We’ve previously blogged about how New York City is addressing the lack of fresh food in poor communities by creating a pushcart business model. Last week, the New York Times reported on a complementary approach being tried in Pennsylvania. There, the city is providing tax and other incentives for supermarkets that locate in areas where access to fresh food is lacking.
New York is working to implement a similar system of incentives, including a set of zoning incentives such as relaxed regulations for new high rises that include supermarket space. Zoning regulations are often significant barriers to investment – it’s often expensive to secure enough land for the parking spaces required by the zoning code, for example, and these kinds of additional expense may be enough to make a relatively low margin business like a supermarket an unprofitable investment. In densely populated areas where many people would walk to a supermarket, if they had one, the number of required parking spaces may be excessive.
Zoning changes are particularly useful for bringing in socially beneficial businesses because properly considered policies can lower barriers to investment but can be changed without great expense. There is a zoning ordinance modernization proposal on the table for next Monday’s city council meeting that takes some steps in the direction of greater flexibility. It might be even more beneficial, however, if more exceptions were made for fresh food suppliers in the areas of the city that currently lack them.
During a series of focus groups with North End residents, agencies, and leaders conducted by The Springfield Institute for The North End Campus Coalition over the last few weeks, residents on “the other side of I-91” seemed to consider a walkable supermarket like Medina’s their highest priority.