Thursday, January 03, 2008

Dopey Peddlers

As far as false nostrums are concerned, the idea that the poor of the city are obese because they lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables ranks right up there; the problem is not availabilty but desirability-people must be educated so that demand is generated for the produce. We saw some of this silliness on exhibit right at the end of the year when the mayor and council speaker announced that they would introduce "Green Carts" legislation in the new year.

The speaker's observations here are to our point. She cited the absence of supermarkets in some neighborhoods as compelling the need for the introduction of 1500 produce peddlers in "high need" neighborhoods. As we've said before, this is a bad idea based on a false premise.

Over ten years ago, we had lunch for the first time with the NYC Partnership's Kathy Wylde. In the course of the pleasant conversation, Wylde told us that in her housing work for the partnership she had discovered that in every neighborhood where they were looking to build affordable housing the re was a dearth of retail services-the one major exception was supermarkets; she found them in every area that the Partnership went to-and she was right.

The need for peddlers is being based on the advocacy of certain groups that have always decried the supposed lack of healthy food access in the city's low income neighborhoods. Their major focus has been on two things: first, the fact that there are more supermarkets per capita in higher income neighborhoods, and secondly, on the lack of fresh produce at the city's 13,000 bodegas-something that is used to underscore the need for green markets, and now peddlers.

Now it may be true, and we'd actually agree, that there's a need to build more large, modern markets in some of the city's low income communities. These stores will, because they draw on a wider trade area, be able to stock a greater volume and variety of produce. It's also true that the city's food policy coordinator, Ben Thomasses, recognizes this need and is looking to do something positive in this regard.

The bodega critique is, however, a red herring, and a distraction from this more important task; as is the introduction of 1500 peddlers into these communities. The peddlers will only look to set up in front of existing supermarkets, precisely because that's where all of the retail foot traffic is. This will, of course, cannibalize those tax paying store owners-and their employees' jobs- just like the peddlers in Manhattan are already doing.

So we welcome the introduction of the legislation from the standpoint of educating the City Council about this retail reality-and the anti-union philosophy that wittingly or not underpins the policy initiative. We're hopeful that once the speaker and her colleagues understand all of this, there will be a policy redirection that makes more sense than the current one.