Needed — Food Impact Assessments

An article in today’s New York Times reports that Costco, despite having received some $55 million in government support to build a new store in East Harlem, will not accept food stamps from its low-income neighbors.

This illustrates the perils of omitting food from our land use review, environmental assessment, and planning processes. Before receiving city subsidies or zoning variances, large-scale projects must be evaluated for their impacts on the food system, in addition to traffic, housing, water, and other infrastructure typically assessed in environmental impact statements. If food issues are built into the review processes, residents and elected officials will be in a better position to negotiate with developers and businesses for programs, infrastructure, and policies to ensure that the community’s food system is improved, not harmed, by new projects. Issues like traffic and sewage capacity regularly get scrutinized in the land use review process. Food should, too.

Of course, site by site assessment is inadequate. Long term planning is needed. Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration’s long-range sustainability plan, PlaNYC 2030, is silent on the issue of how our growing city will be fed, let alone fed sustainably. The plan must be updated with a new chapter addressing the policies and investments needed to ensure that all New Yorkers, including the million new residents projected in PlaNYC, have access to healthy, fresh, affordable, sustainably produced food.

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