Category Archives: The Geographical Journal

Alternative spaces of urban sustainability: the case of Brescia, Italy

By Marco Tononi and Antonella Pietta, University of Brescia, and Sara Bonati, Universidade da Madeira

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Industrial buildings in Brescia – Francesco Bonati

Brescia is a medium-sized city in northern Italy. It is located in the country’s densely-populated industrial area, the Po valley. In the past, the economy of Brescia was based on the metallurgic and chemical industries. However, in recent decades Brescia has experienced, as in many European cities, a process of industrial change. This is evidenced in the number of disused industrial sites and quarries in the urban area. Some of these sites have been regenerated, while others have become objects of contention between institutions, private industry and communities due to ecological conflicts or divergent economic interests.

A wide area of Brescia has been affected by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contamination, PCDD-PCDF, arsenic and mercury, arising mainly a chemical plant which has produced chlorine derivatives since 1900, including PCB production from 1930 to 1984. The city also faces other environmental problems due to its highly-industrialized economic base. These include groundwater contamination and exploitation by open-air quarries and landfill waste sites. As a result of such pollution, Brescia has been designated a contaminated Site of National Interest (Siti di interesse nazionale or SIN), indicating that contamination poses a risk to human health.

Monitoring activities have underlined the severity Brescia’s pollution. Every year EU Member States, the European Environment Agency (EEA) member countries, and some EEA collaborating countries, contribute to the European air quality measurement database, AirBase. According to AirBase, Brescia, like many cities of the Po Valley, is one of the most polluted cities in Europe. Likewise, all Italian municipalities report municipal solid waste data annually to the Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), which develops the National Municipal Waste Report. Brescia has one of the highest per capita levels of municipal solid waste in Italy (ISPRA 2015).

Brescia is undergoing a transition towards becoming a post-industrial city. Accordingly, institutions and community are starting to reflect on possible directions for the city’s transformation. Environmental problems have prompted a response from civil society to promote a better urban environment and enhance the quality of life. Many associations and informal groups of citizens continue to struggle against the pollution that affects the city and its province. These struggles aim to influence the city administration and politics, and change how local human-nature interactions are conceived and lived.

The first step is recognising the need for a transition towards a new culture of sustainability based on environmental justice and the right to a green and sustainable city. Accordingly, in recent years, some parts of the city have experienced positive transformations thanks to integrative approaches between top-down and bottom-up actions. However, these encouraging signs should take shape through sustainable urban plans with a clear strategy; this means valorising the experiences and work of citizens, associations and researchers looking at the sustainability transition.

In our recent paper, entitled ‘Alternative spaces of urban sustainability: results of a first integrative approach in the Italian city of Brescia’,  we present a participatory process, called the Altrevie project, which took place in the San Polo and Sanpolino neighbourhoods. San Polo became the site of conflict between the town administration and its citizens over existing and defunct or delocalised industrial sites. Over the last decade, this led to the creation of environmental committees that lobby against industrial pollution, the creation of new waste disposal areas and for the development of a shared natural park.

The paper examines processes of socio-ecological change that characterise the city (Heynen, Kaika and Swyngedouw 2006), with a focus on citizen involvement and power relations (Cook and Swyngedouw 2012). The research group worked with the local community to build a project based on the participation of civic associations and citizens, with a democratic approach to alternative practices and policies of urban sustainability. The project’s objective was to create awareness about the unsustainability of many individual choices, and to show members of the local community how they could achieve a higher degree of sustainability by altering their behaviours in daily life and taking part in collective action. In particular, the idea was to make the community aware of how to create alternative spaces of urban sustainability in their neighbourhoods and to show people how they could extricate themselves from the predominant energy-hungry and hyper-productive consumer model.

The paper analyses the potential of local spaces of alternative consumption to promote alternatives to the traditional market system. Moreover, the research reshapes a space of alternative participation that could promote an integrative approach between top-down and bottom-up processes. The project provided the participants with ways to improve the sustainability of their lifestyle choices through a number of participatory processes, including: interviews, focus groups, an ecological footprint analysis, and the activation of sustainability laboratories.

