Call me nerdy, but I think planning and zoning is fascinating. Give me a project proposal or zoning code, and I gladly immerse myself in land use regulations, zoning jargon and mapping. So when the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Mayor’s office held a kickoff and visioning meeting to rezone Boston for urban agriculture on Monday night, I was sitting front row, pencil in hand!
Image courtesy of City Farmer News
Boston is not new to agriculture. The Boston Common was used from 1634-1830 as a public livestock grazing pasture. The city has the highest number of community gardens per capita; 150 gardens throughout the city in which 3,000 members grow. There are currently 6 urban agriculture projects in Boston, and farmers’ markets in every neighborhood. A new pilot rezoning projectapproved last year by the city leases two parcels of land in South Dorchester to be farmed by local organizations.
But, this rezoning project is critical to the future of the local food system in Boston. As it stands now, the current Zoning Code details 3 (basic) types of land uses for Boston:
- Allowed by right use: A land use that is permitted as a matter of right. Board of Appeal approval is not required.
- Conditional use: A land use permitted by the Zoning Code provided that it is found by the Board of Appeal to comply with certain conditions set out in the Code
- Forbidden use: A use that is not permitted in a particular district because of harmful impacts on other allowed uses; e.g., noise, pollution.
However, as I learned Monday night, if a particular use is not expressly mentioned in the Zoning Code, it is, by default, forbidden. This applies to most agricultural land uses. In order for urban agriculture – the use of a parcel of land to cultivate food and other products with the intent of sale – to thrive, the Code must be revised.
Map courtesy of Boston Redevelopment Authority Pilot Urban Agriculture Project
As urban environments, like Boston, seek to become more sustainable, food and agriculture will play an increasingly critical role. I am excited to see my city take the first steps in becoming greener and creating a local food system. The expansion of urban agriculture in Boston will have profoundly positive effects on the city. A new chapter in the Code will increase residents’ access to local, fresh food, it will provide new economic opportunities to grow and sell food products, it will expand educational programs about healthy eating and agriculture for local youth, and it will utilize vacant lots and empty spaces in a sustainable and beneficial way.
At the meeting I was pleased to see a diverse group of Boston residents present, asking question, and providing their own visions for the future of urban agriculture. Mayor Menino voiced his enthusiastic commitment for agriculture and urban farmer and founder of Growing Power, Will Allen, the man who transformed Milwaukee into an thriving agricultural city, gave an inspiring presentation about possibilities for growth in Boston. The meeting wrapped up with a spirited roundtable discussion and thoughtful comments from residents that left me energized for an urban agriculture revolution in Boston!
Even though this rezoning and planning is in it’s infantile stages, and I’m sure at some point this year-long process may become arduous, the prospects urban agriculture holds for Boston will be worth it. Beekeeping, backyard chickens, and farms in my neighborhood? Let’s get started!