May 2010


May 22, 2010 11:41 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Beyond the Food Court: Placing a Food Innovation Hub in Fairview Mall
Contributor: Bronwyn Whyte
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This blog starts by exploring the myriad of issues that confront and plague our current food system. It then moves beyond these issues and offers and innovative solution to help localize the food system using a unique piece of our existing urban fabric that is in desperate need of revitalization. In order to better convey this idea I have adapted it to a real case in Toronto, Ontario.

This idea and submission have been informed to a great extent by's resilient design principles, including;

  • Carbon Dependency, and
  • Local Self-Sufficiency.

Other resilient design principles that have shaped the project, though to a lesser extent are;

  • System Redundancy, and
  • System Diversity.

Finally, certain design principles have also contributed to the final submission. These are;

  • Density, Diversity and Mix,
  • Place Making,
  • Engaged Communities, and
  • Redundant and Durable Life Safety and Critical Infrastructure Systems.

Thank you for taking the time to engage in this idea! I hope you enjoy!

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A resilient idea.

May 22, 2010 11:38 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Our current food system is not sustainable. Its dependency on fossil fuel and chemical pesticides and fertilizers has exorbitant environmental, social and economic costs for Canada, and the world as a whole. Diet-related illnesses have skyrocketed as a result of the large amounts of cheap and processed foods produced within this system. An abundance of cheap imported food undermines local agricultural and food processing businesses. And in the face of peak oil and climate change this system will fail to measure up. To increase our capacity to deal with these shocks, and generally improve the overall vitality of the food system we will need to create and support a regional food system. Many of the factors needed to do this already exist. However, our current food system undermines their efforts, and to some extent they remain disconnected from each other. To strengthen the movement towards a regional food system there will need to be greater integration by these organizations, as well from government agencies. In the coming decades, we will need to create innovative solutions to bring these groups together so that system-wide change can occur. This project offers such a solution. It brings together the positive facets of our food system that currently exists, with those that will need to be created to ensure a regional food system. To do this it uses the existing infrastructure of malls to house various components of a regional food system. These centers, referred to as Food Innovation Hubs (FIH) will act as a micro regional food system. The fabric and dynamics of malls will increase the FIH’s overall strengthen and reach; while the FIH will add new life to dying malls. This mutually beneficial relationship is one solution to building urban resilience.


The problem.

May 22, 2010 11:31 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Our current food system is unsustainable.

The modern food system, that took shape post World War II has significant environmental, economic and social implications.

Modern agriculture contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; this includes energy-intensive animal and crop production, and the creation of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It has been estimated that between 17 to 32% of all global human-induced GHG emissions are the result of intensive agriculture production (Bellarby, Foereid, Hastings & Smith, 2008). This is exacerbated by a globalized food system. Food travels long distances to reach our local grocery stores. Food items sold in Southern Ontario have travelled, on average, about 4,500 kilometers from the place they were grown or raised (Xuereb, 2005). GHG emissions from transportation and intensive agriculture are major contributors to climate change.

The negative effects of agricultural chemicals, and the long-term use of monocultures are additional environmental factors of concern. The use of pesticides and fertilizers depletes productive soil, and can leach into groundwater. The pollution harms other animals and organisms that contribute to the health and vitality of the ecosystem. Monocultures – uniform production of one crop – are vulnerable to diseases or other causes of crop failure. Further, the use of monocultures has overshadowed “heritage” or “heirloom” varieties of produce, which diminishes overall crop/plant diversity. The domination of a few breeds also exists in livestock production, where breeds that are adapted to factory farming methods are typically chosen. This loss of biodiversity, of both crops and animals increases the fragility of the food supply.

The reliance on imported foods has increased as a consequence of the growing globalized food system. Ontario imports $4 billion more in food than it exports (Metcalf Foundation, 2008). This has many implications. Firstly, it impacts local farmers, as they are forced to compete with cheap imported foods. Secondly, it leaves Ontario vulnerable to disruptions in the food distribution chain.

