Friday, September 26, 2008

Supermarket Coalition Building for East Harlem

As we have already pointed out, there is a growing coalition of community and advocacy groups that are coming together to call for an immediate response from the city on the disappearance of supermarkets in East Harlem. Here's one report on the coalition: "The Harlem Food and Fitness Consortium (HFFC), which includes WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a leading advocate for environmental justice for two decades, and numerous other community groups, is sponsoring a Town Hall meeting on the need for more and better supermarkets in Harlem – particularly East and Central Harlem."

As we have said, the meeting was held, and was a resounding success; now it appears as if we're about to go into Phase II. The coalition, along with the support of Local 1500 of the UFCW, is planning a press conference for next Thursday on the steps of city hall. The presser coincides with the crucial committee vote scheduled on the Uptown Harlem development project; and that's no accident.

The coinciding is designed to dramatize the fact that the Uptown project needs to include a new modern supermarket-and unless there is some direct intervention from the council and the administration, the chances of this happening are nil. You see, there is city owned property in the mix here, and the only way to insure a supermarket's inclusion is to specifically carve out some of this public land for a truly public purpose. If, on the other hand, all of the property is deeded over to a developer, than the cost of the space will inevitably rise beyond the reach of any supermarket.

The right deal would be a direct one-with a local LDC in partnership with the supermarket to develop a carved out site along Second Avenue. The administration's rhetoric on the supermarket retention issue has fallen way short of concrete action; the current East Harlem site is a marvelous opportunity for the Bloombergistas to put their money where their public health mouth has been.

We'll give the task force the final word on why this is all important: "Advocates for increasing supermarket reach in low income neighborhoods, such as Harlem, complain that a lack of real food stores forces neighborhood residents, typically minorities, to do more of their shopping in bodegas. Those stores usually lack healthy foods like green vegetables and fruit, though they have no shortage of pre-packaged snacks and sugary drinks. Residents have to buy what is available, and are forced to make less than healthy food choices."