Shrinking cities face the challenge of providing a pleasant place to live for residents while transitioning to sustainability, but without the financial capacity of a growing local economy [1
]. Demographic trends, like aging and depopulation, erode municipalities’ tax bases, while cities simultaneously struggle with mounting costs of maintaining, repairing or replacing aging infrastructure built in times of expansion and development [3
]. Yet urban population decline also raises the question of what purpose the land freed up by decreasing population pressure should serve. The process of urban shrinkage can thus be understood as a window of opportunity for administration and residents alike to revisit and rethink visions, strategies and planning priorities [2
]. Ideally, the special situation of shrinking cities may allow them to pursue measures to transition towards sustainability that may be harder to enact in growing cities.
Japan is at the forefront of a demographic decline among industrialized nations. This presents an opportunity to study potential post-industrial sustainability transitions which may provide valuable lessons for countries on a similar population trajectory (e.g., South Korea, China, Italy). Regional cities are of particular interest for two reasons. Firstly, they attract less economic activity, political attention and in-migration than national capitals, yet are still home to a large part of the population. Secondly, similar to how Japan represents an advanced case of depopulation compared to similar countries, due to their comparative economic statuses, small- and medium-sized cities experience shrinkage earlier than larger cities. Yet, in the case of Japan, population decline is projected to affect even metropolises such as Tokyo and Osaka in the near future [4
]. Improving our understanding of the opportunities and challenges of sustainability transitions in regional shrinking cities may therefore prove vital for the implementation of proactive policies and achievement of positive outcomes in larger cities. This leads to the question, which measures can shrinking cities take to harness population decline for their advantage?
Local food production has been proposed as a key strategy for increasing urban sustainability, both environmentally and socially. In pre-modern times, not only did limits of distribution systems and the absence of cool chains mean that a substantial amount of food was produced in or around cities and towns, settlements were often intentionally located in areas with fertile soil [5
]. Recently, re-localizing food production has become a focus of food and sustainability studies, both in conceptual and applied research. On the conceptual side, McClintock argued that urban agriculture can contribute beyond the provision of food by overcoming the disruption of the nutrient cycle and environmental degradation (ecological rift), the commodification of land, labour and food (social rift), and the alienation of individuals from nature and their own labour (individual rift) caused by the development of capitalism and the process of urbanization [6
]. Specifically, urban agriculture may rescale production, reclaim vacant land and reverse the alienation of urban residents from their food, while providing opportunities for recreational activities and social engagement. Clancy and Ruhf proposed regional food systems in which “as much food as possible to meet the population’s food needs is produced, processed, distributed, and purchased at multiple levels and scales within the region, resulting in maximum resilience, minimum importation, and significant economic and social return to all stakeholders in the region” [7
]. Kloppenburg and colleagues developed the concept of a foodshed, analogous to a watershed, as a tool to rethink the spatiality of food in a globalizing food system [8
]. Some applied studies have explored the potential for urban agriculture and localizing food systems in places like Bangkok, Philadelphia, New York State and Osaka [9
], while others have documented the potential economic contributions of localizing food [13
]. Results from the Shrinking Cities Project have highlighted that urban agriculture in such cities exists in different modes, from subsistence (Russia) to driven by citizen movements (USA) or state-supported endeavors (Germany) [14
]. Urban agriculture competes with other land uses for space, and land taxes in urban areas often exceed financial returns gained through professional agriculture, let alone non-professional production and gardening. In shrinking cities, this competition with other forms of land use is reduced or, in the case of land abandonment or vacancy, even reversed. This creates an opportunity for proactive land use planning or direct intervention by residents in the form of informal urban agriculture [17
]. Nevertheless, soil quality and possible contamination can limit the potential of urban agriculture, especially when non-agricultural land uses, including industrial use, precede agricultural use at a site [18
]. As a result, existing and actively cultivated urban farmland play a key role in re-localizing urban food production.
A city’s urban agricultural land use prior to the urban shrinkage process determines, along with planning policy, how feasible localizing food production is as a strategy for transitioning to sustainability. Prior research has mapped urban agriculture in a number of cities. For example, Taylor and Lovell mapped public and private spaces of urban agriculture in Chicago, IL, USA, using high-resolution aerial images in Google Earth (Pro) [21
]. Similar studies have analyzed spatial patterns of urban agriculture in Rome, Italy, and assessed residential gardens in Portland, OR, USA [22
]. Others have examined how much food vacant lots in Oakland, CA, USA, and Manila, Phillipines, could produce and to what degree urban agriculture might contribute to post-disaster food and nutrition supply in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, Japan [24
]. A recent paper examined the feasibility of remote sensing in finding and monitoring urban farms in four countries (USA, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Senegal) [27
]. These studies show that the use of aerial and satellite imagery is gaining popularity as the resolution of images and their availability improves, yet the absence of an established protocol for mapping urban agricultural land use through remote sensing, ancillary data and ground truthing suggests that this subfield is still in a stage of methodological experimentation. While in cities such as Boston, publicly available LiDAR (light detection and ranging) data allows for including potential rooftop production [28
], lack of data availability may limit which aspects analyses can take into account. Moreover, publicly available land use data is usually only updated at specific intervals, and municipalities may choose to stop independent surveys due to their cost [29
]. Often, high resolution imagery is only available for one point in time as the technology has only become broadly available recently, making analysis that includes both spatial and temporal axes difficult. Yet land use change trajectories likely have a strong influence on the feasibility of food localization strategies. An up-to-date mapping survey is therefore preferable to relying on data that is outdated or was collected for other purposes, such as taxes. We take up this task here.
This paper aims to form an understanding for how well Kyoto City (hereafter, Kyoto), a shrinking regional city in Japan, is positioned to harness the process of population decline for improving sustainability through localizing food production. We recognize this to be too complex of a problem to address in one paper, as it requires, at a minimum, an assessment of agricultural land use change and land use change trajectory, a dedicated analysis of demographic and institutional drivers of this trajectory, and a policy analysis of relevant planning regulations at multiple administrative levels. This paper takes the first step by addressing the following research question and sub-questions:
How does the current trajectory of agricultural land use in Kyoto affect a potential sustainability transition through localizing food production?
How has agricultural land use in Kyoto changed over the last 10 years (2007–2017)?
What are the most prevalent land use types in sites previously used for agriculture?
In this paper, urban agriculture is defined as all land in the study area used for growing produce, for example, commercially used farmland (including tea plantations and orchards), community farming and residential activities (e.g., vegetable field within private garden). Current data for Kyoto City indicates that there is 2500 ha of commercially used agricultural land [30
], accounting for around three percent of the city’s total area.