Legislation in the New York City Council (Int. No. 338) scheduled for a vote on Thursday, July 28, 2011, will facilitate the installation of rooftop greenhouses by exempting them from height or bulk restrictions. The bill amends the building code by adding greenhouses to a list of other rooftop structures (such as water tanks and air conditioning equipment) that do not count towards height and floor area ratio calculations. Only greenhouses that are less than one-third of the area of the roof qualify for this exemption, however, so larger structures may still bump up against size limits.
Minneapolis is on its way toward adopting a new comprehensive urban agriculture policy plan. Last Tuesday, February 22, the Minneapolis City Planning Commission moved to recommend that the City Council adopt the proposed plan. The next step is for a subcommittee of the City Council to discuss the plan on March 24th, and if voted out of committee to be considered by the entire Council.
San Francisco’s charter requires that ordinances affecting land use must be consistent with or conform to the policies of the city’s General Plan. Last week’s Planning Commission resolution urging the Board of Supervisors to enact a new urban agriculture planning code included an assessment of how the revised code relates to the General Plan. Not surprisingly, the Commission concluded that promoting urban agriculture through zoning changes that make it easier to locate urban farms and gardens would conform to the General Plan. But the resolution went further by affirmatively stating that urban agriculture helps to achieve a number of San Francisco’s broad goals and objectives.
|Alemany Farm, San Francisco|
|Growing Home, Inc.|
New York, like most other US cities, lacks a comprehensive food system plan. Nevertheless, New York has implemented some of the most ambitious policies and programs in the nation to address issues of food security, nutrition, urban agriculture, and institutional purchasing of sustainably produced food. Every stage in the food system, from production to residuals management, is addressed by at least one city agency, typically with input from various stakeholders.
In the list below, I’ve briefly reviewed all of the major (and some minor) New York City agencies. I’ve provided a brief description of the agency’s mandate(s), how the agency’s activities (e.g., its purchases, contracts, programs, or regulations) currently affect the food system. In a number of cases, I’ve speculated on how an agency might, in the future, contribute to a sustainable food system if the agency were provided with guidance as part of a citywide plan. This cursory review shows that New York City’s involvement in the food system is extensive, ranging from its rural watershed, through corner bodegas, to Florida citrus groves. Planning and program development is being done in a variety of contexts, with multiple objectives, yet is neither coordinated nor comprehensive. The wide array of New York food initiatives, which are outlined below, are far-reaching in scope, even if not organized or implemented as components of a cohesive citywide food system plan.
The Mayor’s Office of Adult Education provides literacy and basic skills training for adults. Several of its training programs focus on food and nutrition. For example, the office uses a nutrition curriculum to teach adults to read and interpret nutrition labels so that they can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy beverages, and presumably learn how to interpret the nutritional characteristics of other commonly encountered foods. Another lesson engages students by taking them to a bodega to practice reading nutrition labels, choosing the healthiest options, and documenting the types of beverages being sold by the store. The numbers of students who currently participate in these lessons are modest, with some 500 students participating in the Nutrition lesson plan in Spring 2008, with more than half taking the field trips to neighborhood bodegas.
The Department for the Aging (DFTA) is responsible for administering, developing, and providing a variety of services for older New Yorkers with the goal of helping them to live independently while participating in their communities. DFTA provides services to the elderly directly and through contracts with some 600 community-based organizations. The agency administers contracts with 329 senior centers.
DFTA provides over 12.4 million meals annually through home delivery and through senior centers. The characteristics of those meals, including the broad menu choices, nutritional composition, provenance of ingredients, and to some extent the conditions under which the meals are served in senior facilities, are under the agency’s control. In addition to providing food directly to seniors, the agency also helps seniors access a wide range of public benefits, including assisting seniors in applying for SNAP benefits.
A recent DFTA program, in cooperation with the Department of Education, makes use of the large network of school buses, which are under contract to the city but largely remain parked between morning and late afternoon, to shuttle seniors from senior centers and Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) and supermarkets. The program accomplishes the goal of helping the elderly get access to fresh, healthy food without additional expenditures by the city.
The Department of Buildings (DOB) is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the building code, zoning resolution, and other laws that ensure the safe and permissible use of some 900,000 building in New York. To carry out this mission, the DOB reviews construction plans, building permit applications and renewals, inspects buildings, and licenses, registers and certifies professionals in the building industry.