This approach helped us to clarify the sorts of motivations at play within power relations, enabling us to imagine where political points for intervention exist (Heynen 2014). It was the first study in Brescia to analyse both the dynamics of environmental policies and civic activism focusing on the socio-ecological relationships.

About the authors:  Marco Tononi is Fellow Researcher in Geography at the University of Brescia (DEM). Marco has a Ph.D. in Human and Physical Geography and his works are focused on the topics of urban political ecology, urban sustainability, cultural sustainability and GIScience.

Antonella Pietta is an Assistant Professor in Geography at the University of Brescia (DEM). Antonella’s researches explore political ecology, participatory processes, alternative economic geographies, environmental accounting systems and climate change.

Sara Bonati is associate researcher at Universidade da Madeira. She collaborates with the University of Brescia (DEM) and University of Florence (LaGeS). Sara has a Ph.D. in Human and Physical Geography and her main research interests are disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, risk and disaster governance, political ecology, participation and knowledge sharing, alternative economic geographies.

References

Cook I R and Swyngedouw E 2012 Cities, social cohesion and the environment: towards a future research agenda Urban Studies 49 1959–79

European Environment Agency 2017 Validated monitoring data and air quality maps, http://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/air-quality/map/airbase

Heynen N, Kaika M and Swyngedouw E 2006 In the nature of cities. Urban political ecology and the politics of urban metabolism Routledge, London and New York

Heynen N 2014 Urban political ecology I: the urban century, Progress in Human Geography 598–604

ISPRA 2016 Rapporto Rifiuti Urbani 2016.

Tononi M, Pietta A, and Bonati S 2017 Alternative spaces of urban sustainability: results of a first integrative approach in the Italian city of Brescia. Geogr J. doi:10.1111/geoj.12207

How landscape managers think about local landscapes influences their approaches to climate change adaptation

By Vera Köpsel, Cormac Walsh and Catherine Leyshon 

kopsel

A sign warning visitors of coastal erosion at the protected landscape of Godrevy in Cornwall (UK) – Source: © Vera Köpsel 2016

Climate change is likely to alter the appearance of many rural and coastal landscapes, for example through extreme weather, river flooding or cliff erosion . A prominent example of such impacts, often connected to climate change, was the 2013/14 winter floods in the southwest of England . Inasmuch as the climate is changing, so are our responses to its impacts as we try to both adapt to new conditions and reduce future change through mitigation.

A suitable example for researching the connections between perceptions of landscape and place, and adaptation to climate change, is Cornwall in southwest England. Many of the region’s famous landscapes are under special designations such as the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) or the properties of the National Trust. As a peninsula stretching into the Atlantic Ocean, moreover, Cornwall is already experiencing an increase in extreme weather events, storminess, as well as river and sea flooding.

Cornwall’s coastal and rural areas are valued places of everyday life and cultural heritage. They are filled with personal attachments but coastal and rural areas are sometimes valued very differently by different groups within a society. This includes the staff of organisations responsible for managing these iconic landscapes (e.g. the National Trust, Natural England, the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Cornwall Council) who bring different priorities and perspectives to their work. These subjective perceptions of places remain largely under-researched when it comes to understanding the dynamics that shape climate change adaptation processes. In our new paper, published in The Geographical Journal, we explored the different perceptions of Cornwall’s landscapes held by local landscape managers who are faced with dealing with the impacts of our changing climate. We asked how these perceptions influence their climate adaptation approaches.

The theoretical approach of our study was that of constructivist landscape research, a concept rooted deeply in human geography and focusing on subjective and collective perceptions of landscapes. By conducting qualitative interviews with local staff of organizations such as the National Trust, the AONB Partnership, Natural England and Cornwall Council, we uncovered four different narratives – in other words, storylines – about what Cornwall’s landscapes are, how they are affected by climate change, and how one should adapt to these changes. These four narratives conceptualise the Cornish landscapes as:

  • the region’s basis for economic growth
  • an intermediate result of an ongoing human-environment relationship
  • a mosaic of wildlife and habitats;
  • and a space for production, e.g. of agricultural goods.

