THE City of North Vancouver's decision this week to allow backyard chickens may seem like a quaint curiosity, but in years to come, that change - and other policy shifts like it - may prove surprisingly important.
The municipality's new bylaw makes it legal for single-family homeowners to raise as many as eight hens on their property for personal use. City staff estimate that no more than about 30 residents will take advantage of the offer, meaning it will do little to alter the community. But the new regulation is an important part of a wider trend toward urban food production.
The system that evolved over the past century to allow cities to feed themselves is predicated on abundant cheap fuel; the food we grow in our hinterlands and overseas is affordable only because the hydrocarbons used to transport it are inexpensive. At some point, that's going to change.
The oil industry's remarkable adeptness at finding new reserves means we're unlikely to run out any time soon, but the places they are finding it - the Arctic, the oil sands, the deep ocean - are increasingly expensive and dangerous to exploit. That fact, coupled with ballooning demand in the developing world, means the price of a litre of gasoline has nowhere to go but up.
No one can say when Chilean grapes or Saskatchewan wheat will become too expensive for most shoppers to buy, but the time to start preparing is now. Cities must plan with rising fuel costs in mind. Backyard chickens are a good place to start.