When the Dallas City Council voted to grant Costco $3 million to open a new store in the area, an interesting amendment appeared in the legislation too. Beyond encouraging the retailer to come, city council members voted to make another $3 million available to any grocery retailer that would agree to located on the south side of the city, a section that has been designated a food desert, because of the lack of accessibility to fresh food options that it offers.
In a food desert, residents live more than a mile from a grocery store that sells a full spectrum of food options, including fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy. Most food deserts are in low income areas, such as southern Dallas, and they leave residents with the terrible choice of either getting their groceries from convenience stores—which are more expensive and normally limited to unhealthy and highly processed products—or else finding a way to drive, walk, or take public transportation over long distances to visit a full-service grocery store in another area.
The Dallas initiative seeks to offer monetary incentives as one element of a broader plan to encourage the development and health of the southern part of the city. The money might be appealing, but retailers would remain unwilling to invest if the surrounding infrastructure cannot support their continued success. In addition, grocery stores have specific location requirements, including a space large enough to hold not just the building but also sufficient parking for shoppers. They also consider questions such as population density; in less populated areas, it may be hard to convince a grocer that it could survive the “desert.” Furthermore, some stores simply refuse to locate in areas inhabited mainly by lower income consumers, sometimes due to an unethical bias, but also in response to considerations about the amount of income these shoppers actually have to spend with the retailer.
Thus the council has issued the promise for the incentive money. But it also needs to address housing and other infrastructure issues. The challenging is getting the first piece to fall into place. People don’t want to move to a food desert until a grocery store is available; grocery retailers don’t want to enter the area until enough people live there. Dallas hopes that $3 million will be enough to tip the scales.
- What is a “food desert”?
- Why do they exist?
- Why is Dallas willing to offer incentives to help eliminate the problem?
Source: Robert Wilonsky, The Dallas Morning News, July 15, 2016