DOB’s responsibilities affect the food system in a number of ways. It is the agency charged with enforcing the recently adopted FRESH initiative’s zoning changes that encourage supermarkets to open in low-income neighborhoods. It issues building permits for buildings with integrated food production (rooftop farms, greenhouses, hydroponics and aquaculture). It is responsible for determining whether food waste management systems such as greywater systems and composting/blackwater waste recycling devices are permissible. Finally, the DOB regulations permit in-sink garbage grinders, which causes food waste to be incorporated into the city’s sewage effluent (and sludge), and diverts food waste from the solid waste system and, potentially, future composting programs.
Business Integrity Commission
The Business Integrity Commission (BIC), originally created to thwart organized crime’s control of waste management and the wholesale food markets, currently provides oversight of these industries. It is therefore indirectly responsible for overseeing the private waste carting industry’s food waste recycling efforts, from collection and composting of food waste to recycling waste oil into biofuel. It also regulates food distributors operating in the Hunts Point produce market and Fish Market.
Center for Economic Opportunity
The mission of the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) is to implement innovative ways to reduce poverty in New York City. CEO works with agencies to develop poverty-alleviating initiatives that increase self-sufficiency, and runs a fund to provide those agencies with additional funding to implement them.
CEO funds initiatives that address food and poverty, including funding a portion of the budget for NYC’s Office of Food Policy, which develops standards and programs to increase low-income New Yorkers’ access to healthy food, and it has developed food industry job training programs designed to help New Yorkers gain entry into the food industry.
The Department of City Planning (DCP) is responsible for conducting planning and zoning studies and recommending changes to the zoning resolution to promote the city’s policy goals. The DCP also provides technical support to the City Planning Commission in its review of zoning changes and property dispositions.
In recent years, DCP has begun to produce studies about food access issues. It is responsible for considering the impact of zoning on the location of food retail establishments and food manufacturing businesses, and evaluates zoning variances for food businesses. It is also responsible for evaluating compliance with zoning for land uses for urban agriculture, including community gardens, urban farms, rooftop farms, building greenhouses and other accessory uses that involve food growing.
DCP participates in New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) with respect to food producing, processing, and retailing establishments. It also addresses land use issues related to transportation (for food movement), community facilities (including food-related facilities such as community farms) and the use of public spaces. Recently, DCP prepared a study identifying the dearth of supermarkets in certain low-income communities, and in response prepared zoning incentives (FRESH intiative) to encourage supermarkets to locate in these neighborhoods.
City University of New York
The City University of New York (CUNY), the nation’s largest university, enrolls more than 400,000 students. CUNY colleges offer courses on food and food systems, nutrition, culinary skills, and other topics related to the food system.
Citywide Administrative Services
The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) supports city agencies by providing employment services, managing facilities, providing construction services, buying, selling and leasing real property, and buying and distributing supplies and equipment. To the extent city properties are used for food production, DCAS will be involved in managing and maintaining them. DCAS may be able to sell and/or lease non-residential real property for food production. DCAS buys food service equipment for city facilities, and thus its decisions about the type of equipment affects the extent to which food preparation is possible.
DCAS also provides food for the Human Resources Administration’s Emergency Food Assistance Program. For example, DCAS recently awarded a contract to Tony’s Fish and Seafood Corporation for non-perishable frozen food to be distributed by HRA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program to soup kitchens and food pantries throughout the City that participate in its Food Bank for NYC program. The frozen food items included snap green beans, collards, broccoli and whiting fillet.
Division of Real Estate Services
The Division of Real Estate Services (DRES) oversees the city’s commercial real estate portfolio, leasing or buying privately owned properties for City agency use, leasing and licensing city-owned non-residential property for private use, and selling city-owned real estate through public sales and lease auctions. Thus, DRES has the potential to play a role in the disposition of land for urban agriculture.
Citywide Event Coordination and Management
The Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management (CECM) oversees events and permitting of large-scale street fairs and festivals and other permitted activities. The CECM also advises the Mayor in coordinating policies, plans, and procedures for these events. While CECM’s activities do not directly affect the food system, the office is involved in the permitting and coordination of a wide range of street festivals that involve food and culture, such as the Ninth Avenue Food Festival and the Taste of Times Square. CECM could develop policies and plans to celebrate New York City’s food heritage, food produced using unique, local ingredients, and other activities to promote sustainable food.