By identifying these different narratives, we show that although superficially often understood as one and the same thing, the concept of landscape means very different things to different actors concerned with its management. These varying understandings of the landscapes have direct implications for how they should be managed in the context of a changing climate: from preserving the status quo and rejecting any built interventions through a focus on community-led action, to a call for hard engineering – different constructions of landscapes result in potentially conflicting demands for adaptation measures in Cornwall. Understanding which landscape perceptions underlie such differing approaches to adaptation becomes especially important when the adaptation activities of one group negatively impact on what another group values about a landscape.

Leaving unarticulated the taken-for-granted constructions that landscape management actors have of their local landscapes holds great potential for misunderstandings and can present an obstacle to sustainable climate adaptation. As climate change adaptation is a societal challenge which demands the transdisciplinary cooperation of many different organizations and actors on the local level, our research makes an important contribution to furthering constructive dialogue about how to adapt landscapes and places to the impacts of a changing climate. With ever greater emphasis on multi-agency working to achieve climate change adaptation in landscape management, it is important that future research investigates the diverse perceptions people have of the places they manage, to secure effective action at the local level.

About the author: Vera Köpsel and Cormac Walsh are both research associates at the University of Hamburg. Catherine Leyshon is Professor of Human Geography at the Univesity of Exeter. 

60-world2 Carrington D 2016 Study reveals huge acceleration in erosion of England’s white cliffsThe Guardian 7 November 2016.

60-world2 Herald Express 2016 South Devon beaches have ‘not recovered’ after ferocious storms of 2014. 27 Nov 2016.

books_icon Köpsel, V., Walsh, C. and Leyshon, C. 2016 Landscape narratives in practice: implications for climate change adaptation. Geogr J. doi:10.1111/geoj.12203

books_icon Radford T 2016 Stronger storms coming to Europe’s Atlantic seaboard The Ecologist 8 April 2016

60-world2 Vaughan A 2014 England and Wales hit by wettest winter in nearly 250 years The Guardian 27 February 2014. 

 

Changing environments, moving people: protecting the rights of climate change refugees

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

ClimaAB.jpgte change, together with the ongoing debates about the possible impacts it may have on human lives, cannot be ignored. Particular groups are already enduring the challenges of what to many may be regarded as something of the future: climate change induced displacement (CCID).

In their article in The Geographical Journal, Fornalé and Doebbler (2016) provide an in-depth discussion of the role of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in protecting the rights of refugees on the move as a direct result of climate change, and the contention which remains in effectively ensuring that these rights are fully exercised. This is a particularly poignant issue, as the paper discusses how the UNHCR does not adequately recognise people who are displaced due to the impacts of climate change as refugees.

The Huffington Post recently reported that an estimated 20 million people, many of whom were children, who were forcibly displaced in 2015 as a result of the different impacts on them due to climate change. Due to, for example, compromises to access to shelter, education, water and sanitation – these various factors can lead to other risks such as violence and sexual abuse. These risks can mean that the rights of the refugees of climate change are at high risk of being violated. But what must be remembered, is that refugees, and their rights, need to be protected. Climate change is a global phenomenon that is being experienced by all species and all people across the world. Although refugees of climate change seek to cross physical political boundaries, environmental impacts transcend these, and therefore it is the responsibility of all people to ensure that the rights of each individual, moving or settled, and the rights of the earth to have a sustainable future will be upheld. Whether the recent COP22 meeting in Marrakech was able to discuss the impact of climate change through displacement, remains to be seen. But what is clear, is that climate change refugees, and their rights, will require significant attention in years to come.

books_icon Fornalé, E. and Doebbler, C.F.J. 2016 ‘UNHCR and protection and assistance for the victims of climate change’ The Geographical Journal

60-world2 Oakes, R. 2016 ‘Climate Change, Migration and the Rights of Children’  The Huffington Post Retrieved 27 November 2016

books_icon Hicks, C. 2016, ‘COP22 host Morocco launches action plan to fight devastating climate change’ The Guardian Retrieved 27 November 2016

Islamic leaders and Islamic law – a conundrum?

