A Tale of Two Markets: Sustainable Development as a Precursor to Health

In a past life, I led groups of up to 50 people on bike rides through Chicago as a contribution to the physical, mental, and financial health of African-Americans. I sought to intentionally lead riders through the wide variety of Black neighborhoods in the city, with a deep interest in supporting local businesses. After several rides, it became clear that accessing everyday goods and services by biking or walking was easier in some areas than others. When I participated in conversations around sustainable transportation, I was continuously asked the question, “How do we get more of the community (African-Americans) to bike?” My response was pretty much always the same, “Give people something to bike TO.”

Conversations about biking and walking often happen in silos with most of the emphasis on infrastructure, much less emphasis on education and encouragement, and barely any discussion of the economic development and principles of design that actually support biking and walking.  In many of the majority Black neighborhoods in Chicago, parking comes first. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the difference in two recent Whole Foods Markets that were built over the past year in Hyde Park (at Hyde Park Boulevard and Lake Park Avenue) and Englewood (at 63rd Street and Halsted).

I intentionally sourced the above images from Google Maps to circumvent glossy images provided by developers or press. With a quick glance, one can see how access to these markets is drastically different and therefore encourage or discourage biking and walking. The World Health Organization outlines that development “should aim to provide compact form and mixed use to facilitate the promotion of healthy lifestyles (e.g.walkability).” Both Markets are located at major intersections for the commercial activity of their surrounding neighborhoods. However, the Hyde Park location lays a foundation for walkability (or bikeability) on almost all fronts as explicitly laid out by organizations like SPUR, while the Englewood location ignores all seven:

1. Create fine-grained pedestrian circulation

2. Orient buildings to street and open spaces

3. Organize uses to support public activity

4. Place parking behind or below buildings

5. Address the human scale with building and landscape details

6. Provide clear, continuous pedestrian access

7. Build complete streets

Moving forward, areas that disproportionately suffer from the chronic diseases that accompany sedentary lifestyles should work with local government and business interests to incentivize developers to build according to urban design principles. On a grassroots level, one could replicate the success of the Lakeview Area Master Plan for its incorporation of urban design principles and its process of bringing together sustainability professionals and community influencers to illuminate the connections between planning/architecture and quality of life.

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4 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Markets: Sustainable Development as a Precursor to Health

  1. This reminded me of the Divy initiative that was giving low income communities on south and west side $5 yearly membership for a month. If you can prove your low income and brought a piece of mail and a id. I really liked your topic.

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  2. I believe that the concept here has a few logical flaws that should be considered. First, according to the United States Census, Hyde Park has a population density of 16,000 per sq. mile, whereas Englewood has a population density of around 9,900 people per sq. mile. Lower population dense neighborhoods, architecturally, are likely to have their buildings have different relationships with the street. A dense neighborhood will plan for pedestrianism, while a more sparse one will plan for greater car ownership. The Whole Foods in Hyde Park is also there as a mechanism of economy, and a plinth to an architecturally significant building by the Studio Gang. Englewood’s Whole Foods took courting by the city of Chicago, and was planned in such a way to be planted in a low income community, in spite of it being, as per average, an expensive store.
    I also wonder if safety is a factor for people and biking in the Englewood neighborhood which continually receives negative press for its violent crime. Hyde Park, however, has a reputation propped up on the vast land ownership of one of the world’s most prestigious universities. As a result, this neighborhood is extraordinarily educated, as per regional average, than Englewood, and thus incomes are higher. Though they share a racial demographic characteristic, I’m unsure if the link between this and biking is causal.
    I think there is a lot of progress that can be made for biking accessibility in the city’s less densely populated neighborhoods. For some equity issues I think this is important, as commodities in less dense neighborhoods are less costly, etc. Also, if these places began planning for a time when increasingly dense population is likely to come, as city centers become more cost prohibitive, this would be a long-view planning stance that could see smarter development. Furthermore, I think the question of health equates to population density as well; these people tend to be healthier because of increased pedestrianism due to clustered amenities.

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  3. This is a very important issue. It’s frustrating that even while living in a city where resources are supposed to be easily accessible there are still people who struggle to get from point A to point B. My post is about increasing divvy stations and upgrading bike lanes to be of greater accommodation in terms of safety and convenience for riders, however this issue is opposite in the sense that even if the community had access to bikes they still wouldn’t have reliable resources to bike to, as you mentioned. If people want to see a health increase in these communities, business owners and developers as well as city planners should make plans to build more grocery stores and other establishments in which to provide amenities life demands as well as places such as community gardens or parks for the community members to gather; more paths for walking, more nodes for a break from walking down the busy street, etc. After all I believe these are the the accommodations that define neighborhoods and areas within a city as “communities.”

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