Community Assistance Unit
The City’s Community Assistance Unit (CAU) works with the 59 community boards and other neighborhood groups and city agencies to foster the more efficient and effective delivery of services. To the extent that city infrastructure and service delivery affects a neighborhood’s food system, the CAU can be involved. For example, community boards have an important role in advising the city with respect to land use and zoning matters, the operating and capital budget, municipal service delivery, and many other matters relating to their communities’ welfare, including matters that affect the production, processing, and access to food at the community level.
With respect to land use and zoning, Community Boards must be consulted on the location of most municipal facilities in the community (e.g., composting sites, centers for emergency feeding, urban farms) and on other land use issues. They may also initiate their own plans for the growth and well being of their communities. Also, any application for a change in or variance from the zoning resolution (e.g., for the location of a large food retailer in a manufacturing zone) must come before the Board for review. Boards can address the location of farmers’ markets and urban farms, and address the location of projects that are not as of right, such as a vertical farm or supermarket.
Community Boards also assess the needs of their own neighborhoods, meet with City agencies, and make recommendations in the City’s budget process to address them. These needs assessments can include needs related to the food system of the neighborhood, such as facilities for cooking school lunches, emergency feeding programs, etc.
A Community Board can address any problem that affects the community. These problems can include food insecurity, food production, or any other relevant food-related issue.
The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) helps to resolve consumer complaints, sues vendors who cheat consumers, and licenses (and enforces the license regulations of) 55 categories of businesses. These include regulating weights and measures regulations and inspecting businesses to enforce the city’s Consumer Protection Law. DCA ensures that measuring devices in food establishments are accurate. It monitors and regulates certain food prices, such as milk, regulates unit pricing and the availability of food on sale, and licenses caterers.
The Mayor’s Office of Contract Services oversees, approves, and helps to manage procurement by city agencies. These include food concessions, such as restaurants, snack bars and pushcarts.
The Department of Correction (DOC) manages the city jails that house people accused of crimes or those convicted and sentenced to one year or less of jail time. Curently, DOC manages 15 inmate facilities with an average daily inmate population of approximately 14,000 individuals, each of whom is fed by DOC three meals daily. DOC also manages the food waste discarded by its facilities, and runs a food waste composting facility on Rikers Island. To aid in the rehabilitation process, DOC operates a garden for inmates at Rikers Island.
The Design Commission reviews for suitability all permanent works of art, architecture and landscape architecture proposed on or over City-owned property. It would be involved in the review of any innovative landscape architecture, including productive urban landscapes and farms on city-owned property.
Design and Construction
The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) manages the city’s capital construction projects, which include streets, highways, sewers and water mains, as well as health and human service facilities cultural institutions and libraries. DDC designs and builds city facilities, including facilities with kitchens and gardens, and its design choices influence the extent to which public facilities can produce and prepare food. Its guidelines for buildings and landscapes influence their design. Currently, DDC has prepared design guidelines to encourage sustainable buildings and landscapes to encourage physical activity and public health, but DDC has not yet developed design guidelines to support food production.
Economic Development Corporation
The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is a nonprofit organization operating under contract with the City of New York to provide economic development services. EDC finances development projects and provides businesses with a variety of services. The corporation is currently redeveloping the Hunts Point terminal market, the La Marqueta commercial venture (which includes food retail and commercial food preparation space for small businesses), and has redeveloped the city’s public markets. It has the ability to provide economic development services for food-related businesses, and can provide energy assistance to food businesses and retailers.
The Department of Education (DOE) operates the city’s roughly 1,400 public schools and employs 77,000 teachers. SchoolFood, a division of DOE, is the largest school food service provider in the United States, providing breakfast, lunch, snack, supper, Living for the Young Family through Education (LYFE) meals at day care facilities, Saturday and Holiday and Summer Meals meals to students in over 1600 locations, including NYC public elementary, middle, special education, high schools, charter and some non-public schools and day care facilities. SchoolFood serves over 860,000 total meals each day, second in quantity only to the US military.