Finally, it encourages a food supply supported by fossil fuels. Peak oil has implications on the cost of food. As fuel prices increase the cost of long-distance transportation of food may become prohibitive (Metcalf Foundation, 2008). Food prices will reflect these costs, which will be unaffordable to the already vulnerable portions of the population.

The rise in food-related illnesses is a growing concern. Rising obesity and diabetes rates plus hypertension levels have been attributed to cheap and processed fast food, urban sprawl, insufficient food access, and the overproduction in North American agribusiness (Metcalf Foundation, 2008). Not only is this affecting the health of our population, it is also placing a large burden on the Canadian health care system (CBC, 2007).

These issues, along with several others (i.e. inhumane treatment of animals, food safety concerns) have forced us to rethink the production, distribution and consumption of food. These factors are creating the impetus to explore other options to the existing, unsustainable food system.


One solution.

May 22, 2010 11:26 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Localize the food system.

The creation of a regional food system would begin to address many of the problems of the existing food system. The term “food system” refers to all of the processes that are a part of providing food to people (Maan Miedema & Pigott, 2007). It includes the growing, harvesting, transportation, processing, marketing, selling, consuming, and disposing of food (Maan Miedema & Pigott, 2007). To establish a healthy regional food system all of these processes must be integrated. This will enhance the environmental, economic, social, and nutritional health of a geographic community (Maan Miedema & Pigott, 2007). Benefits of a regional food system are:

- Reduced dependence on long-distance food transportation, and fossil fuels;
- Strengthened local agricultural economy, including small-scale enterprises;
- Strengthened local food economy;
- Greater food availability, particularly fresh produce and meats;
- Preservation and protection agricultural lands;
- Strengthened food-related knowledge and skills among consumers; and
- Creation of new food sector jobs.

Currently in Ontario there are hundreds of people who are actively working to promote local sustainable food (Metcalf Foundation, 2008). Unfortunately, because many of these people and organizations work at a grassroots level and our busy with their own initiatives, the needed interconnectedness between them is absent (Metcalf Foundation, 2008). There is a need to connect and integrate their efforts, as it will strengthen the movement towards a regional food system and bring about system-wide change. The project outlined in this paper is an example of how to bring these components together to advance a regional food system.


Supporting the solution.

May 22, 2010 11:25 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Retrofitting Malls with Food Innovation Hubs.

Malls, whether they are failing or vibrant provide an opportunity to establish some of the needed components for a regional food system. Two questions need to first be addressed before looking at this in greater detail: What is a Food Innovation Hub (FIH)? Why would we put a FIH in a mall?

What is a Food Innovation Hub (FIH)? A FIH is comprised of organizations, businesses and programs that strengthen and support the expansion of local, sustainable food infrastructure. These entities reinforce each other by working closely together towards the larger goal of generating awareness and momentum for a regional food system. Their work encourages increased participation of small-scale entrepreneurs, businesses and the general public to act as positive contributors to this system. Further, they provide a range of training, tools, and infrastructure needed to make the transition meaningful and locally driven. Essentially, a FIH acts as a micro food system. It creates connections between the various and complex components of a food system. It is an example of the synergistic relationships that are needed to advance a regional food system. A more detailed description of the components will be provided further on.

Why would we put a FIH in a mall? The future of malls is in question. Shoppers are being lured away by newer competition, resulting in the closing of malls throughout North America (Dunham-Jones & Williamson, 2008). We are only beginning to see how these large parcels of land are being reimagined and redeveloped. Typically, this has taken shape in the form of mixed-use centers that reflect the principles of new urbanism2 (Greenseth, 2008). This project does not follow this trend entirely, as it does not seek to change the infrastructure of the mall but use it to provide a multi-service center that appeals to a large demographic. Placing FIH’s in malls is not done to compete against other businesses. Instead, their existence relies on the support of the existing fabric and dynamics of the mall. Consequently, the dynamic synergy between uses creates a mutually beneficial relationship. It establishes a unique way of helping to localize the food system, while increasing the overall resiliency and effectiveness of the mall.


