Our research on the uneven landscape of residential gardens in Portland has just been published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning. The paper is called "Socio-spatial differentiation in the Sustainable City: A mixed-methods assessment of residential gardens in metropolitan Portland, Oregon, USA" and reveals some interesting patterns, notably the concentration of residential urban agriculture in gentrifying areas of Portland (see map below), as well as divergent motivations for engaging in food production along socio-economic and educational lines. You can download the article for free for the next 50 days if you don't have institutional access, or feel free to contact me for a copy once the link expires. A big shout out to my students Dillon Mahmoudi and Mike Simpson and visiting scholar Jacinto Santos for all their help with this!
Here's the abstract:
As cities take center stage in developing and brokering strategies for sustainability, examining the uneven distribution of green infrastructure is crucial. Urban agriculture (UA) has gained a prominent role in urban greening and food system diversification strategies alike. Despite that it is the preeminent form of food production in North American cities, residential gardening has received little scholarly attention. Moreover, research on the intra-urban variability of home gardens is sparse. In this paper, we use a mixed-methods approach to assess the scale and scope of residential gardens in Portland, Oregon, a metropolitan region renowned for its innovations in sustainability. Using a combination of mapping, spatial regression, and a mail survey, we compare residential UA and the characteristics and motivations of gardeners in two socioeconomically differentiated areas of Portland and one of its major suburbs. Results demonstrate that engagement in UA is differentiated along both spatial and socioeconomic lines, with more educated respondents engaging for environmental reasons and more lowincome respondents relying on their gardens for food security. We contextualize our findings within broader urban processes, e.g. reinvestment in the urban core and displacement of poverty to the periphery. For policymakers, our results suggest the need for sustainability messaging that is sensitive to a variety of motivations and that resonates with a diverse population. For a city to reach a broader population, it may need to reframe its sustainability goals in new ways, while attending to the structural constraints to food access that cannot be resolved through local food production alone.
PSU-led food policy research to explore link between urban gardens and gentrification
Author: Laura Gleim, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Posted: December 10, 2015
It’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 neighborhoods. 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.
Here's the abstract:
Portland, Oregon is renowned as a paradigmatic “sustainable city”. Yet, despite popular conceptions of the city as a progressive ecotopia and the accolades of planners seeking to emulate its innovations, Portland’s sustainability successes are inequitably distributed. Drawing on census data, popular media, newspaper archives, city planning documents, and secondary-source histories, we attempt to elucidate the structural origins of Portland’s “uneven development”, exploring how and why the urban core of this paragon of sustainability has become more White and affluent while its outer eastside has become more diverse and poor. We explain how a “sustainability fix” – in this case, green investment in the city’s core – ultimately contributed to the demarcation of racialized poverty along 82nd Avenue, a major north-south arterial marking the boundary of East Portland. Our account of structural processes taking place at multiple scales contributes to a growing body of literature on eco-gentrification and displacement and inner-ring suburban change while empirically demonstrating how Portland’s advances in sustainability have come at the cost of East Portland’s devaluation. Our “30,000 foot” perspective reveals systemic patterns that might then guide more fine-grained analyses of particular political-socio-cultural processes, while providing cautionary insights into current efforts to extend the city’s sustainability initiatives using the same green development model.
if you have institutional access, you can download it directly from the journal website. Otherwise, you can click here for a post-print version (ie, the final draft that I'm allowed to post w/out infringing copyright laws) or just email me for a PDF copy of the real thing!
To illustrate the realities of gentrification and displacement in ecotopia, we include as an epigraph some lines from Portland (now NYC) rapper Luck-One:
It’s hard to find where I dwell because home is only a shell
and the people I was raised with can’t afford the raised rent
so the neighborhood shifted and faded out of existence
The work of UrbanFood team member Dillon Mahmoudi on concentrated poverty has been making ripples in the media around the globe. He worked on a national level study called Lost in Place on the persistence of concentrated poverty and created an Interactive map to show this data for the 51 largest metro areas. The study has been featured in numerous news outlets, including: The Guardian, Atlantic's CityLab, Vox, and The Washington Post.
While the purpose of the report was to discuss the persistence of concentrated poverty, a somewhat revisionist or denialist discussion of gentrification creeped into characterization's of the report's results in some press. The most egregious example was Slate citing the research to say that "gentrification is a myth"... um, say what?! Ever been to N. Williams in Portland, Mr. Buntin?
So Dillon then had to go set things straight. Check out an interview with him on the radio show Let Your Voice Be Heard on WHCR 90.3 fm in Harlem to dispel this idea that gentrification is a myth. Congrats to Dillon on all his great work!
Nathan McClintock is a geographer and professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University.