Planning from Plaza to Plate

Mayor Bloomberg surveys the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Edward Reed

Mayor Bloomberg’s administration has taken a famously fine-grained approach to transforming the city, from infrastructure and streetscapes to the super-sized soda and smoking bans. Despite the naysayers and complainers—and his administration’s occasionally tin-eared tone—these changes have been overwhelmingly positive for the city. Many of the city’s sustainability and public health goals dovetail. Promoting welcoming public space, an active populace, multimodal transportation, and access to healthy foods mean a more resilient, vibrant, and attractive city for residents, visitors, and businesses.

New York’s greenmarkets have long played a role in boosting the city’s green and health agendas. While the markets continue to grow and expand into new neighborhoods and organizers work to attract buyers beyond affluent foodies, most of these markets remain somewhat rag-tag, once a week affairs.

New York is a vast and largely rural state, and much of upstate is struggling economically. Agriculture, however, is an expanding sector, however modestly. Small farms are returning to the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and regions to the north. According to the Times, the most recent agricultural census shows a small increase in the overall number of farms, the first such increase in 80 years. Agriculture itself is no economic savior, but as a part of a larger system of upstate tourism and downstate dining dollars, it is one that should be taken seriously and invested in with public and private funds.

The next mayor and Governor Cuomo should work to craft a statewide plan linking upstate farms with downstate markets (as well as urban markets upstate). Adopting the best aspects of Bloombergian benchmarking, the plan should be followed by implementation and results should be tabulated according to a legible timeline. Comprehensive land-use and infrastructure planning, as well as architecture and urban design, have a central role to play. Regional processing plants for meat, dairy, and produce—perhaps developed through co-op models or in public/private partnerships—would allow growers to create value added goods available all year. Statewide land-use planning should support open space conservation, and transportation planning should help growers bring their goods to market efficiently.

Here in the city, we need a brick and mortar (or glass and steel) year-round regional food market/hall. Several groups have been promoting such ideas during Bloomberg’s terms, such as the New Amsterdam Market, as well as a development plan for a year-round market in the Battery Maritime Building. The New Amsterdam Market is working to reuse the empty Fulton Fish Market building in the South Street Seaport for just such a use. That is a worthy effort that deserves support. But in a city of nine million, that doesn’t seem to be nearly enough. Each borough could certainly sustain its own market (as well as upper Manhattan). These should be well-designed, gracious public spaces worthy of New York’s world-class food culture, and reflective of our leadership in public health innovation and sustainable urbanism.

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