An example.

May 22, 2010 11:20 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Fairview Mall, Toronto.

The chosen site for the FIH is Fairview Mall, Toronto. It should be noted that FIH’s are model solutions, and can therefore be replicated in other locations. Of course FIH’s cannot be placed in just any mall, as location, space and vitality are all important factors to consider.

Fairview Mall was built in the 1970. It was the first multi level, and fourth fully enclosed shopping center in Metropolitan Toronto (Fairview Mall, 2008). It is currently co-owned by The Cadillac Fairview Corporation and Ivanhoe Cambridge (Fairview Mall, 2008). Over the years Fairview mall as undergone many renovations. The latest – which was completed in 2008 – was a $90 million multi phase full renovation and redevelopment project (Fairview Mall, 2008). This involved the expansion of certain stores (i.e. Shoppers Drug Mart, Liquor Control Board of Ontario), a change of location for the food court, technological updates (i.e. hands free technologies), transformation of greater open space, a face lift to the front façade and increased patio space (Fairview Mall, 2008). In August 2010 Fairview Mall will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary. This recent renovation and the longevity of the mall suggests that Fairview Mall is not a dead, or a near dying mall. This was an important reason for choosing Fairview mall.

Continual investment in the mall indicates that its owners are committed to its success and are willing to make changes to ensure this. Given the decline of malls, new and innovative ways will be needed to reimagine malls (including Fairview Mall) so that they remain vibrant and productive spaces (this is discussed above). Those businesses that are currently thriving in the mall will attract people, who will hopefully engage in some of the FIH programs. Businesses that are not doing well might benefit from the increased traffic from the FIH programs. This mutually beneficial relationship strengthens the potential overall success of the FIH and Fairview Mall.

Another reason for choosing Fairview Mall for the FIH is its location with the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Fairview Mall is located in the North York area of Toronto. Specifically, it is situated at the northeast corner of Don Mills Road and Sheppard Avenue. While it is not centrally located within the GTA, it is easily accessible by automobile and transit. Residing in close proximity to Highway 404 and Highway 401 makes Fairview Mall easily accessible to the surrounding communities. Of particular importance is the ease at which local farmers could potentially access the Mall. This could foster a strong urban-rural connection. Also, Fairview Mall is accessible by public transit. The Mall is connected to the Don Mills subway station and bus terminal and York regions’ Viva Green bus rapid transit line. This ensures that shoppers and employees can easily access Mall.

A third reason is that the area surrounding Fairview Mall can be considered a food desert (City of Toronto, 2009). Very few grocery stores or supermarkets exist within the neighborhood or surrounding communities. Residents are likely forced to drive or take transit to do their shopping. This can be particularly damaging to low-income residents (Metcalf Foundation, 2008). Placing a FIH in the Fairview mall would strengthen the areas’ access to healthy and fresh food.

A fourth reason is high percentage of first generation immigrants within the area (City of Toronto, 2006). Roughly, 77% of the residents in this area (Ward 33) are considered to be first generation immigrants. Having the FIH in this area provides opportunity to the FIH itself, as well as to these residents. The FIH will benefit as these residents enhance the cultural diversity of the programs and businesses. The first generation residents will benefit from the FIH by taking advantage of the provided resources (i.e. incubator kitchens, training programs, community groups).

The final reason is that malls provide a new unique demographic that can be reached. Those going to a mall are unlikely to do so because they are concerned with the current food system. However, once they are in the Mall they will be exposed to numerous businesses and programs that can generate greater awareness of the issues.


Components of the FIH.

May 22, 2010 11:06 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

The components of the FIH consist of both new and existing businesses and initiatives. The “new tenants” will bring new purpose and meaning to Fairview Mall. The “existing tenants” will support and help position this change.

