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Towards Resilient Urban Food Systems: Putting food at the center of city planning. Taking Lisbon Metropolitan Area in Portugal as a case.

By 2050 all cities have a plan on how they should be fed while promoting its economic vitality, environmental quality and social justice.

Photo of Maria Do Rosário Oliveira
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

LOCCIMETRO - Consulting on Territorial Innovation.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

ICS - Foodhub ( CF3 - Food, Farming and Forestry ( CCDR - LVT - Commission of Coordination of Regional Development of Lisbon and Tagus Valley ( AML - Lisbon Metropolitan Area (

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Lisbon Metropolitan Area, Portugal.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

This is the place where I live and work and where I am fed, as the 3 million people living there. It has an adequate scale, as a city-region (3015 km2): To define new concepts on urban food planning in metropolitan areas through the development of an appropriate analytical framework for food and nutrition security that takes into account environmental security and social welfare; to identify strategic policy issues and power needed to design a resilient urban food system through a multi-stakeholder and social learning process; to build alternative short, medium and long-term scenarios to avoid risks, shocks and threats on food and nutrition security and to promote food access, food availability and food utilization; to develop indicators and analytical tools for policy makers to ensure sustainable ways of feeding the city and strengthen its relation with rural areas around a model of “economy of proximity. Food security and sustainability are core societal challenges for the XXI century that have yet to gain the necessary centrality in political, policy and academic agendas worldwide. Consequently, the debate on how to deliver resilient urban food systems is of paramount importance. The project intends to deliver a set of inter-sectorial policy recommendations towards the implementation of resilient urban food systems through the design of adequate spatial planning and governance instruments. On the other hand, there are a set of advantages when integrating the food system into urban planning which implies that some urban land must be devoted to food production, taking advantage of all the eco-services that this component of the system, when properly located, could provide. This is especially relevant at a time of economic crisis, climate emergency and urban sprawl containment.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Lisbon Metropolitan Area (LMA) takes up a central place in the Portuguese mainland territory and consists of two different areas (NUT II), the Great Lisbon and the Península of Setúbal, separated by the Tagus estuary. With a total surface of 2.994 km2 , the LMA includes18 municipalities (NUTIII). These municipalities correspond close to 3,3% of the national territory and its population of about 2,75 million residents, which is close to 30% of the Portuguese population. Considering the main biophysical characteristics, this metropolitan area is quite diverse with a moderate relief dominated by plan morphology and low altitude areas that constitute the extensive plain of the sedimentary basins of rivers Tagus and Sado. Tagus estuary is the major wetland in Portugal and one of the most important ones in the European Atlantic Coast, with an area of 325 km2 and a high statute for the conservation of habitats for important fauna and flora species. To the south of the LMA, Sado’s estuary presents itself also as a quite rich wetland, both because of its’ biodiversity as well as due to the landscape diversity including vast agriculture and forestry fields, fishery, extensive aquaculture and salt production fields, side-by-side with urban occupation and high natural and cultural value sites.Concerning the statistics on land use in the LMA , one of the most relevant territorial components for the Urban Food System, are built-up areas, the most expressive type of land use. The compact built-up areas represent about 33,5% of the LMA’s territory and the fragmented built-up areas (unplanned urban sprawl territories) correspond to nearly 18%, being related to urban uses and functions of the territory. These areas are located along the main urban axis of the north riverbank and close to the main urban centers on the south riverbank. Disperse built-up areas stand for 9% of the territory and are mainly located in areas where there is dominance of agricultural land-use. Empty spaces (none specific use) are 4,5%, roughly the the same as the industrial areas. Public infrastructures and equipment only represent only about 1% of the total area. The identified forest areas (areas where forestry constitutes the main land-use) correspond to about 22% of the territory. Agricultural areas are the second most expressive land-use pattern in the metropolitan territory, taking up to 27% of the LMA. The wilderness areas include wetlands, marshes, bushes and dunes and, as a whole, they stand for 9,4% of the territory. Food production and environmental services has a significant room on the UFS of LMA which likely emphasizes the rural character of certain areas within the metropolitan context, highlighting, at the same time, the need of its strategic planning towards a sustainable urban-rural development.