Urban spatial production and the struggle for spatial justice

Urban governance is a broad concept that includes the
role of institutions and individuals in creating an enabling environment, such
as community-city partnerships, to effectively respond to the needs of all
urban residents (UN-Habitat, 2015).
Urban social movements
are a grassroots or community-led response to local concerns of social equity,
environmental and food justice themes. Social movements are often influential
agents in shaping good urban governance outcomes. These outcomes include
improved interconnectivity among municipal, community and private stakeholders
in the urban food system and re-prioritising policies that improve urban
resilience, social cohesion and local and alternative food economies, in the
face of multiple urban sustainability challenges. Alongside rapid urban
population growth, various forms of UA activities are notably expanding

         The connection between alternative
food networks and urban governance lies in its focus on how people engage with
and enact on their understandings of ‘local’ and ‘alternative’ food production
activities. In cities in North America and Europe, in particular, it
appears that community engagement in local and alternative urban food systems
seek to overcome an often ‘antagonistic relationship’ (Brenner, 2012, p. 19)
that exists between socially just spaces and actually existing neoliberal
spaces, as reconciling this relationship encompasses broader concerns regarding
collective urban rights. This view embraces Harvey’s (2008, p. 23) assertion
that “the freedom to make and re-make cities and ourselves is … a neglected
human right”. In this statement, Harvey emphasizes Lefebvre’s thoughts on the potential
power of collective urban rights to change cities. For Lefebvre (19961968),
every society produces its own space, which can have ‘non-productive’ use-value
that is in constant conflict with the neoliberal spatial production (Elden,
2004). This alienation reflects the role of power relations in spatial
production and the struggle for spatial justice or ‘rights to the city’. As
Thornton (2017) argues, these issues are relevant to radical urban theorists in
discourses on alternative production of space and alternative and diverse
economic geographies (Leyshon et al.,
2003; Gibson-Graham, 2008).

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many western countries, alternative food networks (AFN) exist as a collection
of production and marketing activities at regional and local levels, as seen in
farmers’ markets, food-box and food swap initiatives, community farms and
market gardens. The emergence of AFNs are a type of localised response to the
social, economic and environmental impacts of the global industrial agro-food
system. Initially viewed as a mechanism to preserve rural agri-based
livelihoods in the countryside, AFNs are also understood, in both rural and
urban contexts, as a non-conventional or non-corporate attempt to reconfigure relationships between
food producers and food consumers (Venn et
al., 2006). There
is a wealth of of knowledge in the rural sociology literature on alternative
agro-food networks as an outcome of a ‘quality-turn’ in food preferences and
desires (Goodman, 2003; Marsden et al.
2000; Maye et al., 2007). These ‘preferences
and desires’ for certain foods has drawn criticism of AFNs as an exclusive
system comprised of affluent consumers of privileged ‘foodie’ lifestyles
(Donald & Blay-Palmer, 2006; Guthman, 2008). However, the global rise of
AFNs indicate broader concerns among consumers over the exploitative labour and
marketing processes in the global industrial food system (Barnett et al., 2005; DuPuis & Goodman,
2005). In other words, consumers increasingly want to know where their food
comes from (small farm or commercial feedlot) and how was it produced (organic,
GMO). In terms of farm animal welfare (FAW), consumers want to know under what
ethical standards were livestock reared and processed (slaughtered) for the
market (Lever & Evans 2017).

discussed by Larder et al. (2012: 4),
localising food has become associated with the alternative food networks, with
an aim to foster social and environmental equity in food
production-distribution-consumption. This is seen as a response to the negative
impacts of the neoliberal globalised food system, understood as the persistence
of chronic hunger and high costs of food associated with industrialised food
production, complex marketing and long distribution chains (Larder et al., 2012). Gibson-Graham (2008)
provide a critical framework that can assist in assessing the emergence of alternative food economies
(spatially tied or localised producers, consumers and markets) and local food
choice behaviour. This can be useful in assessing social and economic value of UA
activities, such as community gardens, as a contributor to alternative food
networks (Thornton, 2017). In other words, it can help explain relationships in
the local food economy that link local production to local consumption, such as
farmers’ markets and community gardens (Thornton, 2017).

(2008) diverse economies approach can also explain the existence of alternative
economies, beyond typical analyses of mainstream neo-liberal economic
activities (Thornton, 2017). Analyses of these activities are located in the
top row of the diverse economies framework (DEF) (Table 1, below). Each column,
in Table 1, reveals all other alternative and non-formal elements that make up
the diverse economy. When considering the role and impact of alternative food networks
in urban governance, diverse economies can improve relational understandings
(as diverse economies will differ from place to place) of ‘alternative’ and
‘conventional’ food systems from the point of view of ‘actually existing’
community gardeners. This approach is useful when exploring why city or
municipal level support for alternative and local food systems can be “sporadic
and certainly not voiced in policy circles” when comparing cities within a
particular country, as well as when making international comparisons (Maye &
Kirwan (2010: 5).