New Tenants.

Incubator Kitchens

Incubator kitchens provide the necessary and required (i.e. commercial grade) equipment to assist entrepreneurs and small enterprises in pursing their food-based business initiatives. In addition, staff can provide training and mentoring so that micro-enterprises can become commercialized food businesses. Products created in the incubator kitchens can be distributed and sold by other members of the FIH (i.e. restaurants, food kiosks) or can be sold outside the FIH (i.e. farmer’s markets, niche markets). Shoppers within the mall will have an opportunity to view production in the incubators, as they will be separated by traditional, windowed storefronts. Unfortunately, to ensure a high level of food safety and sanitation, shoppers will not be able to enter.

The incubator kitchens provide an excellent opportunity to support Toronto’s New Green Economy. Toronto Public Health (2008) urges the food sector to become a centerpiece of the emerging green economy. Specifically, they note the necessity to expand the City’s Food Business Incubator project. Expanding this project to Fairview Mall would help to support a wide range of start-up, community-based, social enterprise and artisanal food entrepreneurs (Toronto Public Health, 2008).

Food Business Development

In conjunction with the incubator kitchens, is a Food Business Development Program. Depending on space, this program could be located within the incubator kitchen space. This program helps those interested in starting a food production company by providing information and training on the basics of starting a business, business plan development, branding, advertising, market information, etc. Again, this supports a green economy and allows for the development of new and niche type products.

The opportunity to development new and niche type products will be particularly relevant in the coming decade. The rapidly changing demographic of Canada and Toronto will ensure a demand for locally produced ethnic foods (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005). For example, the production of Halal foods has been identified as an opportunity for Canadian producers (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005). In this regard, the Food Business Development Program can enhance a regional food system, while supporting cultural diversity.

Community Garden

The creation of a community garden within the grounds of Fairview mall would help connect the surrounding Don Valley Village neighborhood to the FIH. Further, it offers a lively food environment that will hopefully bring neighbors together. This is an important component in creating food-friendly neighborhoods (Toronto Public Health, 2008). The garden, along with the rest of the FIH provides an alternative to the traditional public services that help ensure lively neighborhoods (i.e. libraries, schools, parks and recreation centers) (Toronto Public Health, 2008). The community garden would/will likely be managed and run by community members, in conjunction with the education center.

Education Center

The Education Center will provide programming to adults and elementary and high school students. Generating food literacy is essential to building a healthier, more sustainable, equitable and resilient food system (Toronto Public Health, 2008). Generation Y and Generation 6 will have a large influence on food trends (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005). Making sure that these generations are food literate will ensure that healthier choices are made now and throughout their lives (Toronto Public Health, 2008). In addition, it will help to create leaders that will appreciate the health, social, environmental and economic implications of food (Toronto Public Health, 2008).

Programming at the Education center will include for example, workshops on growing, cooking and healthy eating. These workshops will be linked to other components of the FIH as to provide interactive and hands-on learning opportunities.


There is potential to use Fairview Malls’ skylights for small-scale greenhouse production. Restaurants within the FIH (and the mall) could/can purchase the grown products. It also provides another learning facility for the Education Center, and generates awareness as a result of its central location.

This has been achieved at the Galleria Mall in Cleveland, Ohio. The structural design of the mall has been used to create a year-round greenhouse. The controlled environment is conducive to growing hydroponic produce such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, herbs, mushrooms, peppers, sprouts, and flowers (Poole, 2009).

This project could/can eventually be linked to rainwater collection and composting technologies and programs.

Food Terminal Extension

The Food Terminal Extension would/will be affiliated with the current Ontario Food Terminal, located in Toronto. The Extension project would/will be used to specifically support local and local-sustainable foods (Toronto Public Health, 2008). Food brought into the Terminal would/will support the FIH, as well as Toronto’s retailers. Ultimately, this would help support the local economy and meet the growing demands for locally produced food (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005).

