes the use of containers made from porous material such as wooden boxes to hold grounds necessary for planting.11
The porous nature of such containers makes it possible for air to circulate within the container, but it creates the possibility of chemical pesticides and fertilizers penetrating the container and creating a possible health hazard for people living inside the building.
Additionally, the county government places more focus on other economic ventures such as the development of the film industry and encouragement of international trade to the detriment of urban agriculture. The government argues that international business and the entertainment industry generate more than enough income to satisfy the nutritional needs of residents through the importation of food from other states.
According to the authorities, the argument provides enough reasons for it to focus on business ventures as opposed to creating policies that encourage small-scale urban agriculture. The downside to this argument is that it overlooks the possible benefits that communal urban agriculture presents including a reduction in transportation costs for food importation and food security for the area’s residents.
Lack of proper support and encouragement from the city’s council also limits the amount of knowledge that city residents have on the benefits of urban agriculture.12 For instance, by encouraging people to grow their food, the government would reduce the vulnerability level of the community to climate hazards such as droughts. It would also reduce the impact that natural disasters such as floods would have on the residents.
In essence, factors such as economic stability help mitigate the damage by natural disasters due to climatic changes. When an individual can save money on food by growing his or her food, he or she has more financial resources to mitigate the damage that natural hazards cause.
Although the city of Los Angeles is mainly an urban metropolitan setting with little land for agriculture, urban agriculture creates the possibility of agricultural success and food stability for the resident community through innovative ideas that maximize the use of spaces such s rooftops, balconies, and basements.
The concerned authorities should change some of the city’s policies and encourage agriculture in the same way they push for international trade and entertainment to reduce the city’s vulnerability to climate change hazards and increase adaptability to climatic and environmental changes. The outstanding lesson from this case is that authorities can start encouraging agricultural activities within cities to promote food security.
Bernstein, S 2011, Aquaponic Gardening: A step-by-step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together, New Society Publishers, Canada.
Carpenter, N 2010, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Penguin Books, London.
Carpenter, N 2011, The Essential Urban Farmer, Penguin Books, London.
Castillo, G 1990, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: a legacy of conflict, University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma.
Cockrall-King, J 2012, Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution, Promethius Books, New York.
Despommier, D 2010, The Vertical Farmer: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, Thomas Dunne Books, Washington, D.C.
Mulholland, C 2000, William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles, University of California Press, Berkeley.
Nelson, D, Adger, N & Brown, K 2007, ‘Adaptation to Environmental Change: Contributions of a Resilience Framework’, Annual Review of Environment and Recourses, vol. 32 no.1, pp.395-419.
Prowse, M 2003, Toward a Clearer Understanding of Vulnerability in Relation to Chronic Poverty. Web.
Rich, S 2012, Urban Farms, Abramson Books, New York.
U.S Census Bureau 2010, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010, Bernan Press, Lanham.
U.S Census Bureau 2012, State & County Quickfacts: Los Angeles County, California. Web.
1 U.S Census Bureau 2010, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2010, Bernan Press, Lanham, p. 48.
2 S Bernstein, 2011, Aquaponic Gardening: A step-by-step Guide to Raising Vegetables and Fish Together, New Society Publishers, Canada, p. 82.
3 United States Census Bureau 2012, State & County Quickfacts: Los Angeles County, California.
4 G Castillo 1990, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo: a legacy of conflict, University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma, p. 79.
5 C Mulholland 2000, William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles, University of California Press, Berkeley, p. 54.
6 N Carpenter 2011, The Essential Urban Farmer, Penguin Books, London, 91.
7 J Cockrall-King 2012, Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution, Promethius Books, New York, p. 68.
8 S Rich 2012, Urban Farms, Abramson Books, New York, p. 96.
9 M Prowse 2003, Toward a Clearer Understanding of Vulnerability in Relation to Chronic Poverty.
10 D Nelson, N Adger & K Brown 2007, ‘Adaptation to Environmental Change: Contributions of a Resilience Framework’, Annual Review of Environment and Recourses, vol. 32 no.1, p. 399.
11 D Despommier 2010, The Vertical Farmer: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, Thomas Dunne Books, Washington, D.C, p. 75.
12 N Carpenter 2010, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Penguin Books, London, p. 103.
i The U.S Census Bureau offers detailed data on the US population and other demographic factors and thus it was of great help in researching this paper. Even though urban agriculture does not form the backbone of LA’s economy, people should adopt urban agriculture to cut down the current overreliance on imported food products from other states which will also reduce the danger of food shortages should market forces and climate changes compel other states to withhold their produce.