For hundreds of years a city centre was alive with an economy and a workforce based on manufacture, the making and transporting of what was made to an elsewhere in the northern hemisphere. During the twentieth century Fordist era many of these workers lived close to their manual work in run down inner city rented homes, whilst the wealthier managerial workers and company owners lived in the suburbs or in the green peripheries. But, as the manufacture of goods was undertaken elsewhere in the industrially developing world the warehouses and factories were left empty. For a few decades in the northern hemisphere inner city life was the home of the poor, in places like New York’s Harlem or London’s Brixton or, Notting Hill. Living in the centre was rough and cheap—with food provided by street markets, local convenience and high street shops and a scattering of embryonic supermarket chains.
However from the 1980’s this model of desirable and undesirable places to live, inner city as undesirable and suburbs as desirable, began to fragment and increasingly swap places. Slowly at first empty warehouses and factories bought by entrepreneurial developers then transformed into large floor plate apartments within mix use schemes, which included office space, restaurant chains and supermarkets, for people and businesses able to afford high rents and mortgages. This urban design style sped up in the 2000’s spurred on by and spurring on further the investment and dependence on the inner city companies using communication technology white collar workers in financial services work.
Centrifugal life began to take shape on a global scale. The poorer inhabitants moved out from the inner city to the cheaper exurbs and started their daily life of an expensive and long commute for a minimum wage to and from their supportive jobs, cleaners, shop assistants, bartenders, waiting staff or drivers, needed by the aforementioned workers of technological inner-city companies. This new type of service economy—the poor non-technological worker who supports the technologically skilled worker who in turn works to service the financial transactions of large global companies changed the fortunes and accessibility of good food and a job near home for everyone over the space of just 20 years.
Global cities are centripetal in that they draw everything to the centre, yet centrifugal in that they dispel elements of outsource or low-grade functions such as housing for the modest or low waged.
Millington, 2012, 13
Food in a contemporary inner city such as London, New York, Paris or Edinburgh is a theatre of abundance and diversity. The regular consumers are invariably wealthy skilled service technicians or high up in the managerial structure of large global companies who are eating out at the hundreds of pubs cafés and artisan food shops in which the poor city inhabitants are working for a minimum wage. A wage so low that one third of 170,000 homeless Londoners are the people who serve and clean up in these inner city eateries, places such as “Starbucks, Eat, Pret: the list of employers of those at the [emergency night] shelter reads like a roll-call of Britain’s consumer economy (Chakrabortty, The Guardian, 20 December 2016).
When an inner-city worker can afford a city home it is in the exurbs because from the late 1990’s the cheapest homes in northern hemisphere countries are the ones with poor transport infrastructure and low investment in community services and local enterprise. Living in the exurbs there has been an ever-increasing spiral of local job scarcity because local inhabitants are too cash and time poor to add economic and social life to their community. Hence the prevalence of large-scale corporate food outlets who supply these city dwellers with cheap, nutritionally and culturally empty ‘non-place’ food.
The ten most powerful cross-border food corporates have accumulated great wealth and power by providing low quality, unethical and culturally bereft food. These companies created and support the long food chain that for over 30 years used poor farmers from industrially developing countries to, grow, process and, sell food to the poor non-technical workers in the industrially developed countries. Essentially, at either end of the food chain the poor are suffering from food insecurity. The farmers are not paid enough and so live a subsistence life often leading to hunger, whilst the consumers do not have food justice and live in obesogenic environments on nutritionally empty high calorific food and are increasingly overweight or obese. Until the global food system changes the urban food system will remain dysfunctional. The marginalised workforce living in the exurbs commuting back and forth from the inner-city theatre of food to the outer city food ‘non-place’ of a centrifugal cities have little choice (at the moment) to step out of this food trap. Also trapped are the poor farmers at the start of the chain who experience great food and social injustices. The global food system needs to be radically addressed so, that these inequalities and injustices finish. Food centric city design planning is the catalyst to make this change happen.