By Christine G Schenk, University of Geneva

Aceh_Schenk.jpg

Image credit: (c) Christine Schenk

Islamic law and Islamic leaders are often portrayed as a cohesive, inflexible block. But engagements with Islamic law and Islamic leaders are highly diverse as debates and initiatives around Islam, gender and feminism show (see the blog Muslims in Interwar Europe). My article, recently published in The Geographical Journal, highlights the diversity and reflexivity of Islamic leaders. Internal deliberations among Islamic leaders can not only reconcile co-existent laws but also different religious schools of thought in many Muslim societies. These deliberations are particularly important, for example, in legal reforms on family law (see the network Women living under Muslim laws).

The article examines deliberations among Islamic leaders adhering to the Shafi school (Sunni Islam) on family law in Aceh, Indonesia between 2006 – 2008. This reform was particularly contentious as family law regulates, among other duties, marriages and aims to provide legal security, especially to women. But due to nearly 30 years of conflict between the Aceh Free Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) and the Central Government of Indonesia, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, family law was hardly implemented. The civil administration was dormant, while Acehnese communities were governed by Islamic law and customary law.

In the process of legal reform, Islamic leaders considered the regulation of families as an intrusion of state bureaucracy into community affairs. In turn, Islamic leaders resisted calls to administer legal reform in their function as political partners within the Acehnese government. A cross-societal dialogue, facilitated by an aid agency and lobby groups, served to disentangle resistance against such legal reforms through internal deliberation. Consultation and interpretation of Islamic texts, such as the Quran, turned out to be a key element in reconciling different religious schools and co-existent laws.

Debates around gender, human rights and Islam receive pronounced attention in places that have been affected by conflict, crises and/or disaster (further information is available, for example, at Flower Aceh, and Sisters in Islam). My article argues that we need to consider the dynamics of law-making outside of Western democracies to obtain more nuanced understandings of the varieties of legal geographies across the globe.

About the author: Christine Schenk is PhD within the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Geneva. 

books_icon Schenk, C. G. (2016), Islamic leaders and the legal geography of family law in Aceh, Indonesia. The Geographical  Journal. doi:10.1111/geoj.12202

Wildfires and burning management

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Wildfires often occur as part of a natural cycle and they are important for the health of many ecosystems across the world by making the soil more suitable for seeding, for example. Indeed, many species (especially plants) have specific adaptations to wildfires such as fire-activated seeds and thermal insulation, while others rely on fires clearing space for their seedlings to grow (e.g. S. giganteum). The cause of wildfires may be natural or human-mediated (more information), and burning vegetation to make space for agricultural land, and as a means of managing natural fires, is common in many parts of the world (FAO).

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center Archive: Fire and Smoke, Democratic Republic of the Congo (NASA, International Space Station, 05/16/02) obtained via Flickr under a CreativeCommons License (link to source).

Two key processes have the potential to increase the severity of wildfires in the future. First, global warming is likely to increase their intensity and duration as dry areas become drier and the length of the wildfire season increases. In fact, it has been reported that the area affected by wildfires has doubled in the western USA since the 1980s. Second, urbanisation has recently been linked to the potential for more damaging fires in Africa because of fewer traditional controlled burns in rural areas early in the wildfire season, leading to a build-up of dry vegetation (Archibald, 2016; Sci Dev Net, 2016).

We are, therefore, in a position where wildfires are likely to become an ever greater threat to human livelihoods and wellbeing. A recent article in The Geographical Journal (Caillault et al., 2015) discusses burning management in Burkina Faso, with a focus on ‘bad fires’, which are those that occur late in the season and degrade the Savannah. The authors highlight how policy has been slow to recognise the value of traditional fire management practices. These practices were once actively suppressed, but the advantages are now generally well-known. In spite of this, there are still some difficulties because of “the difference in perspective between rural land managers and policymakers” and “the lack of integration of the human dimensions of fire into fire science and ecology“, which are significant because policymakers are influenced by fire science, as detailed by Caillault et al. (p. 376). New ecological perspectives offer support for the importance of fire in Savannah landscapes towards the development of environmental policies and management rules in West Africa.

In line with this effort, Caillault et al. conduct a space-time analysis of fire in western Burkina Faso. They use remote sensing data from MODIS combined with field data, concluding that the spatial and temporal dimensions of burning are important aspects to understand regarding local and regional fire management. A regularity in the burning regime was recognised in relation to people, meaning that fire cannot be seen purely as a biophysical variable when considering its impacts on the Savannah: human practices shape this landscape as well. The fire practices observed were consistent, and not haphazard as is sometimes the perception, and they usually occurred early in the season, which has significant policy implications.

