Later today, a small group of New York City food advocates will gather to share ideas with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  Tonight’s meet and greet comes on a wave of recent events, all involving city government, to engage local food and urban environment activists.  The Mayor’s office continues to hold public forums on PlaNYC, and last week, before an audience of the city’s most vocal change agents, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn presented FoodWorks, a series of proposals to improve the NYC food system, “from ground to garbage.”

In a phrase:  The cat is now out of the community garden.  There’s talk among those of us working on these issues about whether or not the city is serious in its call for change.  I certainly hope so and can’t help but wonder if officials are already past the point of no return.  As we move forward, I have two requests…yes, two for now.

1) Let’s not be a dysfunctional family.  Let’s work together.  The Mayor’s Office is in, Quinn is in — and based on the NYC Food and Climate Change Summit last year — Stringer is, too.  Yet whenever I hear proposals from a local gov camp, there’s little mention of proposals from colleagues across the street or across the river.  Yes, we are a city of geographical pride (Greenpoint, Brooklyn = Number One 4-EVA!), but we let’s not have our fiefdoms hinder the big solutions.

2) Let’s build on our resources already underway.  In Quinn’s talk, she saved her strongest language for Hunt’s Point, the city’s food distribution hub and the largest such center in the world.  In brief, it was already antiquated when it opened in 1967.  It connects to the city by a mess of highways, and diesel trucks idle around it all-day and night, contributing to ugly air in its South Bronx host neighborhood.  The area consistently registers an alarming rate of asthma sufferers.

City Council Speaker Quinn Addresses the Audience at Food & Finance High

“If we only get one thing in all of FoodWorks right, it has to be this [Hunt’s Point],” said Quinn.

I’m all for it.  But rather than get overwhelmed by designing the perfect solution for food in 2060 at Hunt’s Point, what if we were to begin now by strengthening a decentralized distribution system?   For example, shortly after Quinn’s talk, I got to have coffee with Robert LaValva, the local hero behind the New Amsterdam Market.  Here’s someone with deep skills and experience in creating systems — both as an architect and a market progenitor.  His market attracts thousands of people each week to the space in front of the former Fulton Fish Market buildings.  How can this area be a nexus for our city food system once again?  If the political will is there, as we are hearing, elements like these buildings should no longer be at the mercy of other pressures.

These are initial thoughts.  There’s much more to say on the topics mentioned here, so stayed tuned.  In the meantime, please find the full FoodWorks report here.  And with that, let’s pull up to the dinner table together tonight.

Advertisements

To the food activists of New York City:  Tonight we ride!  Shortly, starting at 6 pm at 1368 Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability will convene a town hall meeting for feedback on its PlaNYC.  Introduced by Bloomberg in April 2007, PlaNYC is the blueprint for an environmentally-sustainable city, looking towards a population of 9 million in the year 2030.  According to a local law, PlaNYC is required to be updated every four years, and the first one will be published in February 2011.

Together we can write that update now.

Most local Earth advocates cheer PlaNYC, and in my opinion, rightly so.  Yet there is one glaring omission:  In this strategy to create “a greener, greater New York,”  it does not address the role of the food system.  It doesn’t mention urban agriculture, community gardens, or the use of rooftop farming to absorb storm water, to name some examples.  Also, other ideas from city government have been compelling — Christine Quinn’s FoodWorks initiative, for example — how can we fold them into PlaNYC?  What else do we want to see included?

When I RSVP’d for this event, I asked about food issues in my email.  To my happy surprise, there’s an Oz behind the curtain, and I got this reply from a gentleman at City Hall:

“…As for food and PlaNYC, we have spent this summer and fall meeting with experts, advocates, city and state agencies, and other related stakeholders on the issue of sustainable food systems.  We are currently exploring the role that sustainable food systems can play in PlaNYC.

The community conversations we are hosting are part of this effort to determine that role.  During the Community Conversation event tomorrow night [Now read: tonight] there will be breakout groups where community members will work together to determine a goal for a number of specific areas including all existing parts of the plan as well as others not already included.  One of the areas that will have a breakout group is sustainable food systems.  Please, come prepared to help the group rally around a shared goal for food sustainability in Brooklyn and, also, think about the ways that community groups and neighborhoods can help promote that goal.”

Readers, if you can’t make it tonight, don’t fear.  This is the first in a series of meetings by the PlaNYC team.  Please find the list of meetings, including one in every borough, here.  With that, I tuck my copy of PlaNYC under my arm and head out the door.  Stay tuned!