Through School Food Plus, a program that provides enhanced meals to some students in an effort to improve nutrition, increase student participation in the school meal program, and support regional agriculture, DOE attempts to purchase regionally produced ingredients for its meals.
DOE is able to provide education on food production, through school garden programs, nutrition through home economics and health classes, and culinary programs in a number of high schools. It also operates an agricultural High School (Bowne) in Queens.
The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) supports the responses to emergencies that affect public health and safety. OEM also educates residents and businesses on the need for preparedness, supports emergency planning, and oversees the city’s compliance with federal emergency response requirements. A central aspect of emergency planning involves ensuring that there is adequate food and water during power outages, disasters and other emergencies. Long term, this may require assessing the food distribution infrastructure to ensure that protracted disruptions to rail and trucking do not disrupt food access, and that our food distribution system is not prone to acts of terrorism or natural disasters.
The Office of Environmental Coordination (OEC) is responsible for managing the environmental review process. It helps agencies conduct environmental impact assessments and write environmental impact statements. It also coordinates the city’s brownfield remediation efforts and advises the Mayor on environmental policy. The City’s environmental quality review (CEQR) guidelines currently do not require project proponents to assess the impact of their proposed actions on the food system, though policy makers have suggested that CEQR can and ought to explicitly require environmental assessments and impact statements to consider food.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) manages the City’s water supply 14 in-City wastewater treatment plants, as well as nine treatment plants upstate. DEP also carries out federal Clean Water Act rules and regulations, handles hazardous materials emergencies and toxic site remediation, oversees asbestos monitoring and removal, enforces the City’s air and noise codes, and manages Citywide water conservation programs.
The city’s sewage treatment system produces 1,200 wet tons of sludge (“biosolids”) each day. This is beneficially reused as fertilizer and soil conditioners on farmland, parkland, lawns, golf courses and cemeteries. DEP ships a portion of the city’s biosolids to Florida, where they are applied to citrus groves.
DEP manages the city’s upstate drinking water reservoirs and surrounding watersheds, and is responsible for carrying out an EPA consent order requiring the protection of watershed properties. To do so, DEP supports sustainable farming operations in the Catskills through the city-financed Watershed Agriculture Council and by promoting rural economic development.
The Department of Finance (DOF) is responsible for collecting city taxes, valuing real property in the city, and maintaining property records. As urban agriculture expands, the DOF will need to consider how to value property used for food production. As the keeper of city property records, DOF has the capacity to identify real property suitable for temporary and permanent food producing gardens.
Fund to Advance NYC
The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City is a publicly supported, not-for-profit corporation that raises money to promote the general welfare of the City’s residents and aid civic improvements. The Fund supports the work of many City Agencies including Education, Parks, Health, and Cultural Affairs. The fund has the possibility of raising funds to support gardening/farming, food education, processing businesses, school food programs, etc.
Health and Hospitals
The Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) is the largest municipal hospital and health care system in the country, with 11 hospitals, four nursing facilities, six large diagnostic and treatment centers and 100 community and school-based clinics. HHC is the single largest provider of health care to uninsured New Yorkers providing health services to one of every six New Yorkers. HHC provides meals at its hospitals and nursing homes to patients as well as to facility visitors, and is responsible for specifying the nutritional content and provenance of the food it serves. Some HHC hospitals (Jacobi, Lincoln, and Harlem Hospitals) operate greenmarkets on hospital property. HHC care providers also provide nutritional counseling to patients.
Health and Mental Hygiene
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is responsible for protecting the health and mental well being of New Yorkers. DOHMH provides a wide range of mental health services, community-based public health services, and programs to prevent chronic diseases. The agency also provides research on community health conditions, issues birth and death certificates, enforces the city’s health code, and responds to public health threats.
DOHMH has taken the lead in fostering healthy eating practices. It tracks eating behavior and diet-related health outcomes and develops public policies (e.g., calorie disclosure rules and a ban on trans-fats) to improve nutrition. It operates programs to improve access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods, such as healthy bodega and green cart programs. It runs social marketing campaigns related to diet and nutrition, such as recent advertising campaign to make New Yorkers aware of high calorie foods. It advises clients on diet related matters through health clinics, enforces the City Health Code with respect to food processing and selling, and responds to outbreaks of food borne illnesses.