When we consider that wildfires are likely to worsen in coming years, a greater understanding of the spatio-temporal dynamics locally and regionally will be essential for fire management policy. This necessitates understanding human and physical processes, as part of a truly geographical approach, the likes of which is demonstrated by Caillault et al.

References

books_icon Archibald, S. (2016). Managing the human component of fire regimes: lessons from Africa. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 371 (1696), p.20150346. [Associated Sci Dev Net news article]

books_icon Caillault, S., Ballouche, A. and Delahaye, D. (2015). Where are the ‘bad fires’ in West African savannas? Rethinking burning management through a space–time analysis in Burkina Faso. The Geographical Journal, 181 (4), pp.375-387.

60-world2 Mosbergen D 2016 Climate Change is Fueling America’s Wildfires, and it’ll only get worse The Huffington Post 

60-world2 UCSUSA 2016 Is Global Warming Fuelling Increased Wildfire Risks? 

Cultivating the land of the concrete jungle: environmental and social security, but for whom?

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University 

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There are many different aspects of daily life that symbolise wider environmental challenges in the world, some as close to us as the food we eat. Recent debates and discussions about reducing our environmental impact have often focused on the drive to ‘go local’ with our food, and in particular to grow our own in the face of rising food insecurity at a global scale. One particular potential solution to this has been to promote urban agriculture, however, moving the farm to the city is not without problems.

Neilson and Rickards (2016), in their paper published in The Geographical Journal, draw upon practices of urban agriculture in Melbourne, Australia, to highlight that longstanding tensions between what is seen as the ‘urban’ and what is understood as ‘rural’ continue to prevail. They suggest that the notion of growing food is often perceived to be a ‘rural’ practice that is ‘out of sight and out of mind’ for city dwellers and people who rely on supermarkets and shops to buy their food. Urban farms, therefore, can be seen as being out of place, and are sometimes perceived to be an invasive force that take over the land of the city. Neilson and Rickards (2016: 10) describe urban farms as ‘ecological colonisers’ that seek to be ‘green’ and inhibit the growth of the city through food production.

When we look at examples of urban farming, it’s clear that the tensions in these practices go deeper and further than the land itself, and are reflected within and between the groups of people who are meant to benefit from it. For example, The Guardian reports that a rise in urban farming in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is not a simple solution to issues of health and inequality in different areas of the city. Urban agricultural practices can be problematic in cities like Tulsa because urban farming is perceived to be a ‘white trend’ solution, which reveals and reinforces racial divides. For instance, longstanding issues with social security among ‘minority’ groups can make it difficult for urban agriculture to fully take off. Furthermore, the concept of agriculture brings connotations of slavery from the past for young Black Tulsans, who are among the target group for developing these farms. Black Tulsans tend to associate working on the land with of slavery, so the practice of urban agriculture can expose the influence of a dark past history upon the present generations. These divides unmask how particular sustainable practices, such as urban agriculture, are situated within longstanding historical racial tensions (Lieberman, 2016). Tulsa therefore shows that re-thinking frameworks in the context of urban/rural agricultural dichotomy is not sufficient. People who are practising urban agriculture and those who could benefit from doing so, but are left behind, should all be reached and included. For farms, both urban and rural, it’s essential to recognise not just the diversity of the places, but the world in which we live, to ensure a food-secure future for all.

60-world2 Lieberman A 2016 ‘Could urban farming provide a much needed oasis in the Tulsa food desert?’ The Guardian Online 25th August 2016

books_icon Neilson C and Rickards L 2016 The relational character of urban agriculture: competing perspectives on land, food, people, agriculture and the city The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12188

Growing urban agriculture beyond the city limit

By Chenae Neilson, University of Melbourne, and Lauren Rickards, RMIT University

It is hard not to notice the rising interest and flourishing activity in cities around the world for growing food in innovative ways. Rooftop gardens, guerrilla gardens, urban apiaries, city farms, allotments, micro-livestock keeping, community and institutional gardens, as well as other evolving ways to interact with primary food production, are fast becoming a celebrated part of the contemporary city-scape.

