Manhattan: Food Desert?

New York has become a concentration of the super-wealthy, and soaring real estate values are driving out supermarkets. Will street vendors be able to fill the gap?

"Over the last six years, researchers report, the number of supermarkets in New York has shrunk by a third. Three of the city's top food chains -- D'Agostino, Gristedes, and Key Food -- "have each closed about a dozen stores since 2000."

Why are New York's supermarkets shutting down? No one needs to call in the FBI to investigate. Analysts already know the answer. New York is simply becoming too unequal -- too economically top-heavy -- to sustain the basics of modern American middle class life.

The enormous wealth now concentrated in New York has sent property prices so high that supermarkets can no longer afford to rent their urban spaces. The city's 'soaring real estate values,' the Washington Post notes, 'are prompting property owners throughout the city to shutter grocery stores and sell to developers.'

Those developers are bringing to market condos and businesses that cater to the ever-richer ranks of New York's awesomely affluent. No mystery why. These affluents have congregated in New York at levels seen nowhere else in the United States.

One telling statistic: The average weekly salary in New York County -- Manhattan -- hit $2,821 in 2007's first quarter, the equivalent of $147,000 a year. That figure over tripled, for that time period, the national average weekly take-home.

Amid all this inequality, only those at the tippy top of the income ladder can afford to live stress-free and comfortably in Manhattan. The market has priced out most everyone else. If you can't afford to shell out $1 million, you haven't been able, since 2004, to afford the average Manhattan apartment. On the city's Upper East Side, apartments with three or more bedrooms average $6.6 million.

Meanwhile, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who made his fortune selling information services to Wall Street, is working hard on solutions to the city's widening supermarket crisis. The Bloomberg administration, according to news reports, is planning 'to license 1,500 street vendors to sell fruits and vegetables.'"

Full Story: New Yorkers Get Priced Out of Grocery Stores



Michael Lewyn's picture


After reading this story, I went on "Yahoo Yellow Pages" and conducted a small experiment.

First, I ascertained the number of grocers within a mile of my high school roommate's apartment on the Upper West Side. I found about 70 grocers (counting not just big box chains, but also small ethnic food markets, convenience stores, etc.)

Then I did the same for my apartment in an inner-suburban part of Jacksonville. I found only four grocers- all convenience stores or ethnic markets.

Conclusion: even if the number of grocers in Manhattan has declined slightly, there are still far more food opportunities there than in sprawl. It logically follows that the article above is a bit silly.

Prof. Michael Lewyn
Florida Coastal School of Law
Jacksonville, FL

reporting disparity gaps--silly?

Is this an accurate accusation? Food access in high-density neighborhoods shouldn't really be pitted against food access in low-density sprawl. There is no point in ranking the importance of either scenario. The issue is VERY important to residents in BOTH respective situations. Yes, disconnected suburban communities face their own monumental challenges but so do dense urban cores. I would say that we should move on from the age-old urban/rural divide---it hasn't traditionally contributed much in the way of progress to improve the integrity of our communities.

Michael Lewyn's picture

"dense urban cores" don't always have problems

When it comes to food access, "dense urban cores" don't always have severe challenges to speak of (other than cost of living, perhaps). On the Upper West Side of Manhattan, there simply are no "food access" problems.

To be sure, there are access problems in lower-income urban neighborhoods- but that is a very different issue from the one presented by the article (which erroneously implies that food access is a problem in expensive, wealthy neighborhoods).

Prof. Michael Lewyn
Florida Coastal School of Law
Jacksonville, FL

Thinking in the long-term...

Cost of living usually includes food expenditures. Though, the article doesn't seem to suggest rich Manhattans cannot afford what is currently available. It simply implies there is an intense competition for space. It is the classic challenge for dense urban cores. This is a common conflict induced by limited space and the tendency for one subculture to monopolize an area. It seems harmless to highlight the trend toward replacing fresh food outlets with housing. This short-sighted move will have an effect on the long-term food security of this community. From what I can tell, the article makes a plea for balance.

Bachelor student (originally from Florida),
Portland State University

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