Regional Food Resilience: Mapping Potential Adaptations to San Francisco Bay Area’s Food System

Ashley Lehrer

Image of the final map as presented in Food: An Atlas by Guerilla Cartography, 2012 (Jensen and Roy 99)

This map layers multiple modes of measurement, scale, and cartographic communication that provide a clear but complex rendering of the issues that are present in describing a food system; utilizing infographics grounded by a geographic basemap of San Francisco Bay. The title alludes to showing not only the current system but also a future, desired reality needed to adapt to a changing environment. Utilizing imagery, text, icons, and geospatial data this map is able to tell a story that a human can relate to on a personal level. Using the scale of a home and car, the cartographers personify the impacts of human behavior on the food system. They tell the reader that this map represents two perspectives: first, the capacity for urban agriculture to support daily needs of individuals, and second, proximity to full service food retail stores (supermarkets). These dual viewpoints can encompass many of the problems that arise from an unequal and unsustainable food system. They invite the reader to negotiate at which scale they want to engage with the information present towards building resilience in the regional food system and open a conversation to appreciate other perspectives on the subject.

The base map is representative of potential agricultural land use and includes main roadways and waterways, as well as the path of water based shipping lines through the Bay area. Case study areas of interest are then highlighted, connected to the corresponding average residential lot/land use in each community. Each community has been measured in terms of available space for urban agriculture, what percentage of food needs could be satisfied by the backyard garden produce, how far one would have to drive to reach a supermarket, and the amount of fuel used to get food to that particular area. It is interesting to see that the urban and most rural settings would produce a similar amount of food, but are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to distance to a supermarket and fuel used. This map suggests that the city of Oakland, the second largest and most densely populated area, is most capable of producing food; with moderate gas utilization and miles driven to access a supermarket. 

Image of Neighborhood Development Pattern case studies

In researching the foundations of this map, one of the authors, Ellen Burke, a professor of Landscape Architecture at California Polytechnic Institute, cites the lack of consideration to the provision of food in the city planning process. She writes, “In modern development it is assumed where there is a road, there will be food” (Burke). This was not always so, and Burke believes it is necessary for urban planners to more carefully consider the need for people to be able to access food in their own neighborhoods, while they also consider the dependency on externalities like fuel and natural disasters when planning urban developments. She concludes that “the infrastructure of a community’s food system (including global, regional, and local sources and distribution networks) should be an equal consideration to new development in the San Francisco Bay Area, and beyond, if communities are to be designed as resilient food systems”(Burke). Does this map invite planners to think more specifically about what and where to invest in new residential developments based on food resilience? In many ways, yes. 

The use of both architectural rendering and land use produce a conversation between the macro and micro, looking at the individual place and broader system at play. The communities selected and case study on urban agricultural capacities of each standardized home can show planners how to adapt these typologies to maximize their resilience. In the Mountain House, a smaller house and larger yard would allow for a higher yield of food for a family of four. Perhaps the inclusion of freight lines could show the capacity for this inland town to more efficiently reach supermarkets and use less fuel in the transportation of food products. 

From Ellen Burke’s Grow City Studio website

 In another article authored by the cartographers (and an additional writer), they construct an argument for Ecofeminist Environmental Design in a contemporary practice, describing three main elements:

Public Engagement: We must create opportunities for community members to be part of the design process. Designers must think of the end user as part of the ecosystem they are visualizing and “create opportunities for design to be informed by the patterns and habits of everyday life and to educate the public about the potential for more sustainable patterns and habits” (Napawan et al.).

Monitoring and Maintenance: Designers must engage with those who perform maintenance; as stewards of the land they should participate in the evolution of its role in the ecosystem. In thinking about standard modes of design, they argue for a “willingness to experiment with and design maintenance regimes” (Napawan et al.) in order to contend with the need for resilient systems.

Communication: “To engage the informal and dispersed maintenance of the designed environment, designers might begin to see their work as grounded in communication about the environment, as much as design of physical environments” (Napawan et al.). 

Looking at their map through this lens, they seem to be successful in engaging the urban planning community with the data they present. It would further satisfy these elements if this map also engaged with and centered knowledge of urban gardeners, to communicate the labor required to maintain and cultivate food for a family of four. I felt invited to dissect the information included and make my own conclusions as to what is most important to form a resilient regional food system. I see this visualization arguing for dense coastal cities but also big backyards to have a food system that can respond to both climate and natural resource sustainability. 

Coming from the perspective of New York City, where backyards are not the norm, this is not an image I can recreate to picture how urban agriculture could impact the food system. The atlas from which this map is sourced contains a vast range of cartographic representations. Another example from that book is a set of maps produced by Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab to describe the land in New York City that could be used for urban agriculture. Their map of large-scale rooftops is particularly interesting to compare to this San Francisco Bay Area map. How might the square footage of a roof, and perhaps the miles a truck had to travel to get food to the local supermarket, be visualised for the Regional Food Resilience of New York City? For my application, I am using the Colombia map as a base, adding similar infographic elements from the Regional Food Resilience map to experiment how one could communicate these issues to a NYC audience.

Base Map: Columbia University Urban Design Lab Potential Rooftop Farming In New York CIty (Jensen and Roy 46)


Burke, Ellen. “Evaluating Regional Food Resilience in the San Francisco Bay Area.”, 1 October 2017, Accessed 15 February 2021.

Jensen, Darin, and Molly Roy, editors. Food: An Atlas. Guerilla Cartography, 2013.

Napawan, N. Claire, et al. “Women’s Work: An Eco-Feminist Approach to Environmental Design.” The Avery Review, November 2017, Accessed 15 February 2021.

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