Zoning for Food Access

City planners are increasingly applying the tools of their trade to fixing the failures of the urban food system. In the next few weeks, according to a report in the NY Observer, New York City’s Department of City Planning is poised to certify zoning changes to make it easier for supermarkets to be built as part of new developments and in light manufacturing districts. The Bloomberg administration hopes the new rules will stimulate the growth of supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods, and in so doing, promote more equitable access to food, healthier eating, and reduced incidence of diet-related diseases.

Ensuring that a city’s zoning encourages the development of supermarkets and mid-size grocers is a step in the right direction that is likely to improve access to healthy, fresh, and fairly-priced food for a larger number of residents, particularly those living in poor neighborhoods that supermarkets have abandoned. But this particular strategy needs to be part of a much broader food planning effort that includes regional transportation planning to make the movement of food from surrounding farms more efficient and sustainable, the development of a wholesale farmers market, to make selling local food to restaurants and supermarkets logistically feasible, and a plan to carve out the space for urban and suburban food production, processing, and distribution.

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