Book Review: Urban Food Planning. Seeds of Transition in the Global North

Rosita T. Ilieva, Urban Food Planning: Seeds of Transition in the Global North, Routledge: London, 2016, pp. xviii + 267. ISBN 9781138998483, £88.99 (Hbk)

Reviewer: Giles O’Donovan, PhD Candidate, University of Aberdeen, UK

When introducing urban food planning, Rosita Ilieva immediately acknowledges the vast landscape of research in the field, noting the ‘complexity’ and ‘mindboggling diversity’ (xiii) of initiatives related to food and urban planning. Due to this complexity, she seeks to “take the pulse of urban food planning as an evolving practice and domain of practices” (xiii), providing an overview of current approaches to urban food planning, and highlighting its achievements and opportunities for further development by different actors in the planning community. Case studies from the global north were chosen because ‘rich’ cities have significant local and global impacts that are often undervalued. This approach argues that there are many areas that need to be further developed, especially those operating within distinct economic, governmental or environmental constraints. This aligns with other research in the field that notes the need for greater consideration of food in urban planning (c.f., Morgan 2015).

Ilieva’s core argument states that the interface between food and urban planning is growing, presenting many ways in which urban food planning can be further developed. Firstly, she highlights the importance of viewing the city through a ‘food system lens’, where researchers “uncover missing, emergent, and potential geographies of urban food procurement – from food retail to city and regional farming – and assess their impact on human and environmental wellbeing” (96). This includes lenses such as ‘the hungry city’ where food insecurity can exist in prosperous cities with abundant food supplies and also encompasses issues of poor nutrition, not only due to lack of food but also due to high-calorie, low-nutrient food. This demonstrates the complexity of food security in urban areas, looking beyond issues of food availability.

The first three chapters provide a strong disciplinary context, explaining the rationale for urban planning and the elements of planning that are related to any food agenda. Notably, the history in food planning is studied through examples from different countries, including the Garden City concept in the UK, Broadacre city in the USA and the Randstad Green Heart in the Netherlands. The majority of these examples all share the idea of having agricultural production close to urban residents, providing a good frame of reference for discussing contemporary urban food planning later in the book, and exploring the different ways it can be undertaken and the different factors involved. The remaining chapters discuss the current state of urban food planning in the public domain, and opportunities to develop urban food planning via new urban development projects and governance arrangements. These provide a good explanation of current urban food planning schemes and a discussion of how they can be developed.

The chapter on urban food planning in the public domain is presented particularly well, identifying the growth of opportunities in the form of groups such as urban food charters as well as the limitations of these opportunities and the challenges to their integration in urban planning. The author further notes that these urban food planning interventions may appear inconsequential on their own but could be “re-evaluated as a potential seed of transition” when “considered part of a broader emergent network of urban food governance novelties” (141). However, this argument would benefit from greater consideration of the operational issues surrounding the implementation of such plans. For example, the different approaches presented require funding in some form, which leads to questions over who funds them. Should it be the local government, civil society or both? Alongside this, with many different sectors competing for resources in cities, it is questionable whether land, especially brownfield sites, should be used for food production when the need for affordable housing is equally, if not more pressing. Additionally, broader questions emerge over what ‘seeds of transition’ are transitioning into. A more integrated urban food planning system is desirable but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to urban food planning, and in an age of global financial instability, many cities do not have the resources to commit to urban food planning. Finally, the book would have benefited from greater consideration of urban food planning in the global south. While the book justifies its focus on the global north, cities in the global south can also be influential on the global food system and be catalysts of innovation.

Ilieva contributes strongly to the field of urban planning and food scholarship, providing a detailed overview of different approaches to urban food planning and their opportunities and weaknesses. Her coverage of urban food schemes and policies make it a key introductory reading for Human Geographers and Urban Planners. While discussing a range of urban food planning approaches and connecting to current food scholarship well; this book should be seen as a launchpad for deeper exploration into urban food planning issues and development of current research.


Morgan, K. (2015). Nourishing the city: The rise of the urban food question in the Global North. Urban Studies, 52(8), 1379–1394.

United Nations (2014) World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas. Online. Available from: [Accessed 14th April 2018]

Giles is a PhD Candidate in Human Geography researching Brexit and the Scottish horticulture sector with a wide range of skills and experience covering research support within a major Scottish university, membership co-ordination at a global professional institute and academic group management.



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