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The research project’s relevance and innovative contribution rests on three levels. First, it highlights the need for a pre-emptive approach to food security by mobilizing key stakeholders and decision makers. Second, it will map current policy and institutional limitations that affect the resilience of UFS. Third, it will produce a set of guidelines that can be used to mobilize wider discussions among academics and policy makers about the requirements needed to plan, manage, assess and monitor a sustainable and resilient urban food system. This proposal uses four concepts as the basis for the development of a new conceptual framework: Functional Regions (FR), Functional Economic Market Area (FEMA), Short Food Supply Chains (SFSC) and Green infrastructure (GI). Functional regions are sub-regional spatial units, non-overlapping with political-administrative boundaries and with relevant levels of internal interdependence. Functional regions are ideal units to implement and manage urban food systems, but their use as policy tools brings along several challenges. Some are quite tangible, such as those related to policy integration processes (i.e., the link with existing planning and development instruments). Others are deeply rooted in national institutional set-ups and political cultures. This project will meet these challenges by exploring the scope for achieving an enhanced level of territorial coordination, cooperation and partnership as well as flexible and multilevel forms of territorial governance. Among other reasons it means that food planning really matters as one of the most representative mirrors of the transition process. Moreover, the food system relates to urban planning and territorial development at multiple levels: food and nutrition security, public health, environmental sustainability, social justice, governance, etc. Food is also central to resilience thinking and sustainable place-making. All stages of the urban food system (production, processing, distribution and consumption) have a direct translation in spatial terms; hence, they are prone to the creation of potentially sustainable places: productive urban and peri-urban allotments related with urban green system in continuity with green infrastructures, pedestrian and bike networks connected with food distribution and consumption circuits, farmers markets, new building typologies, etc, towards resources efficiency, low-carbon and climate resilient societies, according to the Environment work programme. Food production that will be considered inside and around urban areas, at a regional scale, is able to foster social and economic sustainable development and, at the same time, promote environmental sustainable strategies, becoming the single most important urban 'enterprise' engaging directly with the concept of Urban Metabolism.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The project will introduce significant innovation when raising acknowledgement on urban food systems (UFS) and transferring it into the spatial planning and economic dynamics. Expected impacts should be considered as threefold: scientific, societal and policy oriented. From the scientific point of view it will strengthen the analytical capacity to better know UFS by collecting and systematizing relevant data concerning LMA. Furthermore, the comprehension of the coordination schemes among institutions and/or stakeholders within the food system itself and among the food system and other urban systems, provides an informative base for the assessment of other national and international food systems, and also a comparison between strategies in EU countries particularly in northern Europe and in the Mediterranean. For this reason the project has chosen the previously mentioned four case studies. This assessment is crucial for an overview of urban food strategies at various geographical scales, namely at regional and sub-regional level, and contributes to enhancing existing food system conceptual frameworks, extending significantly the current state of the art. From the societal point of view the project is expected to have positive impacts through the development of a multi stakeholder process that will provide a substantial information and awareness that may stimulate a large number of institutions to adopt and implement project orientations in order to promote equal access on healthy food and to prevent foodborne diseases through a relational planning process. From the policy perspective, the development of indicators and analytical tools is very useful to improve the monitoring of urban food systems capacity at various geographical scales (including regional and sub-regional). For instance, in 2015, the Portuguese Assembly has approved the Law of Soils, Spatial Panning and Urbanism (Lei n.º 31/2014, de 30 de maio) that brings about great opportunity to make progress on alternative land use in the context of the urban sprawl containment. Many former areas with high expectations on urbanization so far become now available for other functions and uses in which the planning of the urban food system assumes particular relevance seen as a functional region to develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, that provide healthy and affordable food to all people in a human rights-based framework, which minimizes waste and conserves biodiversity while adapting to and mitigating impacts of climate change.