By Jami Sassone

The image of smoggy concrete skyline and the headlines on growing urban populations paint city life as disastrous for both human and environmental health. Yet the 24-hour accessibility and overall convenience of the city continue to attract over 80% of the US population.  And – surprisingly – cities are probably the most practical place to live – even for the most health-concerned environmentalist.

As more people move into high rises or compact apartment buildings, pressure on land use lessens. Implementation of grey-water systems and shared transportation systems is easier in densely populated spaces. Residents commute on foot or bike – cutting back individual contributions to greenhouse gases. Large communities can more easily support green movements. But fresh food in a city – accessible to all residents – is a problem.

In New York City, roughly 1,750,000 people live in areas where there is little access to food markets. For these people a plant-based diet isn’t quite a solution as much as it is a recipe for malnutrition. Without access to abundant fruits and vegetables people are stuck relying on fast food, vending machines, and convenience stores with very limited options. They are left with high fat, sugar and salt products.

Many impoverished communities are creating urban gardens to combat food deserts as well as urban unemployment. In cities like Chicago, nonprofit organizations such as “Growing Home” are making organic health foods and offering job training to people from disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Such organizations sometimes also take over alleyways and abandoned parking lots in the neighborhoods most affected by food deserts and hold weekly farmers markets where fresh healthy fruits and vegetables are sold at affordable prices.

Even without many resources, neighbors can join together to plant and maintain urban gardens.  Even on city rooftops and balconies, terraces and stoops – indeed anywhere light can reach and soil be potted, neighbors can grow fresh food.

Jami is a junior writing major at Ithaca College with a minor in environmental studies. She has published in Odyssey Online and strives to draw upon my background knowledge to spread the word about important issues.