White House Pitches $400M for Healthier Neighborhood Food Outlets

The connection between walkable development and grocery shopping may not seem immediately apparent — until you consider studies conducted in cities from Austin to Seattle that showed the share of trips taken by foot or by transit rises as local food outlets move closer to residential areas.

31193700_386561bcbd.jpgThe White House budget envisions a new investment in urban farmers markets such as this one, which served D.C.’s low-income Anacostia area for two years. (Photo: DC Food for All)

Even in transit-rich New York, a highly touted new Costco is laying off employees as shoppers avoid its not-too-walkable location. On the flip side, farmers’ markets are seeing new growth and serving more lower-income shoppers in Milwaukee, Oakland, and other areas.

Now the White House is getting in on the action, with $400 million included in its fiscal year 2011 budget to support development of new food outlets in urban communities where the nearest grocery store is often a half-mile or more away — the neighborhoods that policymakers call "food deserts."

The White House proposal is modeled after a Pennsylvania effort that has steered more than $57 million in grants and loans to develop 74 local food markets in lower-income areas of the state. The Obama administration’s version would be anchored by $250 million in New Market Tax Credits, which give developers incentive to launch new projects in economically distressed areas.

While the $400 million budget plan is not being directed through the U.S. DOT, it could have a significant upside for urban transportation officials looking to improve access to transit and create new opportunities for walkability.

  • What could be more natural than walking out of your home to buy fresh bread or produce? For many, this could be the first step to a car-free (or at least less car-dependent) life.

  • Sounds great. I wouldn’t limit this to “low income” areas, although maybe that’s where the greatest need is right now. I would target single-use suburban residential areas where a temporary farmer’s market or conversion of a foreclosed house into a grocery/co-op/general store could be a way to lessen traffic in a small area.

  • Food is indeed a great way to transform neighborhoods to be around people and places. You can almost rank the quality and walkability of streets based on presence and visibility of food. Cities first formed as markets for the exchange of food and where they have gone wrong is perhaps where they have moved food away from the streets eliminating the frictions and social and cultural connections that they propagate.

    William H. Whyte famously said that “the best way to seed a place is to put out food.”

    With this in mind, The NYC Streets Renaissance Campaign pursued and received a major grant from the Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Fitness Initiative to bring this approach to improving walkability in lower income sections of NYC. We are now embarking on the implementation phase of the grant with TA in a leadership role. NYC and 8 other cities can now be in a good position to leverage these investments for broader community and walkability outcomes.

    More on the on the NYC Food and Fitness Initiative:
    http://www.nycfoodandfitness.org/index.php

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