Emerging Architects Serve Up Food Justice

With a recent visit to Oberlin College, my alma mater, I met with Environmental Studies students to discuss their opinion about the future of sustainability. The hot topic was “food justice,” a new term to me, although not a new concept. I felt these discussions were particularly timely, as the AIANY Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA) just launched its biennial design ideas competition, “The Harlem Edge: Cultivating Connections,” calling for ideas for the decommissioned Department of Sanitation marine transfer station on 135th Street and the Hudson River. The committee collaborated with Nourishing NYC, a hunger advocacy organization, to develop the program.

Food justice, as it was described to me, empowers communities to grow, eat, and sell healthy food — “healthy” meaning locally grown, nutritious, and affordable. The movement aims to affect social change by advocating for new governmental policies that would create an environment where everyone would have access to food and no one would go hungry. Part of the movement involves redistributing food that is available globally to adequately feed those who suffer from malnutrition and starvation.

Nourishing NYC has three aspects to its mission of “achieving ‘nutrition for all’ in NYC”: offer nutritionally balanced meals for free; educate children ages 6-12; and provide hands-on nutritional workshops in the community. The organization recently unveiled a national program, Nourishing USA, expanding its umbrella to other cities in the U.S.

I think The Harlem Edge competition will bring to light how architects and designers can contribute to broad social causes such as food justice. The site of the marine transfer station is perfect for the program, as it is on the water (potential ferry access), near existing transportation infrastructure, close to a Fairway supermarket, and the demographics will quickly change over the next few years as Columbia expands into Manhattanville. With emerging professionals addressing issues of poverty, obesity, and “food insecurity” (another term I recently learned), they are re-establishing the profession as a source for innovative, practical ideas to help solve the world’s problems.