Carrot image source, House image source
I received a lot of interest via email regarding my recent post on local food. One thing I neglected to do in my previous post was to put in a good word for the Greenworks Philadelphia plan, which includes this target goal: “Bring local food within 10 minutes of 75% of residents.” I look forward to seeing
One of the programs that will probably help the city along is the state-wide Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (PFFI). This program was recently featured in The New York Times, profiling the new ShopRite in the West Philadelphia Parkside neighborhood. This financing program is extremely valuable in helping to make urban stores feasible. However, while the Parkside supermarket fulfills a valuable need in the community, I would argue that in another way it is far less successful — even damaging to other important goals.
The Times article profiled residents who walk to the new supermarket, but what the Times does not explain is that there are precious few people who can do this. The new supermarket is not an urban store in any sense of the word. It is a stand-alone, suburban-style structure in the middle of a brand new strip mall, surrounded by a sea of parking. Only a few dozen homes are within reasonable walking distance of the store, and even then residents have to walk through a gigantic parking lot.
Here's a view of the new Parkside shopping center:
And here is what the surrounding neighborhood looks like:
Many of these new supermarkets in Philadelphia are mainly accessible by car, and require a huge amount of space, designed at a scale that makes sense in the suburbs, but that is not appropriate for dense, urban communities. The stores are not very transit accessible, and do not contribute to uplifting older, struggling, commercial corridors. These supermarkets are physically in neighborhoods, but not part of communities.
These are very real issues. However, I think we can do better if just set our mind to it.
Not too far from Parkside is the Fresh Grocer by the
Just because a neighborhood is poor, does not mean that it should have to settle for a half-baked supermarket. We should find the resources, the political will, and the incentives to bring supermarkets within close proximity to every community, and ensure that those stores can be positive contributors to community revitalization. These new stores should be a stimulus for reviving commercial corridors, and should be built for residents who rely on walking and transit. If built right, a supermarket can provide local food access and also act as a positive force for reviving communities.
Too often in urban policy we tend to separate issues, and then frame them as if they were in conflict with each other. If we want to provide both supermarkets and generators for community revitalization, then Philadelphia needs to set the bar higher, make new policies, and work harder to truly give our neighborhoods the resources they need for a healthy and prosperous future.