A reform of city laws to clarify existing rules and expand the opportunities for food growing and livestock rearing within municipal limits.
The Urban Agriculture Ordinance is a flexible and extensive reform process leading to the adoption of the Urban Agriculture Ordinance, which creates three sub-categories of urban agriculture: indoor, outdoor and rooftop production. Zoning can also be changed flexibly to permit temporary uses, to encourage the productive use of space that might otherwise sit vacant for a period of time.
In 2011 the City of Chicago began development of an Urban Agriculture Ordinance, in order to clarify existing rules and expand the opportunities for food-growing and livestock rearing within the municipal limits. As Brad Roback, City Planner explained:
"We were approached by some folks in 2011 wanting to utilize city land to grow food, and so we established an ad hoc working group to review the Public Health Code and the Zoning Code to work out what was allowed. And we found that there wasn’t much in the Municipal Code. There were rules – which still exist – that prohibited the raising of ‘large’ animals in the City on public health grounds. Goats, chickens – they’re not really addressed as such – so they’re sort of allowed by not being [expressly] disallowed. There’s no prohibition on keeping these animals as pets, but the issue arises if they’re keeping them commercially.
So in 2011 we dealt with the urban agriculture issue only by looking at plants, and two different animals, namely fish and bees, because that’s where the interest was at the time. There were some entities that wanted to buy or lease city-owned property to set up aquaponics facilities, or keep bees, and we had no way of approving that."
The City of Chicago went through a year-long process of consultation with the Advocates for Urban Agriculture in Chicago, a ‘loose association of 2-300 people involved in growing food’, as well as Growing Power and the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council.
The City has flexibility to change zoning classifications, e.g. from residential to commercial, on a temporary basis to allow for urban farming to take place in particular areas, such as Perry St in Englewood. What we’re doing is viewing urban ag as a productive system of open space land management. Even though these sites may be controlled and operated by private entities, people can still go there, and farm, and be active, and learn about fresh food. Eventually Perry St will all become parkland, and whether the existing farm stays will be up to the community."
The cost of drafting the Urban Agriculture Ordinance was largely the staff time required from within the City of Chicago. One significant financial element is the cost of remediation of previously used and often contaminated land. Since this frequently involves the removal of rubble from previously erected buildings, capping the site with a clay barrier to seal contaminants, and then trucking in cost soil, the costs can be as much as $200,000 per acre. This is borne through budgetary allocations made by the City of Chicago.
The Ordinance has created certainty for urban farmers, businesses and enterprises to take out leases on land, secure funding, make infrastructure investments, and commence operations. It has sent a strong signal that the commercial growing of food in many designated zones through the city is both permitted and encouraged. While it is too early to properly assess the full impacts, the expectation is that urban agriculture will serve as a significant component of urban renewal and regeneration in areas currently experiencing high poverty and crime, such as Englewood.
In terms of the process, Brad commented:
We had to strike a balance between property owners and practitioners and advocates. The Ordinance that got passed was much better for this process."
A barrier to further implementation is the high cost of site remediation and the limited funds the city has for this process. Alternative production systems (e.g. raised beds) can partially overcome this barrier.
Chicago is one of a number of cities across the US midwest and beyond that are responding to community demand for increased certainty and security of tenure regarding access to land for food growing purposes. The participatory engagement processes that led to the adoption of the Urban Agricultural Ordinance meant that important sections of the community were well engaged with and informed about the process and its implications. This has given the Ordinance an enhanced level of visibility and legitimacy.