Green Space Goal
One could argue that achieving ecological sustainability in cities begins with green space. Because the benefits of trees and natural vegetation are so comprehensive and interconnected, simply creating more green space within a city's boundaries can improve the urban environment. Trees help regulate local air quality and climate, countering the warming effects of paved surfaces and energy consumption by providing shade and absorbing heat through evapotranspiration. Green spaces also contribute to ecological health by breaking up the built and paved landscape with land that filters stormwater and snowmelt, recharging groundwater supplies and protecting lakes and streams from polluted runoff. In sufficiently- large portions, green spaces can provide important habitat for birds and other wildlife.
The benefits of urban green space are not limited to these ecological services. Parks provide city residents with opportunities for exercise and recreation. Street trees can enhance the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods and promote an overall sense of well being in communities; studies, in fact, have demonstrated a connection between urban greenery and mental health. Increasingly, green spaces are contributing to cities' local food supply, through their use as community gardens or other urban agriculture initiatives.
Urban agriculture can take many different forms: rooftop gardens, community gardens, and community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in which people purchase "shares" providing farmers with income up front and customers with produce throughout the growing season. The form or shape of urban agriculture depends a lot on density. In downtown areas, urban agriculture typically takes place on rooftop gardens, balconies, temporarily vacant lots, and occasionally in public parks. Small-scale greenhouse systems, including hydroponics, can also be found in some denser areas of the city. As one moves out from the core urban agriculture often takes place along rail lines or main roads. More permanent plots are usually found as the distance from the downtown becomes greater. The final zone of urban agriculture is the periphery, where the city merges into the countryside. Agriculture operations in this area are usually geared towards serving the metropolitan market through CSAs and Farmers' Markets.
Current thinking about urban agriculture encompasses the concept of "food systems," which refers to sustainable local production and distribution of food. By incorporating food systems into their planning process, cities can achieve energy savings and other environmental benefits. Energy consumption and pollution are reduced by cutting the transportation requirements for bringing food from the farm to the plate. Locally-grown food can often be produced with minimal use of pesticides and fertilizers. Urban agriculture provides social and economic benefits as well. Community gardens can foster social interaction and create educational opportunities for children. By eliminating intermediate steps in the conventional food distribution network, urban agriculture can result in lower prices for consumers and higher income for farmers.
Madison supports several CSA programs, and has 23 community gardens. 14 of the 23 are managed by an organization called the Community Action Coalition (CAC). The size and scope of the gardens vary, from the 2.8-acre Troy Gardens to some that are a tenth of an acre. In its 2003 year-end report, the CAC reported 402 families using its plots, a 29 percent increase from 2002. The popularity of community gardens appears to be growing throughout Madison, a trend that suggests that food systems be included in the City's planning efforts. Identifying vacant land with potential for agriculture, ensuring that agriculture is a permitted activity in open spaces and public lands, and recognizing community gardening in the zoning ordinances are some of the ways the City can expand opportunities for promoting Madison's local food system.