For all those urban planning types who like to talk about Detroit "food deserts," Jim Griffioen has a message for you: "That is such utter and total bullshit." For months, the Detroit-area writer has been cataloging mainstream media accounts of the city's supposed grocery store deficit. From NBC News to The Wall Street Journal to Good Magazine, the consensus from fresh food advocates outside the city is this: Detroit is a town "of nearly 1 million people without a supermarket."
Problem is: that's not true. As Griffioen demonstrates with a quick Google search, the city has plenty of grocery stores well within the city limits.
Where commentators go wrong, Griffioen explains, is assuming that Detroit's lack of big name grocery stores equals a lack of grocery stores in aggregate. NBC's Chris Hansen is a perfect example. "There are more than 400 liquor stores in Detroit," he says. "But if you want to buy food, good luck. In the entire 140 square miles of the city, there are no Krogers, no Safeways, only eight supermarkets, and they’re discount stores."
Then Griffioen gets testy:
I know the traditional media is suffering. Reporters are overworked and underpaid... But I would certainly expect anyone who makes an unequivocal statement like Detroit “is a city of nearly 1 million people without a supermarket” to at least have done a 4-second google search to confirm it (six seconds, I guess, if google isn’t your homepage). In four seconds, here’s what I found:
The first map details Detroit's supermarkets (not liquor or discount stores). The tacks on the second map represent Spartan Stores, a regional grocery chain that “supplies 40,000 private label and national brand products to nearly 400 independent grocery stores.” Those tacks show all the Spartan affiliates inside the city.
The cleanliness and quality of merchandise and services provided by these stores definitely varies, and your average New York reporter might not be able to find his favorite lemon-infused chevre or organic arugula at all of them, but that doesn’t mean these supermarkets don’t exist.
Why does this all matter? To Griffioen it's about constructively dealing with Detroit's ills and not inventing simplistic problems the city doesn't face:
There is no question that many of the neighborhoods served by these independent stores are desperately poor. Sticking a pristine Whole Foods or even a Super Wal-Mart in these neighborhoods is not going to somehow solve the dietary issues poverty has created among their residents or provide jobs without displacing others. Those are incredibly complex problems and simply spreading hyperbole about a uniform lack of shopping options across a 138-square-mile city does nothing to solve it.
For photos of Detroit's many grocery offerings, check out Griffioen's article at Urbanophile.
(hat tip: boing boing)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.