PlaNYC 2.0 Puts Food on the Table

by Ed Yowell
April 25, 2011
PlaNYC 2030 In celebration of Earth Day, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled the 2011 Update to “PlaNYC 2030: A Greener, Greater New York” (aka PlaNYC 2.0) on Friday, April 22. According to the Mayor, the updated Plan, “builds upon the progress and lessons of the past four years (since the plan was first released in 2007).”

The Plan is the City’s executive, pan-Agency, sustainability manifesto to meet the challenges of a growing population, an aging infrastructure, a changing, global economy, and climate change. According to its introduction, “The Plan focuses on the physical city and the functionality of its infrastructure … .” It includes chapters covering: housing and neighborhoods; parks, public spaces, and waterways; water supply; transportation; energy; air quality, and solid waste management. Regarding non-infrastructure matters, the introduction cites that, “PlaNYC complements other City efforts, such as those (addressing) crime, poverty, education, public health, or social services.”

Notable in Mayor Bloomberg’s unveiling was an announcement of the City’s intention to phase out highly polluting heating fuels used in some New York City buildings. Largely unnoted was the addition of a Food Section to PlaNYC.

The Mayor’s Long Term Planning and Sustainability Office, the authors and maintainers of PlaNYC, conducted citywide “Community Conversations” over the course of the previous year to help prepare for the 2011 update. Mayor Bloomberg wrote in his on-line preamble to the update process, “Government alone cannot achieve the ambitious goals set forth in PlaNYC. We must leverage the ideas, energy, and involvement of our communities to achieve our goals. I invite all New Yorkers to join us in shaping our city and our future."

Responding to the Mayor’s call, members and friends of the Food Systems Network NYC, individually and through their organizational affiliations, weighed in on the need to include food in the Plan. To help make the point, FSNYC convened a facilitated working session attended by more than 20 individuals from all over the city to frame a document, “Food for the Future,” which was delivered to Mayor Bloomberg in November 2010. “Food for the Future,” relied to no small extent on works that preceded it - “Food in the Public Interest,” released in February, 2009, and “FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System,” released in February, 2010, both by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President, Scott M. Stringer.

FSNYC’s “Food for the Future” consisted of three sections; Hunger and Nutrition, Regional Farm and Food Economy, and Food Policy Engagement. The report’s ten recommendations urged the City “to put food on the table” by: ensuring access to good food within ¼ mile of each New Yorker; supporting alternative fresh food distribution systems; promoting good food education and ensuring New Yorkers’ access to good food; supporting local and regional food production; improving channels of food distribution; evaluating empirically the City’s food systems; supporting the development of a “green” food-based economic sector; encouraging government and private purchase of regionally produced food; creating a NYC Food Policy Council; and engaging state and federal governments in the creation of a food system that is good for New Yorkers.    

The Plan’s Food Section, tucked away in a chapter entitled “Cross Cutting Topics.” allows that “Healthy, sustainable food systems are critical to the well-being of our communities and central to our ability to accommodate a growing population.”

Seemingly ducking many of the challenges facing our food system, it continues, “Yet food presents a unique planning challenge; unlike sewers or streets, much of New York City’s food systems infrastructure is privately owned and shaped by the tastes and decisions of millions of individual consumers. These complicated and inter-related subsystems aren’t easily understood or influenced, even by concerted municipal interventions. Furthermore, many of food’s most significant climate and environmental impacts are associated with food production, most of which takes place outside the city, and shaped by federal policy.”

Recovering, somewhat gamely, the Plan continues, “Nonetheless, our food systems intersect with several areas addressed by PlaNYC. Improving the distribution and disposal of food within New York City and increasing access to healthy food will not only benefit the environment, it can also have positive public health and economic impacts. We are developing a multi-faceted strategy to increase access to affordable and healthy foods and reduce the environmental and climate impacts of food production, distribution, consumption, and disposal.”

The PlaNYC Food Section aggregates food related initiatives, some continuing and some new, contained in other, already existing, Plan chapters; Neighborhoods, Parks, Brownfields, Transportation, and Water Supply.

On food production, the Plan includes: surveying municipal lands to identify properties suitable for urban agriculture or community gardens; facilitating agriculture projects at publicly-owned sites (by planting 129 new community gardens on New York City Housing Authority land and promoting school gardens through Grow to Learn NYC); reviewing regulations and laws to remove barriers to creating community gardens and urban farms; facilitating the use of remediated brownfield sites for community gardens (by designing state-of-the-art protective measures); and working with watershed farmers to adopt increasingly sustainable agricultural practices.

On distribution, it includes working with the City Council to analyze the City’s foodshed and to evaluate the environmental effects of our food systems and facilitating the re-design of the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market to improve its functionality.

On consumption, it includes facilitating the creation of 300 healthy food retail options in underserved areas and identifying additional zoning amendments to expand the FRESH program (to incentivize the development of grocery stores in neighborhoods with food access needs) and continuing the use of City-owned land to foster entrepreneurship in food retail and processing.

And, on post-consumption, the Plan includes creating additional opportunities to recover organic materials (including food scraps, yellow grease, and yard waste) at community and commercial levels and pursuing energy-generating projects (such as food waste diversion at the Hunt’s Point Food Distribution Center).

Moving from infrastructure programs, that primarily are the province of the Plan, it cites the complementary role of the City’s Office of the Food Policy Coordinator to facilitate the City’s initiatives to improve its food system, addressing diet-related diseases and combating food insecurity. The Plan cites as precedents for new initiatives past accomplishments like mandating calorie labeling on restaurant menus, banning transfats in restaurants, and implementing new nutritional standards for food served by the City, all of which indicate that the City indeed has taken on, “…complicated and inter-related subsystems (that) aren’t easily understood or influenced, even by concerted municipal interventions.”

Regarding food, the Plan concludes, “We cannot create a greener, greater New York without systems that make healthy food available to residents and dispose of food waste in ways that reduce its environmental impact. The food-related initiatives within the Plan will improve the long-term health of individual New Yorkers while strengthening our economy and environment.”

In an Earth Day e-mail message to New Yorkers, Christine C. Quinn, NYC Council Speaker, and Council Members James F. Gennaro and Letitia James wrote, “Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg released PlaNYC 2.0, a blueprint that will take our city's sustainability efforts to the next level…We're especially proud that this plan for the first time incorporates food system sustainability – an issue that has long been a priority for the City Council. In fact, many of the food proposals outlined in PlaNYC 2.0 work in tandem with proposals from our FoodWorks plan for improving NYC's food system.”

The Food Section of PlaNYC does not respond to every point included in FSNYC’s “Food for the Future.” Notably absent from the Plan is the City’s use of its estimable political and financial resources to affect farm and food policy beyond its borders, e.g.; preserving its greater foodshed, beyond the boundaries of its watershed, and advocating for state and federal farm policies that will benefit our city. What it does, perhaps most importantly, is register publicly the cause for a good, fair, and sustainable food system in the City’s highly visible (and quantified) executive agenda and commit the City’s agencies to actions that will help achieve these goals.

PlaNYC 2.0 does not constitute solely an end achieved. Rather, in conjunction with the City Council’s comprehensive FoodWorks agenda and the ministrations of the City’s Office of the Food Policy Coordinator, it may constitute the beginning of a coordinated governmental effort to achieve a good, fair, and sustainable New York City food system. 

Read the fully updated PlaNYC 2030 here.

Ed Yowell is a co--chair of the Food Systems Network NYC Leadership Committee. He is also a member of the Greenmarket Farmer and Community Advisory Committee, a Slow Food Regional Governor, and a member of the Slow Food NYC Board of Directors.