The mission of the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is to prevent homelessness and provide temporary shelter for homeless people. DHS manages 15 City-run and 206 privately run shelter facilities and community-based homeless prevention programs in six high need neighborhoods. DHS feeds homeless New Yorkers at shelter facilities.
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) provides affordable housing to roughly 420,000 low- and moderate-income residents who live in 345 housing developments with 180,000 apartments. NYCHA also helps residents who qualify for federal rent subsidies to locate and rent housing in privately owned buildings. NYCHA provides social services through 112 community centers, 42 senior centers, and a variety of programs.
NYCHA runs one of the country’s largest community gardening programs, providing materials and technical support to 1,800 adult residents and over 2,400 youth and children who in the cultivation of 572 registered gardens citywide.
Some NYCHA facilities provide space for greenmarkets and CSA drop-off sites.
NYCHA also operates a wide range of social services, including, e.g., wellness programs for seniors that include nutrition education. It has the capacity to run educational programs to train residents to shop for and prepare healthy, sustainable meals.
NYCHA’s community programs serve meals that are sourced by the agency.
As NYCHA develops new housing projects it has the capacity to build food-related facilities, from supermarkets to community centers to vegetable gardens, into them. It can landscape its facilities with edible landscaping, including fruit and nut trees.
Housing Preservation and Development
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is the nation’s largest municipal housing agency, developing and helping to manage housing throughout the city. HPD develops housing in NYC, incorporating food production into some of its innovative projects (e.g., Via Verde). HPD also controls undeveloped properties that can accommodate food production, even as an interim use.
Human Resources Administration
The Human Resources Administration (HRA) provides temporary assistance and employment services or referrals at 31 Job Centers. HRA also offers public health insurance at 19 Medicaid Community Offices, food stamps at 30 offices, support services to individuals with AIDS and HIV-related illnesses through 12 centers, protective services to adults through 5 HRA borough offices and 4 contracted programs, and services to victims of domestic violence through 45 State-licensed residential programs, 15 nonresidential programs, and various HRA programs. HRA contracts with 95 home care provider agencies, and assists New York City families in obtaining support orders and receiving child support payments at 4 borough and 5 Family Court offices.
HRA is the agency primarily responsible for getting New Yorkers to sign up for SNAP benefits and other programs, such as the emergency food assistance program. Through its contracted health services, HRA is also indirectly responsible for the nutrition of its clients.
HRA and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provide 100,000 Health Bucks, $2 coupons that can be used to extend clients’ purchasing power to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables at local farmers’ markets. For every $5 food stamps clients spend at participating farmers’ markets, they receive one $2 Health Buck.
The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services addresses the needs of immigrants and provides language-related services to immigrants and others with limited English skills. The Office helps immigrants access government services, including food stamps and access to emergency food assistance.
Independent Budget Office
The mission of the Independent Budget Office (IBO) is to provide non-partisan budgetary, economic, and policy analysis for New York City residents and elected officials. While the IBO analyzes a variety of issues, it has in the past examined the SNAP program and could focus on other food-related programs.
Information Technology and Telecommunications
The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) manages the information systems that support City operations and public access to City services. DoITT operates the City’s 311 Citizen Service Center, manages and operates the City’s data center, Web site, telephone systems, fiber-optic network, radio network, internal data network, and television and radio stations. In addition, DoITT administers the City’s telecommunications franchises including the fiber, cable television, public pay telephones, and mobile telecommunications infrastructure on City property.
The 311 service provides information to New Yorkers on access to food support programs, healthy food options, and enables residents to report complaints about food safety practices in food establishments, including: Supermarkets; Farmers markets; Fish markets; Beverage stores; Bodegas; Warehouses; Delis; Bakeries; Cafeterias; Food carts, stands, or trucks; or Restaurants.
The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) provides detention, aftercare and prevention services to juveniles, ages 7 through 15. The Department operates three secure detention and 17 non-secure detention facilities that admit more than 5,000 youth each year. DJJ feeds residents at its detention facilities and as a result, has the opportunity through its food purchases to improve nutrition and source healthier food from regional producers.
The Office of Labor Relations represents the Mayor in labor relations between the City of New York and labor organizations representing employees of the City. The office also administers a variety of programs for city workers. While the labor relations program does not directly address the food system, the health insurance programs that it administers may offer benefits to enable workers to improve their nutrition.
