Today, more than half of the world's population lives in cities, while it is expected that by 2050 the urban population will double. Thus, urbanization can be considered one of the most transformational phenomena in the world.
Cities already account for 70 percent of the world's waste and almost 80 percent of global energy consumption. Despite the fact that the rapid pace of urbanization has prompted the search for innovative solutions in many areas, including housing, transport and infrastructure, one important aspect is often overlooked – food security and nutrition.
Unfortunately, the urban lifestyle is often accompanied by poor nutrition. In addition, urban areas are one of the main sources of food waste. Urban sprawl occurs at the expense of natural resources and green areas, which increases the vulnerability of urban areas to the effects of climate change. In order to create a healthy, sustainable urban environment for future generations, it is necessary to take a fresh look at the life of cities.
Below are five ways to make the urban environment healthier and more sustainable.
1. Development of urban agriculture
When it comes to agriculture, most of us imagine the countryside. However, urban agriculture employs more than 800 million people worldwide.
The allocation of land in urban areas for agriculture reduces supply chains, as well as the amount of carbon dioxide emissions associated with the transportation of food from rural to urban areas. Increasing the amount of fresh food produced and sold in cities can help reduce the environmental impact of food distribution, expand opportunities for the development of local supply chains and improve access to nutritious products, for example, through farmers' markets.
2. Promotion of healthy nutrition
Lifestyle and diet largely depend on the availability and availability of various types of food products. In cities there is a wide selection of fast food and semi-finished products, but these products, as a rule, are characterized by high calorie content and a high degree of processing. And this trend is gaining strength. In the period from 1998 to 2012, the consumption of processed foods with low nutritional value increased by 5.45 percent annually in lower-middle-income countries. National and city governments in developing countries are faced with the need to address the problems associated not only with malnutrition, but also with the harmful effects of obesity, which is spreading at an alarming rate.
Nevertheless, more active measures can be taken in all cities to ensure a healthy diet. In 2014, an assessment of public catering enterprises was carried out in Singapore and the Healthy Public Catering program was launched. With the help of subsidies, the use of more useful ingredients by catering establishments, for example, oils with a reduced content of saturated fats, and the inclusion of less high-calorie dishes in the menu were encouraged. In just over a year, the number of healthy food options on offer has doubled.
3. Reduction of food waste and its disposal
The urban population accounts for up to 70 percent of global food consumption, but a significant part of this product is thrown away. Despite the fact that the causes of food spoilage vary in different regions of the world, they usually include inefficient food planning, improper packaging, improper storage, as well as cultural peculiarities.
In addition, food waste that is not processed or recycled is taken to landfills. There they decompose, which leads to the formation of methane, a greenhouse gas that causes more harm to the planet than carbon dioxide. In this case, we are talking not only about wastefulness in relation to food, but also about the waste of energy, financial and natural resources, for example, land and water resources used for the production and processing of food products. Citywide measures to collect safe and nutritious foods and redistribute them through charities and food banks, as well as composting or using discarded food products to generate energy can play an important role in reducing food waste.
4. Gardening in order to form a healthier environment and improve lifestyle
As urban areas expand, green spaces are shrinking. Trees and green spaces perform not only aesthetic functions, they are important for improving air quality and temperature regulation, promote physical activity and improve overall health. Air pollution, rising temperatures, as well as a sedentary lifestyle increase the likelihood of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, obesity and the spread of new pathogens.
Measures for the development of food systems should be planned and coordinated in conjunction with measures for greening the urban environment in order to reduce pollution, ensure a healthy diet and maintain physical activity. So, in Los Angeles, researchers found that the more parks are located within a radius of 500 meters from a person's place of residence in childhood, the lower his body mass index at the age of 18.
5. Restoring the connection of cities with adjacent rural areas
Cities and urban areas cannot exist in isolation from rural areas. On the contrary, they are heavily dependent on the surrounding rural areas for food, labor, water supply and food waste disposal. In the city of Kisumu, Kenya, the role of a platform uniting representatives of urban and rural areas is performed by the advisory group on interaction in the field of food, which applies a broad approach involving the restoration of the connection of the city with the surrounding areas in the context of food system planning. This makes it possible to ensure the supply of healthy, safe and nutritious products, as well as contributes to the access of rural farmers to the market and the creation of jobs within the food system.
It is believed that the battle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will be won or lost in cities. The Urban Food Agenda is designed to assist Governments and institutions in bridging the gap between urban and rural areas and applying the concept of sustainable food systems. If we manage to achieve results and continue to develop urban innovations using thoughtful, advanced methods, we will be able to ensure that "no one and nowhere is left without attention."