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, January 31, 2017

DC and the food desert issue revisited

I've written about this topic a bunch over the years (e.g., "Um, where are DC's food deserts?" and "Supermarkets: innovation and equity planning").

Last week's Washington City Paper has an article about it, "In Wards 7 and 8, Feeding the Food Insecure is a Team Effort."  According to the article, Ward 7 has two grocery stores and Ward 8 one, although both wards are served by grocery stores located on the other side of the DC-Maryland line.

From the article:
DC Greens and D.C. Hunger Solutions are two of many community groups unwilling to simply wait for full-service grocery stores to break ground and address the crisis. Instead, they’re collaborating to tackle a problem so complex that it calls for creative, multi-faceted solutions.

And what all these local initiatives share is a repudiation of backwards stereotypes that suggest the poor aren’t interested in fresh food.

“Politicians across the country and citizens have been perniciously stereotyping, allowing cities to take no action because they’ve vilified low-income folks,” Biel says. “We’ve seen lines a hundred deep of people waiting in 100-degree weather to get $10 to spend on fruits and veggies. There’s lots of interest in healthy food, but healthy food does not exist in these neighborhoods.”

Indeed, food options east of the river are dominated by corner stores and carryouts because they are cheap to operate. At a carryout, food goes from freezer to fryer, requiring little labor and producing little waste. “This leads to extreme disparities in diet-related health outcomes,” says Philip Sambol, director of partnerships for Good Food Markets, which is planning a new location in Ward 8. “You can have obesity rates five times higher in wards without access to fresh food.”
A big problem is how advocates define the issue--"a grocery store within one-half mile walking distance" otherwise it's a food desert--is counter to how the industry is organized.

Supermarkets are set up to market and sell food within a 5 mile radius retail trade area, although in cities the RTAs tend to be smaller. Not to mention the fact that carrying a lot of groceries while walking, even with a cart, is a major pain in the butt.

Looking at Ward 7, we can say there are 2-3 major travel corridors to and from the core of the city--Benning Road (H Street), East Capitol, and Pennsylvania Avenue.  The H Street/Benning and Pennsylvania corridors are nearby primary retail arteries.

H Street/Benning corridor.  If you take the Benning Road Metrorail Station as a center point for calculating a retail trade area--a four mile radius is just a few blocks short of the Walmart at New Jersey Avenue NE, but along the X2 bus line on H Street/Benning Road, within the four mile radius you can reach four other grocery stores:
  • Harris Teeter Supermarket (1st and M Streets NE)
  • Giant Supermarket (300 block of H Street)
  • Safeway (Hechinger Mall, Maryland Avenue)
  • Aldi (901 17th Street)
Later this year a Whole Foods will open on the 600 block of H Street, and the Union Market district, including some wholesale businesses that also sell retail, and soon a Trader Joe's, is accessible via the 90s busline, which intersects with the H Street bus lines at 8th Street NE.

Yes, it's true that there are only two grocery stores in Ward 7, but there are five, soon to be six, supermarkets on or nearby the H Street corridor accessible by bus (and eventually an extended streetcar line).  Plus the Union Market district on nearby Florida Avenue, served by the 90s bus line, is accessible too, and soon that will include a Trader Joe's.

It is relatively easy to stop at a grocery on the way home via the bus (although still a pain to carry groceries while walking or maneuvering on transit).

Frankly, the only store that people might want to access that won't be located within that corridor is a Wegman's.

Pennsylvania Avenue corridor: choices, but fewer.  The 30s line serving Pennsylvania Avenue SE doesn't have access to as many supermarkets as the X2, with access to a Harris-Teeter (1400 block) and a Safeway (about 1/4 mile from Pennsylvania Avenue and the Potomac Avenue Metrorail station), and a Yes Grocery is within a block,at 410 8th Street SE.  Eastern Market, the city's public market, is at 225 7th Street SE, a long block from the Eastern Market Metro Station.   And Trader Joe's is coming to the 700 block, across the street from Metro.

Pricing.  When Washington Consumer Checkbook studied supermarkets, Giant's prices were higher than Safeway, although I never found that to be the case.  (I do like some of Safeway's private brand items better than the other stores though.)

Since that study, Safeway has significantly increased pricing and reduced the pricing attractiveness of their weekly specials.  Aldi's prices are about 40% lower, cheaper than Walmart in fact.  Giant is cheaper than Safeway, and Trader Joe's pricing, depending on the items, tends to be higher than Giant.

Ward 7 residents having access to Aldi can save a lot of money compared to traditional grocery stores.  (I shop there regularly myself, mostly for produce and standard items like milk, cream cheese, and other staples.)

Smart shopping between the stores can cut food costs too.  For example, while Harris-Teeter is relatively high priced, their weekly specials and long term low pricing on certain items (e.g., $1.88 for 3 pounds of oranges) makes them worth shopping at as well.

In short, Walmart not opening a store in Ward 7 isn't the end of the world.

Delivery of food-customers.  Note that the PanAm International Latino Market on 14th Street NW and the Megamart Latino markets in the suburbs will drive a customer home so long as they purchase $50 in food.

DC's new jitney type transit service in Wards 7 and 8, called Neighborhood Ride Service by Taxis, could be adjusted to include travel to and from grocery stores in nearby Ward 6.

