The shift from shopping to eating cannot be explained solely in terms of the triumph of online over brick-and-mortar retailing, Aaron Betsky writes. Instead, the transformation of urban commercial space is linked to broader changes in the nation’s upper-middle class culture. Wealthy Americans are eating more, period, and cooking at home less. Moreover, we’ve come to expect more options in terms of special diets and ethnic cuisines.
The rise of the downtown eatery is also connected to residential sprawl. “As sprawl itself spreads, downtown areas become magnets for social activities, rather than for work, living, or shopping, and the bar or restaurant is the anchor of many such interactions,” Betsky writes.
But access to what Betsky calls “food jungles” is limited to those with the means to travel from suburb to city for dinner, and to pay for the meal. The urban poor remain stranded in food deserts, with no real change in their menu in sight.