When the pub shed is a food desert (updated)

Decatur, Georgia, recently got lots of attention when placemaking PR man Scott Doyon blogged about his neighborhood’s pub sheds in “Pub Shed: Mapping your five minute stumbling distance.” Doyon’s post went viral among new urbanists.

“The Decatur, Georgia, pub shed.” Adapted from Placeshaker’s larger map at http://placeshakers.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/pub-shed-measure-of-the-five-minute-stumble/

Missing from Doyon’s post, however, is that some of his Decatur “pub sheds,” notably the ones in Doyon’s own Oakhurst neighborhood, happen to be co-terminous with food deserts.

Awesome stuff there, Scott. You may be able to stumble home from your favorite bar, but your elderly and economically disadvantaged neighbors cannot walk to a grocery store, pharmacy, bank, or post office. And, proposals to open a new Family Dollar (which will stock groceries) one block from the dot on the food desert map (a favorite neighborhood watering hole, the U-Joint) during the first half of 2012 brought scorn from your neighbors. Why? Because they believe a Family Dollar will change the character of the community.

I wonder which is the better measure of quality of life: a “pub shed” or a food desert?

Google map returned using search phrase: “oakhurst decatur supermarket”

Update: After reading Dan Reed’s comment I fired up the old computer and used some good old fashioned GIS to show the relationship of area supermarkets/grocery stores to the Oakhurst neighborhood featured in Doyon’s post.

Decatur area grocery stores (Publix and Kroger). Arcview shapefile basemap is City of Decatur parcels. Each grocery point has a one-mile buffer applied. The generally-accepted center of the Oakhurst neighborhood is indicated by the arrow (intersection of Oakview Road and East Lake Drive.

 Update: Read the follow-up post on the Oakhurst food desert.

UPDATE (March 2013):

Two events in March 2013 validated the information presented in this post about food insecurity in Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood. The first was the start of a weekly municipally-funded “Golden Shuttle” to transport elderly Oakhurst residents to downtown Decatur where they could shop. The second was the release of a new USDA Food Access Research Atlas that updates the agency’s earlier Food Desert Locator and which is based on the latest U.S. Census data. The new USDA tool reports that Oakhurst “has a relatively high number of households (143 of 1685 total households [8%]) without vehicles that are more than one-half mile from a supermarket.”

Credit: USDA Food Research Atlas (screen capture March 24, 2013).

Credit: USDA Food Research Atlas (screen capture March 24, 2013).

9 thoughts on “When the pub shed is a food desert (updated)

  1. You know, I looked at the website you linked to and noticed that a lot of the areas they mark as “food deserts,” at least in the DC area (which I’m more familiar with) don’t seem to qualify. For instance, most of College Park is labeled as a food desert, but there are like five grocery stores nearby, all of which within a short walk or bus ride of much of the town. I’m curious what their criteria are.

    I’ve never been to Decatur, but I wonder how much of the town would be covered if you mapped all of the grocery stores in the area and then drew, say, a 1-mile radius around them. (In other words, what Scott Doyon did with Pub Shed.) If it’s anything like what I noticed in Maryland, its “food deserts” may look very different.

    • There are none Dan. That was the whole point of the post. Had I been more enterprising I could have fired up Arcview and buffered the known grocery stores in and around Decatur. I may still do that but it requires time on the real computer.

  2. You made several references to grocery stores (typos?) but only counted large chain supermarkets. I realize that might meet some strict technical definition of “food desert” but personally I think it’s silly to apply that term to a neighborhood that has two small grocery stores in walking distance (including the excellent Oakhurst Market at its center) as well as convenience stores, restaurants, bakeries and a farmer’s market. And there isn’t a single fast food joint.
    No one who has been to to Oakhurst would consider it a “food desert”.

    • Thanks for the comments. Oakhurst fits well within the USDA’s definition of a “food desert.” The boutique Oakhurst Market does not sell affordable food and the two convenience stores do not stock the items the USDA considers essential. I think I’ll stick with the quantifiable “technical definition” of food desert here. Thanks, again, for reading and commenting.

  3. The USDA uses large markets as a “proxy”, meaning they don’t do go to every store and look at what is being sold at what prices. Instead they assume that big markets have a reasonable selection (low to medium quality nutrition) at reasonable prices. They also assume that smaller stores are convenience stores that sell low-ish nutrition foods at relatively high prices. It’s just an estimate, and doesn’t reflect whether people actually have access to good food at affordable prices.

    By that definition, Oakhurst would be a “food desert” no matter what prices OM charged.
    For that matter, the south of France would also be a food desert as they rely almost entirely on local farmer’s markets for their groceries.

    OM has high quality nutrition at prices that range from high to quite low – lower than large supermarkets for some things. We do most of our shopping there. Not sure about SD Market (in Kirkwood, walking distance from my house), but last time I was in there they were doing a brisk business, so there must be something they are doing that locals like.

    I wonder why you’re pushing the large chains over our local businesses. Are you not aware that Decatur has the slogan, “Keep it Indie-Catur”? Has your blog sold out for corporate sponsorship?

    • Price of milk at the Oakhurst Market, June 27, 2012: full gallon = $7.49; half gallon = $4.99. US Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2012) show the average price of a gallon of milk in the US was $3.43.

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  5. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I’ve learned a lot about food deserts these past couple of days.
    Even if you ignore the excellent access we have here to nutritious food via local grocers, light rail, and farmers markets (some of the best features of Oakhurst, but I don’t think USDA’s model accounts for any of those), there is another criteria that must be met in order to be a technical “food desert”; the census tract must be a “low-income community”.
    You shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you this, but Oakhurst is *not* a “low-income community”. To qualify, it would have to have 20% of residents below poverty line (currently less than 10%) or a median family income 80% lower than the area’s. Oakhurst’s median of $95k is quite high, even compared to Decatur’s $96k.
    (Source factfinder2.census.gov)

    So why is Oakhurst on the food desert map? Since they didn’t say how they computed their results, it’s hard to say. It’s possible they just made an error – it wouldn’t be the first time. But more likely, they were using 2000 census data for some reason. Back then, Oakhurst’s pverty rate was bout the same, but its median family was $42k, which lagged behind Decatur’s $65k. After the Big H store closed, Oakhurst may have briefly qualified as a “food desert”.

    Of course, a lot has changed since then.

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