‘Urban agriculture’ is a key term used when we talk about food production pursuits in cities and urban landscapes, wrapping together a range of models and practices – which are shaped by diverse motivations, for example improving local food security, greening cities and adapting to climate change, engaging the community and connecting to nature, to name a few.

While urban agriculture has certainly become a popular activity, it also seems surprisingly disconnected in many ways from wider agriculture established in surrounding rural hinterlands. And unlike many food production activities in the rural context, the value of urban agriculture can remain hard to pin down and articulate in the context of competing “normal” city land uses and activities, particularly in cities of the global north.

Is urban agriculture primarily about the production of food, like much of its rural counterpart? Or is it about something else, such as offering positive practices for urban communities or making a strategic claim on city space? Much research to date indicates that the answer to date largely depends on the context of where the activity is occurring and who is taking part  (Prove et al 2016). Research on urban agriculture is proliferating in geography and beyond, with many authors highlighting the multiplicity of benefits, limitations and opportunities urban agriculture generates (McClintock 2013, Mok 2013, Tornaghi 2014, Classen 2015, Weissman 2016) and the way it slips across multiple high level agendas (e.g. environment, social justice and health).

Looking at this literature and wider discourses about the topic circulating in media, policy and practitioners, we noted that, beyond agreement that urban agriculture means different things to different people, there is underlying ambiguity about how urban agriculture compares to “the rest of agriculture” and “the rest of the city”. Dealing with these questions seems to strongly shape how urban agriculture is understood in any particular context.

Our recent paper in The Geographical Journal explores this by closely examining five discourses about urban agriculture that we found at work in Melbourne, Australia, where a range of urban agriculture initiatives exist and more are underway. Through empirical analysis of these discourses about urban agriculture, the ambiguities of its relational position within both the city and the agricultural sector became apparent.

We believe that, as policy makers and practitioners vie to generate the diverse benefits and transformational opportunities urban agriculture potentially offers, recognising the common agricultural and urban context of all such initiatives may help clarify the stakes of the challenge.

These stakes include the uncertain position urban agriculture continues to occupy within both contexts. Many urban agriculture initiatives are conducted under the shadow of lingering questions about whether they will ever be regarded as more than liminal, temporary, decorative and optional activities and land uses. If urban agriculture is to step out of the margins and make a substantial and lasting difference, it will be need to appraise and manage its relationship with rural agriculture and the rest of the city.

About the authors: Chenae Neilson is a research assistant at RMIT University and a Geospatial Analyst at The Australian Bureau of Statistics. Lauren Rickards is a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University. 

books_icon Classens 2015 The nature of urban gardens: toward a political ecology of urban agriculture Agric. Hum. Values, 32 229–239

books_icon Mcclintock N 2013 Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal: coming to terms with urban agriculture’s contradictions Local Environment 19 147-171

60-world2 McMillan T 2016 Boom Time for Urban Farming National Geographic 

books_icon Neilson, C. and Rickards, L. 2016 The relational character of urban agriculture: competing perspectives on land, food, people, agriculture and the city. The Geographical  Journal. doi:10.1111/geoj.12188

60-world2 Nierenberg D, Nink E and Crelin J 2015 28 Inspiring Urban Agriculture Projects  Foodtank 

books_icon Mok H-F, Williamson V, Grove J, Burry K, Barker F and Hamilton A 2013, Strawberry fields forever? Urban agriculture in developed countries: a review, Agronomy for Sustainable Development 33 1-23

books_icon Prové C, Dessein J and Krom M 2016 Taking context into account in urban agriculture governance: Case studies of Warsaw (Poland) and Ghent (Belgium) Land Use Policy 56 16-26

books_icon Tornaghi, C 2014 Critical geography of urban agriculture Progress in Human Geography 38 51-567.

books_icon Weissman E 2015 Entrepreneurial endeavors: (re)producing neoliberalization through urban agriculture youth programming in Brooklyn, New York Environmental Education Research 21 351-364

60-world2 Winkless L 2016 Urban Farming: Fad Or Futureproof? Forbes, 9 March 2016