Answer: Not an urban legend.
In metropolitan areas across the country, residents have been faced with fresh food deserts, or areas where one third of the population is more than a mile from a grocery store and one fifth exists below the poverty line. City dwellers are faced with carrying their groceries on long public transit rides, buying a car or relying on convenience stores to purchase their groceries.
For some lucky metro-poles, there is yet another option: visiting their local urban grocery stores. Though not exactly super markets, these small grocery stores strive to provide their cities with fresh food, meat and cooking staples within reasonable walking distance. Corner stores like these became passe after super stores like Wal-Mart, Wegmans, Weis and Giant came to suburbia. However there’s been a new push toward walkability and sustainable growth within our cities and we again need accessible food in our urban areas.
However, the confines of urban design present some challenges. These grocery stores have to use a fraction of the space that super stores have, prioritize the goods they will provide and consider parking in an area unable to accommodate a super-parking-lot. Even with these challenges in mind, many cities and entrepreneurs have taken the risk and opened such grocery stores.
In the city of Dallas, Texas, there is one such grocery store that also encompasses a delivery component. Nestled in the heart of downtown Dallas, Urbanmarket is the only full service grocery store in its area. They provide produce, meat, deli, seafood, wine & beer, health and beauty products, flowers and prepared foods. Also, if you submit your grocery list online by noon on Tuesday or Friday, your groceries will be delivered right to you.
Washington, D.C. is getting even more use out of urban space by utilizing mixed use development. On the same property as the Urban Lifestyle Safeway grocery store, there are 441 condos, 244 apartments and 75,000 square feet of retail space. The property is only 3.2 acres. Parking for these facilities is approximately 40 percent of a standard suburban grocery store but still has maintained a successful business model through foot and bike traffic.
There are four food deserts in the Lehigh Valley right now, which (according to the USDA) means that there are four regions in which one third of the population has to travel more than a mile to reach fresh food and at least one fifth of the population exists below the poverty line. Is an urban grocery store a potential solution to this fresh food problem? Envision Lehigh Valley has been gathering public input on fresh food access and those findings will be included in a comprehensive plan to combat food deserts in the Valley. Community involvement and ideas will be critical in this planning process.
The New York Times just released its ninth annual “Year in Ideas” list, picking out some of the most fascinating – but not necessarily fantastic – ideas that were discussed over the past year. The list includes some very interesting ones worth noting:
1) Artificial car noise for quiet hybrid cars, which may pose a danger to pedestrians and bicyclists. The irony of the entire situation is captured by the article: “Having spent years trying to make cars quieter, manufacturers of hybrids and electric cars now find themselves in the curious position of figuring out the best means of warning people that 3,000 pounds of metal is rolling their way.”
2) Bicycle highways. Copenhagen is moving forward with building something close to it, with segregated bike routes connecting the suburbs to the center of the city. This might only be a pipe dream for the United States (though I remain optimistic).
3) Man-made greenery, involving artificial trees and solar technology. The Times’ writers cleverly dub these “Franken-forests.”
4) The cul-de-sac ban. Yes, they are abhorred (usually) by smart growth advocates, but, rightfully so – they limit connectivity, which is crucial in building community. Virginia recently passed a measure that will limit cul-de-sacs in new developments, with the hope of increased efficiency and cost-savings. Supporters of sustainable development are on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what the implications will be and whether the ban will become a trend.
View the entire list on the New York Times website, and post your comments below.