DC’s Grocery Store Scarcity Revisited

by Mark Wellborn

DC's Grocery Store Scarcity Revisited: Figure 1
Logan Circle Whole Foods

In early 2009, demographer Lynda Laughlin made the case that grocery stores are “few and far between” in many parts of DC. Her research found that in Wards 2 and 3, there was approximately one store for every 8,911 residents, but in Wards 7 and 8 there was one store for every 45,000 residents, a strong argument that lower income neighborhoods were experiencing a grocery store scarcity.

Greater Greater Washington had a post recently that revisited this issue, but largely to clear up some misconceptions that had come to light in a recent report by DC Hunger Solutions and Social Compact called When Healthy Food is Out of Reach. The report provided a map of the city that highlighted areas that would be considered “food deserts” or places that had limited access to “affordable and nutritional food.” What Greater Greater Washington discovered was that the map was misleading because it marked areas that were uninhabited or for some other reason do not require access to food:

“Entire block groups were designated as food deserts that either have no living residents (such as cemeteries and parks) and so do not have much income and require no access to food, or house institutions (like hospitals) and so do not have much income but likely provide food on site. Nearly 1/4 of the areas designated as food deserts may technically, but not realistically, fit the working definition.”

An annotated map can be viewed here. While the “cartographic fallabilty” is important to note, it does not change the issue that communities with large populations in poverty or large minority populations have poor access to grocery stores.

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dcs_grocery_store_scarcity_revisited/1932


  1. Liz said at 10:02 pm on Wednesday March 31, 2010:
    Although I agree with the core point that low-income and/or minority communities have poor access to grocery stores, even GGW's corrections don't cover the deficiencies of the original map. For example, the pink section on the left-handmost corner of DC consists mostly of the Dalecarlia water treatment plant, Sibley hospital, and Canal Road with its adjoining parkland. Maybe GGW excluded it from the analysis because it's not a pverty-ridden area? All of that is besides the point, though -- some of the "grocery stores" that get counted by these analyses carry very little fresh food regardless of their brand name, maybe a step above convenience stores. IMHO, both the study and the criticism thereof fall far short of the mark.
  1. Scott Pomeroy said at 2:44 am on Thursday April 1, 2010:
    The area between Florida Avenue and New York is high industrial use and currently houses some of the least expensive produce in the city at the wholesale markets. The proposal for redevelopment are well documented, however, I would not call this area a population center and therefore misleading.

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