Nathan McClintock: Urban agriculture and eco-gentrification

Posted by Lauren Hertel on Wednesday, June 28 2017


Dr. Nathan McClintock is an Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. He is a geographer whose primary focus is on urban agriculture policy and practice, and how they articulate with political economy, race, class, and gender.

He and his partners at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, are wrapping up data collection for their three-and-a-half year National Science Foundation project entitled "Urban agriculture, policymaking, and sustainability".  Their research examines the extent to which urban agriculture is part and parcel of "eco-gentrification" in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, BC. Eco-gentrification refers to the process of gentrification (by affluent, mostly white newcomers) and displacement (of lower income residents, often people of color) resulting from investment in green infrastructure and developments, and investments in livability, more broadly. He is quick to point out that his research does not seek to show that urban agriculture leads to gentrification, but rather to see how the two work with or against each other on the ground.

He just returned from a research trip to Vancouver, where his team conducted focus groups in Cantonese with Chinese urban agriculture practitioners, exploring what motivates them to engage in growing food, the extent to which they are aware of municipal policies, and how these policies impact what they do. They are also conducting research in Portland in Russian, Spanish, and Cantonese in addition to English to capture the experiences of immigrant populations.

The preliminary results of the study show there are some common denominators across cultures and education and socioeconomic levels in what motivates people to engage in urban agriculture, namely the availability of fresh food and health considerations. Living in a sustainable manner is more correlated with white, affluent practitioners. This is important, McClintock says, because cities trying to promote urban agriculture need to think carefully about how they are framing the projects they want to encourage. If they want to reach out to the broader population, they need to think beyond sustainability in their language and talk about issues like food security, food quality, and community building.

At the same time, they are investigating the extent to which urban agriculture practitioners and advocates have been able to insert equity and social justice concerns into municipal policymaking to challenge these processes. The question "Sustainability for whom?" guides this project, which incorporates mapping and geospatial analysis, surveys, interviews, focus groups, and content analysis of policy documents and media.

They are also looking at how organizations are recognizing the importance of folding broader social and racial justice concerns into their work. He says community activists are also realizing they need to fold equity concerns into what they are doing, which then feeds back into policies.

An article on the research is coming out soon in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers on the research, Cultivating (a) sustainability capital: Urban agriculture, eco-gentrification, and the uneven valorization of social reproduction.

A second project, just now getting started, is a collaboration with researchers at the Université du Québec à Montreal (UQAM) and stakeholders from five municipalities in Metropolitan Montreal to look at urban agriculture's potential health impacts and ability to buffer residents against the impacts of climate change. McClintock and his team have been invited to essentially duplicate their research in Portland and Vancouver, both to help identify the socio-spatial disparities in urban agricultural practice and policy, as well as its potential entanglement in the aforementioned processes of gentrification. The 3-year project is funded by Ouranos and the Institut National de la Santé Publique du Québec (INSPQ).

More on his work and links to additional publications are available at his website, UrbanFood.org.

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