"The highest and best use of land in the city"

Valuing urban agriculture in Philadelphia and Chicago


  • Domenic Vitiello University of Pennsylvania




Community Gardens, Urban Farms, City Policy, Governance, Urban Agriculture Support Systems, Chicago, Philadelphia, Public Good, Community Development, Economic Development


United States cities have developed urban agri­culture support systems with different priorities and institutional structures, with significant impacts and implications for social equity and justice. Some treat farming and gardening as public goods, public spaces, valued for their community-building, environmental and public health promotion, and other social benefits. Others have sought to extract more economic and redevelopment gains from urban agriculture. These represent divergent, often opposing expectations of what urban agriculture can yield, and what it should be, often present in the same city. This article, a combination of mixed methods research and reflection, traces the evolution of urban agriculture practice, support, and policy in Philadelphia and Chicago since the 1990s. In both cities, community gardens first declined and then grew in number since the late 2000s; both cities became prominent centers of urban farming. The two cities’ policies and support systems started from a similar place in the 1990s, but Chicago increasingly treated urban agriculture a public good, while the place of agriculture in Philadelphia remained more contested and unstable. These histories reflect broader tensions and the diversity of approaches in governing, supporting, and practicing agriculture in cities.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Domenic Vitiello, University of Pennsylvania

Ph.D.; Associate Professor of City Plan­ning and Urban Studies, Department of City and Regional Planning



How to Cite

Vitiello, D. (2022). "The highest and best use of land in the city": Valuing urban agriculture in Philadelphia and Chicago. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 11(3), 241–257. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2022.113.019