The Food Terminal Extension would/will require a considerable amount of space. For storage and refrigeration purposes it would/will likely need the space occupied by Fairview’s anchor stores (The Bay and Sears). Loading docks are located in at least three areas along the malls edge, which/will would allow for delivery. However, since there is no indication that these stores are failing the Food Terminal Extension might be something worth pursing in the distant future.

Links to University/Colleges

The coming generations will demand foods that are packaged, but are healthy (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005). Increasingly, the public understands the health problems related to trans fats, salts and sulphites used to create packaged foods (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005). This will encourage new technologies to improve packaging technologies and shelf-life.

Universities and/or colleges could/can take advantage of this opportunity by having satellite classrooms or labs at the FIH. Here new processing and packaging technologies can be tested and developed. These technologies could/can eventually be used in the incubator kitchens and Education Center.

Year-Round Farmers Market

The farmers market will act as a means of connecting smaller and mid-sized food production to a distribution network. Here, farmers will have an opportunity to showcase and sell their products. This will be available to those using the services at the FIH, as well as to farmers from the surrounding area. This will be located outside the Mall, except during the winter and fall season.

Restaurants/Food Kiosks (New)

New restaurant and food kiosks could/can be established to support other initiatives within the FIH (i.e. incubator kitchen, community garden, food terminal extension). Opportunity has been identified for restaurants and food businesses that promote ethnic cuisines, niche markets (i.e. boutique foods) and healthy eating (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005). For example, healthy and homemade brownbag lunches could/can be available for quick pickup to those working, visiting and passing through the mall.

NGO/NPO & Community Groups

Non-profit organizations, nongovernmental organizations and community groups could/can use the FIH as their headquarters. These groups could/can be involved both inside and outside of the FIH. Their support and popularity could/can generate increased attention to the FIH. They knowledge and expertise could/can also help guide future initiatives and programs at the FIH.


Consumers are increasingly becoming concerned with where their food is coming from, and the overall safety of it (Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada, 2005). Branding the FIH as well as the products development under it would/will ensure consumers that the products they were purchasing supported the local economy, had minimal impact on the environment and were made/grown in a facility that maintained a high degree of public transparency.

This imitative is similar to that of Local Food Plus, who nurtures regional food economies by certifying farmers and processors for local sustainable food production (Local Food Plus, 2009). Shoppers look specifically for products labeled by Local Food Plus so that they can support a regional food system, and impact the purchasing behaviors of food retailers.

Health Practitioners

Within Fairview Mall are doctor and optometrist offices. Other health care practitioners – including nutritionist, naturopathic doctors, dieticians, holistic nutritionists – could establish practices within the mall. Their presence would/can help address food related health issues and questions. For instance, those acquiring new skills at the Food Education Center, might want more detailed information on healthy eating. They could/can supplement the skills learned at the Center with consultations with a nutritionist or other health care practitioners. Practitioners located at kiosks could/can also provide quick consultations and information to the malls shoppers.

Existing Tenants.

Restaurants/ Food Kiosks (Existing)

Existing restaurants would/will be able to procure food from the FIH’s many components (i.e. incubator kitchen, markets, and greenhouse). These existing restaurants ensure a captive market for local sustainable products. If they are committed to buying the local products produced at the FIH then everyone who buys food from that retailer is a consumer of local and sustainable foods. These food retailers will benefit from the people attracted to the new restaurants/kiosks. While the new restaurants/kiosks will benefit from the people attracted by the stability and familiarity of the existing food retailers.

Department Stores/Houseware Stores

Department stores and houseware carry equipment needed to make food (i.e. frying pans, slow cookers, food processors). This equipment may be needed to complement the new skills acquired from those taking food education classes.


Bookstore can provide additional resources for those interested in growing, preparing or simply gaining a better understanding of food. Further, the bookstores could/can be responsible for stocking any material needed for the educational programming of the FIH.


Issues worth addressing.

