Monday, May 12, 2008

NYU and Vornado: Imperfect Together

We need to add NYU to our pantheon of heroes when it comes to an insensitivity to the health of New Yorkers-and this is the university where Marion Nestle hectors the world about the need for healthier food and better nutrition. NYU is looking to evict the last remaining affordable supermarket in its East Village neighborhood.

If you don't believe us, just check out her what to eat blog. Here's what Nestle says about supermarkets and healthy eating: "Obesity is more common in low-income areas. Why? It may seem intuitively obvious that lack of adequate income, transportation, cooking facilities, supermarkets, and opportunities for physical activity would make it difficult for people to eat healthfully and be active, but intuition is one thing and evidence is another. My NYU colleagues Jennifer Black and James Macinko now provide the evidence in a most useful review paper. Want to improve the “built environment”? This is a great starting place."

And here's what the two professors tell us about the importance of neighborhood supermarkets: "Access to stores that sell healthy food, especially large supermarkets, may also contribute to between neighborhood dietary differences. Four cross-sectional studies have demonstrated a positive association between access to food stores and improved dietary choices.18,73–75In Detroit, Michigan, women who primarily purchased food at supermarkets, consumed more fruits and vegetables than those who relied on independent grocery stores.73 Whereas, participants in the US Food Stamp Program who lived over five miles away from their principalfood store, consumed significantly less fruit than those living within one mile of stores." NYU's own tell the story. Why does the university ignore the research of its own?

So, once again, a university harbors all sorts of progressive sentiments while at the same time, as a corporate business, it acts in ways that threatens the public good. Shame on NYU! As the Villager has pointed out, the neighborhood's not reacting well to this insensitivity to its needs: "For more than a decade, East and West Villagers have seen New York University snatch up land and existing buildings for new dorms and facilities. But, when the school tried to jack up a beloved supermarket’s rent in a building it owns on Second Ave., residents rebelled."
And as one neighborhood resident tells the paper: "“If Met Food is pushed out of here, I’m going to have to get on two buses to go to the stores on 14th St.,” said Gertrude Freeman, 84, who lives at the Evelyn and Louis Green Residence, a senior home on E. Fifth St. “And as you can see,” she added, “I’m in a walker.”

The entire community's up in arms, much like Soundview is over the possible loss of its Key Food: "Residents’ displeasure was evident during a raucous public meeting late last month, when a roomful of 60 East Villagers aimed barbed comments at Hurley and Parker over the school’s reported offer of a two- or three-year lease at triple the rent. Though neither side will disclose the current rent, Rel Lavizzo, a broker for Tungsten Property, said the going monthly rate in the area is $100 per square foot. Met Food occupies 3,700 square feet."

So now we have too large real estate entities, Vornado and NYU, spitting in the face of the public interest, unconcerned about the health of New Yorkers; yet at the same time both of these behemoths are constantly lapping up public benefits. Oh, and one other thing about NYU. The building that it owns where the supermarket's located, it was donated to the university and cost the good folks at Washington Square not one farthing. Nice, no?