The Office of Operations oversees the daily operations of City agencies, provides them with technical assistance and consulting services. The Office of Operations includes the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, which produces the city’s sustainability plan, PlaNYC 2030, and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination, which manages the environmental review process. PlaNYC 2030 currently does not address the food system (with the exception of a description of the Hunts Point Market redevelopment), but a number of officials have urged the plan’s update to include a section explicitly examining how food system changes can contribute to the city’s long term sustainability. As noted above, the OEC does not currently require environmental reviews to look at food, but there is movement afoot to require the food system to be analyzed in the environmental assessment and imact statement process.
Parks and Recreation
The Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) maintains a park system of more than 28,800 acres including nearly 1,700 parks. DPR contracts with firms to provide food concessions in parks, and currently encourages restaurants located within parks to train their employees in practices outlined by the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). Some existing restaurants certified by GRA include Ballfields Café and The Boathouse in Central Park, and the West 79th Street Boat Basin Café in Riverside Park).
The DPR’s GreenApple Corps collects organic waste from several soup kitchens and turns it into compost at its Field House in Seward Park.
DPR’s GreenThumb program is the nation’s largest urban gardening program, helping 700 neighborhood groups to create and maintain community gardens. Parks are the locations of dozens of Greenmarket farmers markets.
In the future, if the city were to develop food waste composting programs, it may be possible for DPR to utilize this compost in its landscaping. Parks may also be sites for gardening, and edible landscaping may enable the parks to produce additional food.
Procurement Policy Board
The Procurement Policy Board (PPB) develops rules governing the procurement of goods, services, and construction by the city. The PPB’s responsibilities include rules governing the procurement of food and food production services.
The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) is responsible for collecting and disposing of the city’s solid waste, and the development of long-range plans for handling refuse. The DSNY collects approximately 12,000 tons per day of residential waste.
The Department of Sanitation operates a variety of composting education programs, funds non-profit organizations that compost food and yard waste, and offers low-cost compost bins to residents who wish to compost at home.
School Construction Authority
The School Construction Authority (SCA) is responsible for new school construction and major renovations to older schools. SCA would be responsible for designing and building schools with gardening facilities such as greenhouses, rooftop gardens, and schoolyard gardens. In addition, SCA designs for the school cafeteria determines whether and to what extent cafeterias have the capacity to prepare meals from scratch, or are restricted to reheating prepared frozen meals.
Small Business Services
The mission of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is to help businesses and improving workforce development through job training and programs that meet the hiring and training needs of businesses. SBS has the potential to supports entrepreneurs wishing to start or expand food production and processing businesses. The Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses focuses on manufacturing firms, including food manufacturers.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for the condition of the cities streets, highways, bridges and tunnels. DOT is also responsible for reducing traffic through installing and maintaining traffic signals, signs, streetlights, and parking meters. The Department encourages mass transit by overseeing the operation of four subsidized franchise bus companies, operating the Staten Island Ferry and promoting new private ferry routes. DOT also encourages the use of alternative modes of transportation, such as bicycling, and administers a citywide program to promote alternative fuels.DOT supports Greenmarkets by providing space on city streets. It is responsible for overall traffic management, including the movement of food through city.
The Mayor’s Volunteer Center supports organizations by encouraging and facilitating volunteer activities. The Volunteer Center has the capacity to promote volunteering for activities that may include food production and distribution, such as through community gardens, food pantries and soup kitchens.
The Water Board is responsible for setting water and sewer rates, and ensures that they are sufficient to fund the entire water and sewer system’s operating and capital needs, enabling the City to provide clean, safe water to New Yorkers. One of the key policy decisions that the Water Board made was to apply for a waiver from EPA’s surface water treatment filtration rules for the Catskill-Delaware water system, committing the city to fund watershed protection programs in lieu of building a water filtration plant. In doing so, the Water Board agreed to fund a variety of watershed protection programs aimed at supporting farming in the Catskill-Delaware watersheds, including whole farm planning support, economic development programs to encourage sustainable business in rural communities, sewage infrastructure upgrades in the watershed, and other programs to maintain the viability of a rural economy based on agriculture.
