Vacancy and access to food: Spatially addressing food insecurity in urban Appalachia
Bohannon, Cermetrius Lynell
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This study examines food deserts in Roanoke, Virginia in the United States and explores ways to address food insecurity by utilizing vacant lots. In the State of Virginia, there are 200 food desert census tracts. Twenty-nine of those tracts have 100% low access to a supermarket; four of those tracts are located in Roanoke (Chittum, 2011). Like many areas in Appalachia, Roanoke has suffered urban decline and has lost population and subsequently lost businesses including grocery stores, thus creating food deserts with a disproportionate impact on low-income communities. Currently, tract-based food desert data is too coarse to understand the distribution of food deserts in relation to community demographics and other site-scale factors. This study uses census block scale data to specifically map food deserts in more detail at the neighborhood scale. In the case of Roanoke and its thirty unique neighborhoods, addressing vacant lots requires a methodology that considers the unique qualities of each neighborhood in order to understand the impact of vacant lots in each area and how best to address the challenge. Findings from this study show that this methodology provides community residents and landscape architects a systematic way to analyze, plan, and implement strategies to develop spaces that provide access to fresh food and increase social interaction while reducing the visual impact of vacancy. The authors envision this framework as an early component to a community engaged process that recognizes vacancy patterns and honors community agency and identity in the development of site-specific design strategies.