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The upcoming of urban food planning strategies that arise all over the world, place this subject on both the European and international urban policy agendas. There are numerous examples of Urban Food Strategies that since 2009 have become important tools for urban development. In Portugal, although there is not an agro-food planning strategy, we can identify in the most recent few years the advent of various initiatives that highlight the rising interest and entrepreneurship on behalf of public and private institutions, in order to increase the dynamics of production, distribution and consumption sectors, with special emphasis on initiatives in the LMAs’ influence region. These trends indicate that we are reaching the necessary level of information availability, critical mass, and technical abilities that allow for the establishment of urban development processes intrinsically linked to urban planning processes, holding the Food System as an object of urban planning and spatial management. The need for this kind of processes assumes particular relevance when we take into consideration that the national food balance exhibits a strong foreign dependence and growing on account that the Gross Added Value from Agricultural, animal husbandry, hunting, forest and fishery has decayed in 2012 of 2,1%. On the other hand when analyzing the territorial dynamic, mainly based on 2011 Census, we can see that, in close to 78% of the Portuguese mainland’s territory, it is low or even very low, despite favorable physical conditions for agricultural production and also the accessibility grids that insure food distribution. Therefore, we think there is a high potential that justifies the Urban Food System Planning in the LMA, not forsaking the interest and urgency of performing this same exercise for other metropolitan areas and middle size urban centers, and even assuming a national scope approach.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Food and nutrition security and sustainability are core societal challenges for the XXI century that have yet to gain the necessary centrality in political, policy and academic agendas worldwide. Consequently, the debate on how to deliver resilient urban food systems is of paramount importance through the design of adequate spatial planning and governance instruments. Our rproject uses four concepts as the basis for the development of a new conceptual framework: A. Functional Regions (FR), B. Functional Economic Market Area (FEMA), C. Short Food Supply Chains (SFSC) and D. Green infrastructure (GI). A. Functional Regions are sub-regional spatial units, non-overlapping with political-administrative boundaries and with relevant levels of internal interdependence. Functional regions are ideal units to implement and manage urban food systems, but their use as policy tools brings along several challenges. Some are quite tangible, such as those related to policy integration processes (i.e., the link with existing planning and development instruments). Others are deeply rooted in national institutional set-ups and political cultures. Our challenges is to explore the scope for achieving an enhanced level of territorial coordination, cooperation and partnership as well as flexible and multilevel forms of territorial governance. B. Functional Economic Market Area considering the urban food system in a context of an Urban Functional Economic Market Area (FEMA) is defined on the basis of a set of markets or catchment areas, with relevant levels of internal interdependency, which best reflect the drivers of a local food economy. FEMAs are not easily defined. Economic flows frequently are not coincident, with administrative boundaries surpassing them or forming sub-regions or city regions instead. By studying the FEMA in LMA, we will identify the main economic drivers of food system activities; we will gather data on the supply and the demand side that accurately reflect economic flows and internal interdependencies which clearly define a food system as a FEMA, identifying the policy implications of the main drivers. This information will be useful to define orientations for future policy design, responding to calls for increased cooperation and policy coordination to maximize policy impact and efficiency. Regional economic resilience might be conceptualized as the ability of a region (defined roughly as a metropolitan area) to recover successfully from shocks to its’ economy that throw it off its growth path, or at least have the potential to do so, either by returning to the previous equilibrium situation in terms of growth rate of production, employment and/or population, by resisting the shock altogether, or by restructuring its’ economy in order to generate a new state of equilibrium. The above mentioned shocks might result of one or a combination of factors (a) structural change resulting from global or domestic competition, from changes in the region’s competitive advantage for various products, and/or from changes in consumer demand for products the region produces, or from (b) other external shocks (a natural disaster, closure of a military base, movement of an important firm out of the area, etc.). Regional Resilience might be seen as a region’s ability to avoid getting locked-in a sub-optimal structural equilibrium status, resulting from a set of historically made decisions as in path-dependency processes. The approach of resilience in terms of systems and long term processes becomes even more important when speaking about UFS and food based functional regions. A long term systemic perspective of regional resilience would emphasize the structure of relationships among the variables in the system, that persists over a long period of time and the economic, political, and social institutions that condition this structure. Economists usually refer to these long term (50 year or more) sets of relationships among variables and institutions as “Social Structures of Accumulation” (combinations of mutually reinforcing economic, political, and social institutions that persist for long periods of time and create the conditions for long-term economic growth) explaining the evolution of macroeconomic performance. These structural arrangements tend to go through a process of thriving, stabilizing and decaying over long periods of time. Resilience would therefore be the ability of a region to adapt and rearrange its’ combinations of economic, political and social institutions in order to avoid the decaying process