In the future, as urban agriculture grows, and irrigation needs increase, the Water Board will need to address the issue of whether water for urban food production should be priced at a residential, commercial, or a different agricultural rate. The Water Board also needs to consider the economic impacts of increasing the city’s industrial pretreatment program, which removes sources of toxicity from the sewerage system and makes the sludge less toxic and more suitable for wider agricultural use.
Workforce Investment Board
The Workforce Investment Board is responsible for improving the employment skills of New Yorkers. The board could focus on providing workforce development for the food industry.
Youth and Community Development
The Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) supports youth and adults through contracts with community-based organizations that offer after school academic support, sports/recreational activities, and cultural experiences. The Department also community centers in public In addition, provides summer employment DYCD is also responsible for the City’s runaway and homeless youth programs.
The DYCD serves meals through community based organizations and city out of school time programs, including at its Beacon community centers. The provision of meals offers the opportunity to source more sustainable ingredients and improve the nutrition of the agency’s clients. Summer employment opportunities could include urban agriculture programs.
On May 16th, New York City unveiled a new initiative, Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH), which combines zoning changes and some financial incentives to make it less costly for developers to include supermarkets in their projects, and to allow the construction of supermarkets in light manufacturing districts without a special permit.
The initiative applies to four areas of the city with the least access to healthy, fresh food: the South Bronx, Upper Manhattan, Central Brooklyn, and Downtown Jamaica. The Bloomberg administration hopes the rezoning will stimulate the growth of supermarkets in these neighborhoods, and in so doing, provide more equitable access to food, promote healthier eating, and reduce diet-related diseases.
The proposed zoning incentives will be reviewed by all affected community boards, each borough board, and the Borough Presidents. Once these community and borough reviews are complete, the City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal before it is voted on by the City Council.
A growing body of evidence suggests that the location and types of food establishments in a community affects the eating habits of its residents, with significant nutrition-related health consequences. Simply put, having a supermarket nearby makes it easier to buy healthy foods such as fresh produce (Zenk et al., 2005).
Compared to more affluent neighborhoods, however, communities with lower socioeconomic status have been shown to have fewer large supermarkets (Morland et al., 2002; Moore and Roux, 2006; Powell et al., 2007), less access to healthy foods (Baker, et al., 2006), and greater distances between residents and the nearest major food store (Zenk et al., 2005). Instead, low-income communities typically have a higher proportion of small convenience stores, bodegas, and liquor stores to full-service groceries and large supermarkets. Though some low-income neighborhoods have specialty grocers supplying high quality food at an affordable price, in many communities, small shops and bodegas generally have fewer healthy options and less fresh produce than larger grocery stores and supermarkets located in higher-income neighborhoods (Graham, et al., 2006).
In New York, like many large cities, the disparities in food access based on income, race and ethnicity are substantial. In East and Central Harlem, for example, bodegas are more abundant and prevalent than supermarkets, in sharp contrast to affluent neighborhoods like the Upper East Side where high quality food is readily available. Indeed, a recent study by the Department of City Planning (DCP, 2008) that underpins the current zoning proposal found that many of the city’s low-income neighborhoods lack a sufficient number of grocery stores and supermarkets.
The proposed zoning changes allow developers in the four target communities to build larger buildings than otherwise permitted under the existing zoning if they include a neighborhood grocery store on the ground floor. The bonus to the developer is one additional square foot of residential floor area for each square foot of grocery store, up to a maximum of 20,000 additional square feet.
The food retailer must have at least 6,000 square feet of selling area for general food and nonfood grocery products, with at least half the square footage devoted to the sale of general food products intended for home preparation and consumption, and 30% of the area for perishable food, with at least 500 square feet for the sale of fresh produce. For buildings that take advantage of this new zoning provision, the City Planning Commission may allow the developer to increase the maximum building height by 15 feet to accommodate the additional floor area.
The proposed zoning change also reduces the burden of providing parking spaces as an additional incentive. In districts that permit residential buildings with ground floor retail, only very large stores (over 40,000 square feet) would be required to provide parking, while in other commercial and light manufacturing districts, smaller stores would be exempted from providing any parking.
To encourage grocery store development in areas zoned for light manufacturing use (M-1 districts), the proposed zoning would allow large food stores to be permitted as-of-right. In New York, where the uniform land use review process (ULURP) and environmental reviews can drag on for many months, even for relatively uncontroversial projects, as-of-right development can save a developer time and money.