Were I working on supermarket recruitment efforts in Wards 7 and 8, I would consider trying to land PanAm or Megamart because of their willingness to drive people home.

fresh_moves_busAnother option for nonprofits would be to create their own equivalent of Instacart.

Others support the creation of mobile food sales, using buses ("Bringing food to people as a response to food deserts," 2011).

Conclusion: access has multiple meanings.  Although there is no question that we should work towards expanding grocery sales options in Ward 7, taking proximity and transit access into consideration, based on how the supermarket industry is organized, Ward 7 residents have a wider range of access to supermarkets than most residents elsewhere across the metropolitan region.

(Biking is an option too, although I'll admit sometimes bags have broken on the trip, which is never fun...)

Technically, I live in a food desert because no store is within a one-half mile walking distance--the Walmart (I don't shop there) is 3/4 mile away, and a Safeway and a Giant are both 1.25 miles away in different directions.

But since I bicycle, getting to various supermarkets is no big deal, especially since I plan supermarketing around my various trips to and from the core, such as at the stores clustered around H Street on my way home from doing things in the Capitol Hill/Downtown area.

Labels: , , , ,


At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" Hill East" is not just a food desert but a retail desert. There is very little remaining of any of the small businesses that once proliferated such as on 15th street NE above the car barn and on various corners- and it is certainly needed. The crack epidemic of the 90's spelled doom for many of these small businesses which were often robbed or victimized and hard put to stay open. Things have changed and there is new affluence- and new retail and food options are needed for this area- which is NOT Anacostia and NO a ghetto anymore.

At 9:25 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

understood, but it doesn't make sense in terms of how retail works today. Retail success today is about nodes and concentration. You can build a node around the Potomac Ave. Metro, including the Safeway site, and that part of Pennsylvania Ave.

Expecting to revive East Capitol/Mass. Ave. doesn't make sense.

When you witness the restaurant-driven revitalization elsewhere, which can help seed a bit of retail, it's a response to the addition of multiunit housing.

The nature of retail and restaurants today is that they need larger population centers to draw upon. The traditional rowhouse neighborhoods, dense compared to a suburban subdivision, still don't have enough population for today's retail sector characteristics and conditions.

Hill East is also served by the Eastern Market area, which will become much stronger with the addition of Trader Joe's.

Similarly, my part of Ward 4 has no hope in developing retail. But why isn't it considered reasonable that we utilize Takoma as our neighborhood district, as it is about 3/4 mile away, an easy walk.

The expectation that every neighborhood will have a thriving section of walkable retail is a chimera.

It can happen in NYC--although even there it needs more technical assistance and support than is provided--for obvious reasons.

Same with SF, because of its comparatively high density (it's about 2/3 the size of DC with 1/3 greater population).

At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DC's density is going up and these areas are no longer in decline. The small retail is still relevant and works in many places very well. I predict that it will come back. There is already an expectation from neighbors in the Hill East area that former small stores need to be retained and when old stores close down the property is sold that a new business goes in. We also have new small operations such as the Pretzel Bakery which is in a new building. More of this needs to come about- and I think the lack of it is zoning and also high business taxes that mitigate against small businesses outside the core of the city. Mike Farrell has an interesting take on all of this

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

that's irrelevant. Well, not irrelevant, but the point is the population increase isn't enough.

A retail hub probably needs to draw on at least 30,000 residents.

It helps if they can draw on other activity streams (tourists, sports events, transit hub, etc.)

So the improvements seen in Capitol Riverfront and around Eastern Market are in fact a response to the changes you're commenting on.

But expecting them to lead to a groundswell of demand for retail at RFK is something else. Especially because H St. is re-viving as a regional destination somewhat. Not so much for retail, but it is getting a Whole Foods, and that will change the picture considerably, as retail can be built around it.

the point I am trying to make is that every neighborhood can't expect to have a thriving retail hub because most neighborhoods don't have the population to support it.

And then with that said, to be most successful reviving retail needs to be concentrated, rather than de-concentrated. That's why the area around Eastern Market metro is improving, or around Potomac Ave. Metro, because of the Metro and Harris Teeter. 1st St. in NoMA. Georgia Avenue to and on Upshur St. around the Metro station, accelerated by the addition of apartment buildings by the Metro etc.

2. another thing is that to keep retail stoked you need a large dose of new households. As households form they buy a lot of stuff. As households change situations (e.g., buy house/move/have children) they buy a lot of stuff.

After that their purchasing of specialty goods (e.g., furniture, etc.) levels off. So to keep supporting such stores, they need to appeal to new audiences, or a wider retail trade area. It's why certain types of stores cluster and aren't distributed evenly across "neighborhood" shopping districts.

Everyone eats and buys food and convenience items. That's why restaurants, groceries, and pharmacies (basically they are convenience stores for the modern age) and to some extent hardware stores, are widely distributed, and stores that sell furniture, electronics, appliances, high end apparel etc. are not.

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

in addition to the riots, it was the "leveling off effect" of household purchasing as households aged that was deleterious to local retail within DC in the 70s-90s. Neighborhoods aged and bought a lot less, so the conditions to support neighborhood shopping districts didn't exist. Hence the failure of neighborhood shopping districts, with some exceptions.


Post a Comment

<< Home