How and why is urban agriculture taken up into local food policies and sustainability plans? This paper uses a case study of urban agriculture policymaking in New York City from 2007 to 2011 to examine the power-laden operation of urban environmental governance. It explores several ‘faces of power,’ including overt authority, institutionalized ‘rules of the game,’ and hegemony. It also investigates how multiple actors interact in policymaking processes, including through the construction and use of broad discursive concepts. Findings draw upon analysis of policy documents and semi-structured interviews with 43 subjects engaged in food systems policymaking. Some municipal decision-makers questioned the significance of urban agriculture, due to the challenges of quantifying its benefits and the relative scarcity of open space in the developed city. Yet, these challenges proved insufficient to prevent a coalition of civic activists working in collaboration with public officials to envision plans on food policy that included urban agriculture. Actors created the ‘local/regional food system’ as a narrative concept in order to build broad coalitions and gain entry to the municipal policy sphere. Tracing the roll-out of plans reveals the way in which both the food systems concept and specific policy proposals were repeated and legitimized. Unpacking the dynamics of this iterative policymaking contributes to an understanding of how urban environmental governance happens in this case.
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