In addition to these zoning changes, the City has assembled incentives for grocers to build, renovate, and equip their stores in low-income neighborhoods. These include real estate tax abatements, mortgage recording tax waivers, sales tax exemptions, and a variety of existing financial incentive programs that grocery store owners can take advantage of.
This proposal is certainly worth adopting. Providing a density bonus to developers who include grocery stores in their buildings, easing parking requirements, and allowing supermarkets in light manufacturing districts will provide incentives for developers to incorporate food retailers in new construction and in manufacturing areas, and therefore will make it simpler for these businesses to locate in communities currently lacking fresh, healthy food. But it is not clear to what extent these zoning changes will significantly increase food access. Supermarkets locate their stores based on their anticipated customer traffic, revenue projections, and financial risks (Winne, 2008). Having the right zoning in place is only one variable in a much more complex equation.
The current city administration has not been timid about wielding its power to regulate and issue permits — and now zone — to improve nutrition and increase access to healthy food. Over the past few years, New York banned trans fats, required chain restaurants to post calorie information, created 1,000 licenses for mobile food vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables in poor neighborhoods, funded electronic benefits terminals so food stamp recipients could shop at farmers markets, and added locally-sourced apples to the school lunch program.
But these bold initiatives, while important steps, need to be part of a much broader food planning effort. The City’s major sustainable planning initiative, encapsulated in PlaNYC 2030, offers a prescription for providing housing, energy, water, open space, and transportation infrastructure to a future city with a million more residents. Yet the plan is silent on the question of how we will feed the current and future population sustainably in 2030.
The community boards, Borough Presidents, and City Council should enact the proposed FRESH zoning changes, but should insist on a revision to PlaNYC 2030 that addresses broader issues, such as how to improve transportation to make the movement of food from surrounding farms more efficient and sustainable, steps to develop a wholesale farmers market to make selling local food to restaurants and supermarkets logistically feasible, and a plan to carve out sufficient space for urban and suburban farms, processing facilities, and markets.
Nearly a decade ago, planning professors Kami Pothukuchi and Jerome Kaufman observed that the food system is “a stranger to the planning field,” conspicuously absent from city plans, the planning literature, the classrooms of planning schools (Pothukuchi and Kaufman, 2000). Fortunately, the past decade has seen significant growth in food system planning. It is time for New York City to take the lead by developing a comprehensive foodshed assessment and plan for the city and surrounding region.
To get involved in this initiative, NYC residents should send comments to your local community board, Borough President’s Office, and City Council member.
Baker, EA, M. Schootman, E. Barnidge, and C. Kelly. 2006. The role of race and poverty in access to foods that enable individuals to adhere to dietary guidelines. Preventing Chronic Disease 3, (3) (07/01): A76.
Brown, Elliot. 2009. Amanda Burden: Supermarket Zoning Plan Weeks Away. The New York Observer. April 23, 2009. Accessed at http://www.observer.com/2009/real-estate/amanda-burden-supermarket-zoning-plan-weeks-away
Department of City Planning (DCP). 2008. Going to Market: New York City’s Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage. Accessed April 24, 2009 at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/supermarket/presentation.shtml
Graham R., Kaufman L., Novoa Z., Karpati A. Eating in, eating out, eating well: Access to healthy food in North and Central Brooklyn. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2006.
Moore, LV, and A. Diez Roux. 2006. Associations of neighborhood characteristics with the location and type of food stores. American Journal of Public Health (01/01).
Morland, K., S. Wing, A. Diez Roux, and C. Poole. 2002. Neighborhood characteristics associated with the location of food stores and food service places. American Journal of Preventive Medicine (01/01).
Pothukuchi, K. and Kaufman, J. L. 2000. The Food System: A stranger to the planning field. Journal of the American Planning Association. 66, 2: 113.
Powell, LM, S. Slater, D. Mirtcheva, Y. Bao, and FJ Chaloupka. 2007. Food store availability and neighborhood characteristics in the united states. Preventive Medicine 44, (3) (03/01): 189-95.
Winne, M. 2008. Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Boston: Beacon Press.
Zenk, SN, AJ Schulz, T. Hollis-Neely, and RT Campbell. 2005. Fruit and vegetable intake in African Americans income and store characteristics. American Journal of Preventive Medicine (01/01).
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.