Feeding an Urban World: A Call to Action

For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of participating in a fellowship program of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Every year, the Council names a cohort of approximately twenty Emerging Leaders from the metro area. In the first year, the group works together through a series of seminars, workshops, lectures, and other events focused on global affairs (and often intersecting with Chicago affairs). In the second year, the cohort writes a joint report on an issue of global significance. Along with research and writing, the second year includes meetings in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Our cohort chose to write an agenda-setting report on the issue of urban food security. We chose this topic because we believe the following:

  • While food security is recognized as an important global issue with significant resources devoted to it, too little attention has been focused on the issue of urban food security.
  • Urban living and development are very different from rural development. Overcrowding, higher crime, greater government oversight and regulation, greater resources (e.g., utilities, transportation, education, jobs)—albeit greater competition for these resources—and larger social stratification adds a great deal of complexity to the issue of creating sustainable food systems in urban environments.
  • Urban leaders must develop plans to address urban food security because it will become an increasingly challenging issue in the coming decades as the world’s population—and especially its urban population—grows.
  • Chicago is well positioned to be a leader in addressing the new challenges of feeding urban populations, in adopting policies that are a model for other cities, and in utilizing its world-leading corporate, academic, philanthropic, and public policy resources to address the issues of urban food security worldwide.

You can find the whole 130 pp. report here, but I’d like to highlight two things:

  1. Our “Urban Food Model,” which is a tool for evaluating cases and focusing policy interventions on the key issues of availability, access, and utilization.
  2. Two aspects of our final recommendation (we have ten), which is to “Position Chicago as a World Leader in Addressing Urban Food Security.” We believe that Chicago should do the following:

Convene a food security task force.

The City of Chicago should convene a food security task force, comprised of members of the various sectors and industries best positioned to address access, availability, and utilization, as well as representatives of the citizens and stakeholders most vulnerable to food insecurity. In addition, because of the scale and many dimensions of the food security challenge, the task force should include adjunct members or consultants from metropolitan, state, regional, and national agencies. The task force should consider the vulnerabilities of Chicago as well as the advantages afforded by its deep economic history and its positioning as a leader in global affairs. The task force should use the Urban Food Model to identify opportunities, develop local policies, and make key recommendations regarding the removal of regulatory and policy barriers—at various levels—that may distort markets and undermine food security. Set in this context, the potential for policy diffusion to the state, regional, and national levels is significant.

Establish a transnational municipal network for urban food security.

Furthermore, Chicago is well positioned to begin to address urban food security on a global scale. We think Chicago can and should be a leader in addressing the urban food challenges of the 21st century, just as Chicago’s role in addressing the urban food challenges of a growing nation in the 19th century helped bring the city to global prominence. As a top 10 global city, Chicago’s stature is significant. The City of Chicago has the visibility and credibility to catalyze a global movement of municipalities that recognize and address the challenge of urban food security. Chicago’s stature, unique academic and industrial resources, and deep economic history make it perhaps a most appropriate founding partner for a transnational municipal network for urban food security. In this way, Chicago could become a hub, a center of ideas and action, for the development of comprehensive approaches to address not only Chicago’s food security challenges, but those of the rest of world. This network could enable the diffusion of norms, policies, and best practices most likely to promote a food secure future for global cities, while leveraging the stature of member cities to advocate for sensible policy developments on other levels. Such a network would be unique in that it would focus on cultivating local urban leadership—mayors and others—for the task of feeding our urban world.

Chicago is known for many things. We hope that one day Chicago will be known for moving an urbanizing world toward a food-secure future.

For more information, download the full report, read here about the public release program (which included responses by Ambassador William Garvelink (Ret.) and Mike Simmons, Policy Director for the City of Chicago), or listen to the audio of the public release program.

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