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December 2015

Food Equity in Detroit’s Brightmoor Neighborhood

Food Equity in Detroit’s Brightmoor Neighborhood

By Meghin Mather (Data Analyst Intern)

Meghin has an undergraduate degree in Urban Studies from Wayne State University. She finds her studies were instrumental in expanding her passion for food. She strongly believes that where ever people choose to live there should be a reliable food source.

For ten weeks in the fall of 2015, I fulfilled the requirements of my undergraduate degree as an unpaid intern at Data Driven Detroit (D3). With the wisdom and guidance of several D3 colleagues, I researched and mapped food equity in the Detroit neighborhood of Brightmoor. I have always had a passion for food. Anytime I was asked as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I offered the same answer: a chef.

When I was 17, I worked as a line cook for two months and quickly realized that being a chef was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Still that passion I had for food never went away. A few semesters into my undergrad degree at Wayne State University, I analyzed food-related issues and discovered that being an analyst was a way to pursue my passion for food while simultaneously connecting it to community development, (and it wasn’t as tactile and immersive as being a chef.)

Learning how to approach my project was daunting. I wasn’t sure how to frame its parameters given my elementary level of data literacy. Additionally, this was the first office job I’d ever had. Although I knew at 17 that I didn’t want to be a chef, I still had to pay my way through college, and I did so by continuing to work in kitchens. Kitchens offer a very different working environment than that of an office.

However, I began to plan. Though the parameters of the project started out very broad, they began to evolve and narrow as I was able to mentally visualize my intended outcome. I cannot thank everyone at D3 enough for the countless number of questions they patiently answered.

The indicators of food equity that I used for Brightmoor were “food affordability” and “food accessibility”. These were carefully chosen on the basis of literature review. Food affordability, the ability of households to afford to buy fresh and nutritious food, is defined at the block group level using percentage of households receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. In order to define food accessibility, I adopted the USDA Economic Research Services’ definition of low access in urban areas: any area where one third or more of households do not have a vehicle access and are located more than half of a mile from a nutritious food source is considered an area of low accessibility.

Food Affordability

In Figure 1, I identified the locations of grocery stores in Brightmoor that accept SNAP benefits along with the percentage of households by census block group that receive SNAP benefits. I also included a farmers’ market that lies just outside the boundaries of the neighborhood that accepts Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) benefits, as well as other supplemental nutrition benefits. I excluded liquor and convenience stores because they do not offer fresh, unprocessed foods (you will also see this employed in Figure 2).


Food Accessiblility

In Figure 2, in addition to grocery stores that accept SNAP benefits, I also identified grocery stores that do not accept SNAP benefits. The purpose of Figure 2 is to showcase, by census block group, the proximity of households without a vehicle to food sources. To measure this proximity, I have drawn a half-mile radius around all grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Based on the USDA’s definition, 22.6% of Brightmoor households lie outside of the half-mile radius, thus defining them as areas with low access to food from a grocery store or farmers’ market.

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Meet the D3 Staff

Meet the D3 Staff: Josh Long

Josh joined Data Driven Detroit after working as a planner in both the public and private sector. He has a deep background in GIS and interests in land use, sustainability and education. At D3 he works as a Senior GIS Analyst and Project lead. Recent projects include the implementation of the D3 ArcGIS Open Data portal, an analysis of Detroit student commuting patterns, and providing technical assistance to the Downtown Detroit Partnership for the creation of the downtown Detroit Business Improvement Zone.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Berkley, Michigan and attended Berkley High School.

Joshua Long

What is your degree in? Why did you choose that degree?

My undergrad degree is in Urban Planning (MSU) as is my Master’s (U of M). I chose it because I really like analyzing problems through different lenses. I was a Biology major for my first two years of college before I realized that I would need to develop a very specific specialization in order to be successful in the field. I think that pinpoint focus would have driven me crazy after a while. It’s funny, but at some point in college I pictured myself being at a dinner party somewhere wanting to talk about my profession, but not being able to because no one at the party would understand what I was talking about. With Urban Planning, it affects everybody every day in so many different ways that everyone has something to say. Everybody can relate to it in many different ways.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I worked at three different Tower Records stores at different times (Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Birmingham).

What is your history with Detroit?

I grew up in Oakland County and had a similar experience to most of my friends. My parents told me to lock the doors whenever we crossed 8 Mile Rd — which now that I think of it, (as an act) is kind of funny because cars haven’t had manual locks for a long time. By high school, however, I was regularly hanging out in the city (Detroit), going to indie rock shows at various clubs and hanging out with my older friends who attended Wayne State. My experience with the region in general is love-hate though. I don’t like the lack of public transportation, the urban sprawl, the segregation or the weather. I do think the city is beautiful and I love the people. From an early age I had dreams of helping make the city a better place. My Detroit experience is a big reason why I went into Urban Planning. Here is a smattering of my strongest Detroit memories:

• Taking the Boblo Boat to Boblo Island and throwing french fries to seagulls.

• Making underage mischief at the Fourth Street Fair.

• Watching the fireworks from the top of the Michigan Central Station.

• Having nervy encounters with old friends and ‘frenemies’ at the Magic Stick.

• Staying up at a party all night to get a good spot at the Thanksgiving Day Parade the next morning.

• Getting Dim Sum in Windsor.

• Sweating in the bleachers at old Tiger Stadium.

What did you do before working at D3?

I worked for Washtenaw County for a few years after Graduate School, and I also worked as a private sector planning consultant for a couple of years. I had lots of jobs when I was younger, including barista, busboy, and record store clerk.

What do you like about working at D3? How do you think the work you are doing benefits the city/region?

I enjoy the people that I work with and also being a mission-driven organization. It makes me feel good to come to work knowing that I am working to help make our communities better. I am regularly able to help local non-profits get better insights into how to better serve their community by providing them with data and analysis.

What are your favorite types of data?

I am a fan of cadastral (property) data and land use. Generally, I love spatial data.

Who or what inspired you to take the path to Detroit, data, or both?

Growing up here gave me a strong connection to the place and also made me appreciate its potential while also recognizing its faults. I like trying to work on making our communities better. Providing data and insight is a means to that end for me.