The disappearance of the backyard and quarter acre block has challenged traditional ideas of Australian cities.

The quarter acre block was known for its adaptability for subdividing land and was useful for infill development as cities grew.

Today’s decreasing block and backyard sizes and the popularity of the city-edge single-storey home goes against the idea of adaptable housing stock. The concept of a backyard for many Australians is now an entertainment area and just an extension of the house.

With more than 80 per cent of Australia’s population living in cities, there is both a significant opportunity and challenge in how our cities will respond to emerging social, economic and environmental changes.

Most of history has successfully relied on liveable and adaptable housing to respond effectively to changing societal needs. This housing stock never required costly and energy intensive adjustments and was highly durable in the face of change.

While many challenges come from the new form of housing stock, one that is particularly important in Australia is food security and urban agriculture.

Australia has one of the most concentrated food retail sectors in the world and there is a growing and concerning issue around food waste in our cities. The existence of mass urban sprawl on productive farmland highlights that Australian cities are very complacent on the issue of food security.

This can also be seen with prominent institutions such as the Australian Local Government Association and Planning Institute of Australia, which have yet to consider food as part of their strategic plan for cities.

The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, signed in 2015, is among the first city-led frameworks on urban agriculture. It signals the fundamental role our cities will play in sustainable food systems through the 21st century.

The pact provides a voluntary framework to coordinate the creation of new norms and initiatives in support of urban agriculture.

Interest is increasing on urban agriculture in Australia, with the City of Melbourne as one of 124 signatories to the pact.

A number of local governments in Australia are also engaging with an urban agriculture strategy such as the City of Darebin’s “Urban Food Production Strategy.”

The Darebin strategy is a key example and is based on four key action areas for the local government, which have been paraphrased and include:

  1. Home food growing to promote home food through education programs
  2. Community gardens that provide social and environmental benefits to the community
  3. Urban food production models to support a range of local food system initiatives which engages a diverse demographic, and
  4. An integrated approach to planning for urban food production to advocate for state government policy direction as well as new policies for the local planning scheme.

Local governments are well-placed to facilitate new norms around urban agriculture as well as encouraging minimum food production space requirements in new developments.

Development projects that showcase innovative ways of achieving food production within cities should be supported.

Australian house buyers should also be seeking to economise their land by purchasing multi-story dwellings in order to maximise backyard land for food production.

Similarly, apartment buyers should be asking for allocated space in complexes to allow for community gardening as well as larger balcony space for north-facing blocks.

Expanding our societal awareness on the importance of urban agriculture systems is critical and we can start by encouraging a more adaptable housing stock.