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PSU-led food policy research to explore link between urban gardens and gentrification
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: December 10, 2015

Nathan McClintockIt’s no secret that urban farms and gardens are core to Portland’s identity as one of the most sustainable cities in the world. What’s maybe lesser known is that those young patches of kale and cabbage are often entangled in processes of gentrification and displacement.

With a $249,978 grant from the National Science Foundation, a binational research team led by Nathan McClintock, Portland State University assistant professor of urban studies and planning, will examine the complex relationship between urban agriculture and gentrification in two ultra-green North American cities: Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The three-year study, “Urban agriculture, policy making, and sustainability,” aims to shed light on how urban agriculture policy-making practices both contribute to and resist inequitable access to resources and features that make a neighborhood more sustainable—such as affordable housing, parks, healthy food, and transportation options. 

“When we look at urban renewal and gentrification issues, urban agriculture can be part of the problem and part of the solution,” McClintock said. “Gardens offer so many benefits to communities, but what we see is that an increase
in gardens often indicates that an area is gentrifying and that longtime residents are getting priced out of their Condo development on N. Williams in Portlandneighborhoods. Often, the gardens themselves ultimately get bulldozed for condo construction.”

But McClintock says many urban agriculture practitioners are aware of how it contributes to gentrification and are getting involved in equity policy and planning efforts. "We’re interested in how engagement with urban agriculture and food policy differ between various demographic groups and city to city,” he said. 

McClintock and his co-investigators Eugene McCann and Christiana Miewald, professors of geography at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, will also look at how the motivations for gardening differ across race, class, and gender lines, which McClintock says can have implications for the type of outreach and language policy makers and city planners use when deploying resources that support people in a more equitable way to grow their own food.

The study builds upon McClintock’s previous work funded by the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions that mapped urban gardens in Portland and revealed that gardens often crop up in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification.

McClintock has also done comparative research on urban agriculture policy and practice in Montreal, Canada, and last September led a binational field course that explored issues of urban gardens, community activism, and gentrification. The course was composed of graduate students from both Portland and Montreal, and was funded by PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions and the Government of Québec’s Ministry of International Relations.

Keep up with McClintock and his work on his website, urbanfood.org.