that might jeopardize growth, development and cohesion processes.Thus, the UFS planning is a powerful instrument to increase Regional resilience, guaranteeing food security to urban populations, even under stressful conditions, as well as economic, environmental and social sustainability. C. Short Food Supply Chains - While the FEMA relies on an economy of proximity approach, the concept of Short Food Supply Chains (SFSC) might play an important social role in enhancing the vitality and quality of life in both urban and rural areas, given its focus on inclusive social change through education and ethical issues. There are however a few examples where SFSC’s have been seen to be associated with social exclusionas an excess of localism, focus on wealthy consumers. Economically, there is evidence that local farming systems and short chains do have a higher multiplier effect on local economies than long chains and contribute to local employment, particularly in rural areas. At the producer and farm level, they seem to allow a higher share of value added to be retained locally, although quantitative evidence of such impacts is poorly documented. There are many examples of farmers using a mix of SFSC’s, or combining them with longer chains in order to build resilient routes to market and reduce risks from market volatility. In order to better understand the economic relevance of food systems’ activities it is important to consider that it is usually approached on trade value of the related goods and services and the weight on regional wealth creation, production, employment and competitiveness. Nevertheless, the food system’s economic relevance goes far beyond. In LMA Food consumption represents an average 12,5% of total families’ expenditures and 9,3% of the families’ income, and expenditures in Hotels, restaurants, catering and similar represent 10,8% of total expenditures, 8,8% of income. However these average numbers may hide the existence of deep inequalities among low income and high income families. The occurrence of external shocks with relevant impacts on food prices reflects immediately on the expenditures structure of families with greater impact on food security among low income families with no disposable income for adjustments. Most studies demonstrate that urban agriculture contributes to sustain food security levels ensuring a more regular supply of food for low income urbanites mostly ignored by long food chains. Nevertheless it is so not only for low income urbanites. Considering that the consumption trends are shifting more and more towards high value added food stuffs from the food processing industry, and in a context of little or no rural connections or direct access to food production, urban residents are highly dependent on global food systems and global markets, being strongly affected in situations of food shortages and becoming rapidly in a position of unsustainable food insecurity and even hunger. Even the smallest decrease of urban dependency on global food systems, contributes to regional resilience insuring a greater proportion of locally added value productions, less vulnerable to external shocks. If the organization of the urban food system is in such a way that it promotes an increase of just a few percent of locally added value activities in response to the shifts in consumption trends, and consumers concerns, such as ethic considerations about environmental responsibility and local producers’ support and fair trade, or the supply of food related services such as online shopping and door-to-door delivery, and the development of innovative distribution channels and market niches such as gourmet or bio, branding and innovation, and even the association of food production activities to other ecosystem services such as landscape preservation, biodiversity or leisure, it contributes to activity diversification and multi-functionality thus increasing the systems’ resilience to external shocks.The potential to increase the local market share of local food system’s activities depends largely on the capacity to respond to local demand, insuring stability of supply and diversity of products offered. D. Green infrastructure based on the widely perceived need of combining economical efficiency and environmental quality, the importance of green infrastructures in urban planning and development is being recognized by the European Commission. In the communication of the European Commission (2013) “Green Infrastructure – Enhancing Europe’s Capital Natural”, there is an explicit call for the inclusion of this “strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas” in the spatial planning and territorial development policies. GI and the UFS are closely related through the fact that it is necessary to maintain productive agricultural land on the urban fringe and to integrate food production in urban areas. The GI promotes the multifunctionality of landscape, which means performing various functions, that are related or not in the same space, in the same period of time or in alternating periods, and which provide a high number of beneficial services for the human well being. Landscape functions and services become an important concept in policy making because they help to decide what the best land uses for a particular location are, according to the needs of different stakeholders.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website


Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi Maria Do Rosário Oliveira .

Just a reminder. A great way to improve and revise your work is by connecting with others and receiving feedback. I encourage you all to provide some feedback on one another’s Vision submissions through the comments section to support the refinement of your work.

Best regards,


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