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<nettime> A Tale of Three Cities ... (Foodprint Symposium in The Hague)
Patrice Riemens on Sat, 27 Jun 2009 22:53:31 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> A Tale of Three Cities ... (Foodprint Symposium in The Hague)

Yesterday apparently had to be my triple city day. Real cities, utopian 
cities, and possibly dystopian ones.

To start with the latter, maybe they'd be better called cities of fear - 
or even more precisely, cities of war. That is actually the theme of an 
upcoming event (in the fall) in Amsterdam, for which John Armitage and I 
conducted an interview with French former architect & thinker Paul Virilio 
last month. Virilio, who recently published a book titled "Ville panique", 
was his usual brilliant self and said remarkable things. You'll hear about 
'm in due time. (But you can get a - audio/video - glimpse here - it's 
about "grey ecology":  (http://zoepolitics.com/sharing.html)

Real cities is the department of Zainab Bawa's always fascinating blog 
entries about her own place, the Maximum One (Bombay, or Mumbai for the 
politically correct). Since yesterday's entry is allegedly dedicated to 
me, you'd better read it! ;-) Here the ecology is somewhat particular: the 
world of cabbies caught up in the urban infrastructure shift (or 
delirium?) - black & yellow ecology?  

But for green ecology, centered around food, food quality, food security, 
and urban farming, I made it to The Hague, and the FOODPRINT symposium 
hosted by cultural/architecture/arts centre Stroom (http://www.stroom.nl)

And even though I could participate in just a quarter of the programme 
(there were 4 parallel tracks) I managed to pick up a dazzling lot about 
Urban agriculture, city farmers, community food schemes, alternative 
marketing, permaculture, best practices, gree design, and what have you!

(quick refs:
http://tinyurl.com/l98xo8 for the symposium
http://tinyurl.com/mqztlz for the Foodprint programme & exhibition)

The atmosphere in Stroom's post-industrial designscape was definitely 
upbeat and free of fear and pessimism. One alternative, down-to-earth and 
back-to-basics initiative and/ or approach after the other were presented, 
backed up by promising real life examples and some fine exhibits. There 
was not very much room for doubtful criticism, though some tough issues 
did gradually emerge as the day went by. But first what I witnessed:

A fine presentation by Debra Solomon of http://culiblog.org fame about her 
ongoing community greening project in the Hague's Schilderswijk, a 
proletarian, ethnically mixed neighborhood falling in the administrative 
category of 'problem district'. Also the Rotterdam Zuid (another 'problem 
district') Afrikaaner Plein "market of the future" project, centered on 
giving left over wares a new lease of useful life: 

Architects and theorist Andre Viljoen and Katrin Bohn thereafter fleshed 
out Debra's concepts and approach with some theoretical insights which at 
times, unfortunately were ... well just that: theoretical. 

Artist Nils Norman and (Dutch) pragmatist Menno Swaak of project "gezonde 
gronden" (healthy soils:  http://www.gezondegronden.nl/) gave a nice 
presentation about sustainable town planning, and comestibles from the 
city parks and gardens. I found a site on (or rather with) Nils Norman, 
may be it will pump you up: http://tinyurl.com/nw6q3c, though I was not 
entirely overwhelmed - my fault probably!

But I couldn't say that of the next two presentations I attended. The 
first one, pre-lunch by John Thackara was a cavalry charge (and not the 
Light Brigade!) through what has to be done to set the city/food balance 
right. And why. Instead of 'sustainability, John preferred to talk about 
'resilience', yet another jargonwatch candidate, but at least one that 
really does say something. And does not promise to fix just everything. 
But the main thing was that John very powerfully brought the message home 
that food is the #1 issue in matters of survival of cities, that it is the 
most neglected one, and that we better address it before it is really too 

Addressing that issue was surely the brief of Will Allen, of the Milwaukee 
"Growing Power" association/ organisation, and tremendously successful 
non-profit that grew from next to nothing into a powerful community voice 
and urban farming innovation platform in just over 15 years. 
(http://www.growingpower.org/). Seeing and listening to Will makes 
immediately apparent how that came about. If there ever is a hands-on, no 
nonsense, get the job done pragmatist, that must be him! A kind of Barrack 
Obama of the urban farmlands. Much beyond the message and the appraoch, 
and the actual and outstanding achievements, it is the attitude and the 
energy that such people generate and the example they set that makes 
meeting them worthwhile - and their traveling around spreading the good 
word worth their while. Do check it out!

And then, in a certain sense, Carolyn Steel, author of the book "Hungry 
City" (http://www.hungrycitybook.co.uk) brought it all together in the 
last presentation I witnessed. With her, it was back to the bare facts 
again where 'feeding the cities' is concerned. In a certain sense her 
brief was quite akin to Paul V Virilio's warnings about the impending 
'integral accident'. Our worst enemy is definitely the combo ignorance + 
indifference, as the mess we are in is growing by the day, along the lines 
of urban explosion and agricultural depletion - quantitative, but more 
importantly, qualitative - amidst our blind reliance on unpredictable 
energy (re)sources in the long - or even short - run.

That brought me to the idea that if we consider Virilio to be less 
desperate than he appears, and the folks at Foodprint and akin efforts as 
much more serious and concerned than their 'positive' energy levels would 
suggest, we should be in for some very serious thinking about our near 
future. The future is never granted, and always to some large extent can 
be made by ourselves (*). But we better start now, if we haven't done yet. 
And do it all together.

cheers, patrizio & Diiiinooos! 

(*) And one of the trickiest aspects of 'killing the future' was there for 
all to see, and duly expressed, but not really addressed: the nightmare of 
the wrong adjudications game played out by otherwise smart, and even 
benevolent. decision-makers, who were present in the room - in droves.

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