Monday, May 05, 2008

Going to Market with DCP

The Department of City Planning has just come out with a very important study on supermarkets in New York City-and the picture painted isn't pretty. The study, titled "Going to Market," tells this stark tale: "A widespread shortage of neighborhood grocery stores and supermarkets exists in New York City. High need for fresh food purveyors affects approximately three million New Yorkers. Low-income neighborhoods have the highest need."

And not only that. It's also apparent that the bulk of supermarket closings are occuring in the very same high need neighborhoods, those where, "high rates of diet-related diseases" are prevalent. So what we are experiencing in this city is what looks like a perfect storm: rising obersity-related disease rates, along with declining numbers of supermarkets that could provide communities in need with the fresh produce that could help alleviate the health crisis.

In the DCP study, the department also develops a "Supermarket Need Index," a guide to those areas with the highest levels of diet-related diseases and that also have, "limited opportunities to purchase fresh foods." In doing so the planners have nicely underscored the way in which the supermarket crisis is a public health issue.

The department also found in its need index that the Bronx was the borough with the lowest consumption of produce. The survey also highlights the way in which the city is sorely underserved by adequate numbers of supermarkets; "Approximately three million New Yorkers live in high need neighborhoods." And over 750,000 folks in those neighborhoods live more than five blocks from a supermarket.

The department analysis also goes on to nicely indicate the importance for supermarkets in economic development and community quality of life. As it points out: "...residents benefit from lower prices, less travel time and greater merchandise selection," when a supermarket locates In the neighborhood. In addition, the new supermarket means good jobs and added vitality to the neighborhood shopping strip: "Increased foot traffic creates walkable neighborhoods and reduces crime," much as we pointed out when we remarked how Bloomberg's sustainable city plan (as well as his congestion taxing plan) ignored the importance of neighborhood walk-to-shopping.

As good as the study is, it has a number of important land use suggestions, it does fall short in one key area: the disappearance of supermarkets from numerous commercial strips. It does point out that many of the areas in need of more stores are actually losing them, but offers no solution to stem the exodus.

"Going to Market" points out that many of these markets are being replaced by banks and drug stores, but fails to underscore that the escalation of real estate values is the underlying cause; and the need to find a way to make the local markets able to withstand the gentrification tsunami. Which brings us to the eviction of the Key Food in Soundview.

Soundview is identified as one of the Bronx neighborhoods that is in need of more supermarkets; and the DOH has targeted it for an influx of veggie peddlers. Yet the Vornado company is moving a vital food access from this neighborhood in need. In our view this makes the Vornado Distrusters a public enemy-and the company should be made persona non grata in any land use or city land disposition.

In fact, since the mayor's such a big fan of eminent domain, he should make the Vornado-owned shopping center a target for being taken for a greater public use. Preserving a vital food source is definitely a public purpose. After all, what's more important than insuring the health of folks in a neighborhood where there are high rates of diet-related diseases?