May 22, 2010 11:04 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Questions that need answering.

This ideas behind this project are in their infancy. There are a number of questions that will need to be answered to better understand the overall feasibility of the model. These include:

1) Buy-in from Mall – would Cadillac Fairview and Ivanhoe Cambridge be willing to take on this project in Fairview Mall?

2) Rental prices at the mall – can these accommodate small businesses, or non-profit organization?

3) Government (at all levels) support – could they provide subsidies or funding to these programs/initiatives?

4) Mall infrastructure – can a mall actually support projects like the greenhouse (lighting, heat) or, food incubators (smell, sound)?

5) Needed parties buy-in – are the necessary components willing to set-up in a mall? What would this take?

6) Community support – what is the local community support or readiness for this project?

7) Finances – what are the financial resources required?

These questions would need to be answered before further development and implementation of the project.


Building resilience.

May 22, 2010 11:01 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

Working with what we have.

This project outlined two ways of building resilience. The state of our current food system forces, or will force governments, businesses, community organizations and individuals to evaluate how they can affect change. Many organizations, initiatives and people already exist that are working towards a systemic change to the food system. Yet there remains the need for a more integrated approach to these efforts, as well as the development of new ideas, initiatives, businesses and organizations to further support them. Retrofitting Malls (or Fairview Mall) as FIH’s offers such an approach. It builds on the existing momentum towards a regional food system by increasing services and programs that will be needed to ground the movement. Through the establishment of the FIH’s we are increasing the resiliency of the food system to the shocks of climate change and peak oil, and subsequently providing social, economic and environmental benefits to our communities.

A second area where resilience is increased is in relation to the vitality of malls. Increasingly, we are seeing the demise of malls. It should be noted that in certain circumstances their destruction is warranted (i.e. when they are placed in the middle of nowhere). By all means we do not need thousands of malls. However, there still exists tremendous opportunity to redefine and recreate the purpose of a mall given the appropriate context. Fairview Mall provides a perfect case for redefinition. To build Fairview Malls’ overall resilience to the current trend of “dead” or “dying” malls, FIH are merged into its existing fabric. Fairview Mall and the FIH benefit off the businesses and services of each other; thereby building resilience for both.



May 22, 2010 11:00 AM
Bronwyn Whyte

The following sources were found throughout the site:

Agriculture & Agri-Foods Canada. (2005). Canada Food Trends to 2020 – A Long Range Consumer Outlook. Prepared by Serecon Management Consulting Inc. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Bellarby, J., Foereid, B., Hastings, A., & Smith, P. (2008). Cool Farming: Climate impacts of agriculture and mitigation potential. Greenpeace. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

CBC. (2007, August 17). Looming obesity epidemic requires action: experts. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

City of Toronto. (2006). Ward Profiles – Ward 33. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

City of Toronto. (2009). Food Asset Map Ward 25 – Don Valley East. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Dunham-Jones, E., & Williamson, J. (2008). Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Edelman, D. (2010). Definition of Halal Food. EHow. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Fairview Mall. (2008). Our History. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Food Desert. (2007). Home. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Greenseth, M. (2008). The Future of Shopping Malls: An Image Essay. Worldchanging. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Halwell, B. (2002). Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market. Danvers, MA: Worldwatch.

Local Food Plus. (2009). Canada’s certification for local sustainable food. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Maan Miedema, J., & Pigott, K. (2007, April). A Healthy Community Food System Plan for Waterloo Region. Health Determinants, Planning and Evaluation Division.

Poole, V. (2009). Gardens Under Glass. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Toronto Public Health. (2008). The State of Toronto’s Food – Discussion Paper for a Toronto Food Strategy. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Toronto Public Health. (2010). Food Connections: Towards a Healthy and Sustainable Food System for Toronto. Retrieved March 31, 2010 from here

Xuereb, M. (2005, November). Food Miles: Environmental Implications of Food Imports to Waterloo Region. Region of Waterloo.




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