Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Um, where are DC's food deserts?

For a long time, I've argued that while the concept of food deserts--places where people lack convenient access to fresh foods--is an important one (see the Time Magazine story "Can America's Urban Food Deserts Bloom?"), for the most part, it is a misuse of data and statistics to say that DC is replete with such places.

First, definitions usually employ an artificially small "retail trade area" for supermarkets. Supermarkets plan on a retail trade area of a 3 mile radius from the store--that's 6 miles in diameter, and 28.27 square miles, which is a geographic area almost equal to half the city for one store. But most definitions concerning access to food touted by food security advocates and smart growthers/new urbanists say that households shouldn't have to be farther than three-quarters of a mile away from a market (that would be about 1.8 square miles). That's out of sorts with how the industry works.

Second, DC's Wards 5, 7, and 8 (and even Ward 3) are also served by stores that are located close by, but across the District line in either Montgomery or Prince George's Counties in Maryland--Ward 5 has a couple supermarkets, Ward 7 has at least two one (2 Safeways), and Ward 8 has none 3.

Note: two readers pointed out that Ward 8 has three supermarkets. A new Yes! Grocery heralded in the press ("Ward 8's 2nd big grocery to open Wed." from the Post), a Giant Supermarket in Congress Heights which I knew about but misattributed to Ward 7, and a small independent grocery called the Anacostia Warehouse Market which was discussed in this blog entry in the And Now, Anacostia blog. It was purchased by the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. (another blog entry from ANA) and I thought that I heard it is going to be converted into a Sav A Lot--the Supervalu discount store concept, which is 30% corporate stores, 70% franchised, and is the fastest growing division of the company.

If you map supermarkets even with a 2 mile radius (the square mile area served via a 2 mile radius would be about 12.5 miles) instead of 3 miles, just about every inch of DC is covered.

Jaime Fearer tweeted about the USDA Food Desert Locator, which was mentioned in the Washington City Paper's Loose Lips column. The map shows that only seven census tracts in DC qualify as food deserts.

Interestingly, Walmart intends to locate stores in two of those tracts, although that is happenstance. No part of Wards 4 or 6, where other Walmart stores are proposed, are termed food deserts according to USDA data.
Food deserts in DC, USDA Food Desert Locator



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