Friday, March 06, 2009

Stringer's Gotham Food Policy

In a post at the Gotham Gazette, there is an interesting discussion of Manhattan BP Stringer's "food enterprise zones;" areas where city policy would nurture existing supermarket businesses, while incentivizing the building of new markets: "He recommends the city create "food enterprise zones" to attract food retailers to underserved areas through zoning and tax incentives. The plan calls for public financing or micro loans to community food partnerships, allowing food vendors tax abatements under the Industrial and Commercial Abatement Program and exempting vendors from business taxes. It also suggested the New York City Housing Authority make provisions for food retailers in public projects."

There is much rich material in the Stringer plan-and it amplifies, with essential mitigation, some of the ideas that the city is circulating to enhance supermarkets in underserved areas. In particular, Stringer's concept of tax exemptions for existing stores, recognizes the need to help these retailers so that any new siting that is encouraged doesn't deleteriously impact their business; after all, they may have been operating in the so-called food deserts without city aid for years.

Some of the zoning changes that Stringer suggests, do mirror what the city is considering: "Zoning regulations offer another policy option to increase the number of retailers selling healthy foods and stem the tide of closing supermarkets. The report suggests government agencies develop an integrated plan for city support of supermarkets, adjust land-use regulations influencing supermarkets, consider supermarkets' need during future rezoning and evaluate the possibility of supermarkets on city owned property. For example, the city might categorize retailers selling fresh fruits and differently from general food stores and so provide them with a density bonus or a permit for additional floor area exemption, according to Stringer."

So what the city needs is a balanced approach; one that recognizes the need to staunch the bleeding of supermarkets that has led to their disappearance, while at the same time, devising a growth promotion policy. Meanwhile, all that has come out of the administration so far-besides jawboning on the issue-is a fruit peddler initiative that fell flat. We need a more muscular approach from the Bloombergistas.