Well, it’s not really a question.
Let’s try again. PDC to subsidize grocery store on Alberta! There, that’s more definitive.
As the Oregonian reported yesterday, the PDC will soon be selling (giving away?) a chunk of land it owns at NE MLK and Alberta. I suppose the question mark was more for effect, implying the curious move by the PDC.
Why curious, you say?
Well, for one, city money is scarce and the PDC has already reduced staff due to budget cuts. Second, if the PDC is intent on offering subsidies, why not in a more underserved neighborhood?
To be sure, the City is not giving away $2 million. At least not technically. They are, however, knocking $2 million off the purchase price of one their properties, thus paving the way for an “unnamed” grocer to set up shop at the site at a relatively low cost.
But why there and not somewhere in East Portland or (here’s the plug) on Foster? The simple answer: PDC owns the land. They’ve also identified that location as a “food desert.” Sounds like a no-brainer then, right?
Well, let’s examine the idea of a food desert in that particular neighborhood.
The ugly: Whole Foods is 1.3 miles away from the proposed grocery site. In walking (Google maps) time, that’s 24 minutes—four minutes outside of the city’s prescribed 20-minute neighborhood theme. Ok, you got us there.
The bad: New Seasons’ latest store on N. Williams is an even mile away. Fine, who wants to walk the equivalent of four laps at a high-school track? Especially if Google says it takes a full 20 minutes. If you’re a slow walker, maybe that takes you out of the 20-minute neighborhood. Poor saps.
The good (and this is where the food desert thing gets more murky): The Alberta Co-op is .6 miles away. Point 6! Ok, co-ops are not for everyone. In fact, they’re not for most people. And you can draw the same argument for the aforementioned specialty grocers, New Seasons and Whole Foods. But get this—there’s also a Safeway just a half mile away. 10 minutes by foot; four by bike.
But Alberta? Come on.
So what about Foster?
There is a grocery store in Foster-Powell, sure. And it’s full-service. And on the other side of 82nd (at Holgate), in Lents, there’s a Walmart that doubles as a grocery store. But if we’re talking equal access to healthy and natural foods, there’s more to be desired. And in terms of walking times, let’s look at those options, as well as the Safeway on Powell Blvd and SE Cesar Chavez:
– If you’re coming from the middle of Foster-Powell—say, Kern Park—you have a 23-minute walk to traverse 1.2 miles to Fred Meyer. Not bad. But we all know what we get: terrible produce, limited fresh and/or organic options, and a less than sanitary shopping experience.
– Ok, what about the other direction? Safeway would take 29 minutes to walk a mile and a half up Foster and down Powell. Not terrible, but downright bad when compared to the options listed above.
To be clear, PDC is not to blame for lacking grocery options. As far as I know, the only land they own on the western stretch of Foster is at 72nd—the future site of the Portland Mercado. And in their defense, they can’t magically produce interested grocers to move onto land they don’t own. (They also get credit for assisting property and business owners with storefront improvements all along the Foster corridor and in Lents.)
But what about Lents? PDC owns land (a lot) there. Where’s the incentive to lure a healthy grocer?
In many ways, the market dictates what neighborhoods draw in certain businesses. I can’t argue with that, nor can I say it’s necessarily wrong. But if the city is in the business of improving neighborhoods, providing equal access to healthy foods, and developing underserved parts of town, I suppose there are better places to invest a couple million bucks.
How about this for a compromise:
Let’s assume the PDC is not favoring some neighborhoods at the expense of others. Then, let’s now assume the owner of a grocery store does not want to move to Foster despite PDC’s pleading. Fine. But let’s also go with the assumption that PDC has $2 million to invest in creating healthier neighborhoods with good access to food/groceries. The solution: improve what we do have. Surely Fred Meyer could be tempted to renovate, improve their offerings, and cater more to the community if someone waived a couple million dollars in their face.
Or $2 million in subsidies.
How do you all feel about the grocery options in the neighborhood?